The Poem

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

"The Rose" is a metaphysical poem by George Herbert, an English poet and priest. It was published in 1633 as part of his poetic collection titled The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations.


The collection addresses a wide range of spiritual and moral themes, often presenting the speaker's struggles, doubts, and desires in the context of his relationship with God.


Herbert was associated with the metaphysical poets, a group of 17th-century poets known for their elaborate use of metaphors. He was a clergyman in the Church of England and is considered one of English literature's greatest religious poets. His poems frequently blend spiritual introspection with complex poetic techniques. His writing style is characterized by extended metaphors, paradoxes, symbols, abstract concepts and motifs, and a blend of religious and secular elements.


"The Rose" is a thought-provoking and reflective piece that addresses the idea of finding true meaning and purpose in a world filled with deceptive appeal. It delves into themes of worldly pleasures, repentance and purgation, and spiritual transcendence. Herbert contrasts the transient nature of earthly delights with the enduring and transformative power of spiritual insight.


He begins by expressing a reluctance to indulge in the false allure of the world's "sugred lies" and to exceed the boundaries of moderation. Herbert then presents a perspective that rejects the world's enticements, having "pass'd [his] right away." This implies a deliberate choice to distance oneself from the superficial attractions of earthly pleasures.


O if such deceits there be,

Such delights I meant to say;

There are no such things to me,

Who have pass'd my right away.

Despite this stance, he acknowledges the attractiveness and temptation of the rose and uses it as a metaphor to convey the poem's central message. The rose symbolizes both worldly pleasures and spirituality. The poem suggests that while the rose is fair and sweet, it also "biteth in the close," implying that worldly pleasures lead to bitterness and regret. In contrast, the rose symbolizes the spiritual path that leads to proper understanding and purification, as "repentance is a purge."

So this flower doth judge and sentence

Worldly joyes to be a scourge:

For they all produce repentance,

And repentance is a purge.

The tone of the poem is contemplative and introspective. It reflects a thoughtful examination of the pleasures of the world and their ultimate consequences. The mood transitions from somber reflection to a sense of resolution through spiritual understanding.


The closing lines reveal that the speaker favors "health, not physick," indicating a preference for genuine spiritual and emotional well-being over superficial pleasures. He accepts the rose as an answer, suggesting that the journey toward spiritual enlightenment and repentance is the ultimate response.

But I health, not physick choose:

Onely though I you oppose,

Say that fairly I refuse,

For my answer is a rose.

In summary, "The Rose" explores the complexities of pleasure and illusion, highlighting the temporary nature of worldly delights and the wisdom of choosing spiritual health over excessive indulgence. Through rich imagery and metaphors, Herbert prompts readers to contemplate the deeper meanings and consequences of their choices in life and explore the intricate relationship between pleasure, deceit, and spirituality.


The poem follows a structured pattern of eight stanzas, each with four lines. It is written in iambic pentameter, a common meter in English poetry, where each line has ten syllables with alternating stressed and unstressed beats. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, alternating between rhyming lines and providing a structured and musical quality to the poem.

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