The Poem

George Herbert’s “Easter Wings” is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection, which is presented as the means by which humankind overcomes sin and attains freedom. The poem consists of two ten-line stanzas of varying line lengths, which in their printed form on the page resemble the wings of a bird.

The poem is addressed directly to God or Christ (“Lord”). The first stanza begins by emphasizing how complete humankind was when first created by God. People had “wealth and store,” meaning that they were created in the image of God and were meant to preside over the natural world, which existed only to serve them. They had everything they needed, in abundance.

In line 2, the poet points out that humankind lost its wealth. This is a reference to the Fall of Man described in the book of Genesis, a doctrine that is an essential part of the Christian faith. This line also emphasizes that the Fall was the result of human foolishness, a reference to Adam and Eve’s disobedience of God’s instructions not to eat of the fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. The blame for humanity’s loss of its original “wealth” therefore lies not with God but with people. As a result of the Fall, as line 3 shows, the human condition deteriorated. Humans “fell” further and further into sin, continually “decaying” from their original purity, until they reached the lowest point in their fortunes (“Most...

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Forms and Devices

“Easter Wings” is in the tradition of pattern poetry, also known as shaped verse, in which the lines are arranged on the printed page so that they in some way illustrate the subject of the poem. Herbert wrote other pattern poems, including “The Altar,” in which the printed words are shaped like an altar. The device has been used by many other poets, including such modern poets as Dylan Thomas in “Vision and Prayer.”

Since “Easter Wings” is set in the spring and contains a simile in which human spiritual freedom is compared to the lark singing in the morning, the arrangement of each stanza in the shape of two wings of a bird is thematically appropriate. The poet gains another thematic resonance from this pattern because the shorter lines refer to humanity’s most cramped, afflicted state. Just as humanity has squandered its wealth, the poet too has only the fewest of words at his disposal and must make whole lines out of “Most poore” and “Most thinne.” Then the lines lengthen as the wings begin to beat and the soul expands in freedom, like the wider wingspan of a bird in flight.

In early editions of The Temple, the lines of “Easter Wings” were arranged vertically rather than horizontally on the page. When this is done, the pattern of birds’ wings becomes even more visually striking since the words cannot be read; the pattern is all the reader sees.

The rhyme scheme of the poem is the same in...

(The entire section is 534 words.)