The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

George Herbert’s “The Rose” is a lyric and meditative poem first published as part of his collection The Temple, a group of poems written as a record of a man’s efforts to recognize and follow God’s will; it was also intended to guide and comfort others. “The Rose” has the musical and cyclical qualities typical of many poems in the collection as well as many of Herbert’s hymns that appear in the Anglican hymnal. Each of its eight stanzas of four lines has a rhyme scheme of abab. Every line begins with a beat and continues in three iambic feet. Three stanzas—1, 5, and 7—include two lines ending in feminine rhyme; that is, the second-to-last syllable receives the beat, and the unaccented syllables rhyme. These three sets of lines come to bear the important message of the poem: The rose offers pleasure, it purges, and it claims repentance.

The poem is also something of a meditation that takes the form of a dialogue with self or an imagined questioner. The speaker explains his reasons, either to a friend or to himself, for adopting the life he has chosen. His decision to give up his life in order to be more useful reflects a submission to God’s will. Pressed, in the first line, to take more pleasure in life, the speaker responds that he wants no more pleasure than he has apportioned to his “strict but welcome size.” Pleasures, he explains, do not exist. They are only griefs in disguise. He offers the rose as a...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Rose,” like all of Herbert’s poems, has an orderly, clever, and paradoxical form. Using simple words, Herbert constantly invents new forms that appropriately reflect the ideas being explored. His poems use all the repetitive devices (particularly rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance, and repetition of words and phrases), as well as meter and form, to convey meaning. The shaping of some poems to reinforce the literal meaning shows the importance he attaches to the form itself. The form also reflects the perception of an orderly universe, which is revealed through close observation, analysis, and a metaphorical habit of mind.

Herbert’s poems present an artistic formulation of the analysis of a conflict. The result is often a dialogue. The Socratic dialogue was, for the classically educated person of the seventeenth century, the way to explore a topic in order to understand it. Herbert uses the dialogue repeatedly in his poems, achieving both clarification of an issue and the intimate tone for which his work has been so admired. The participants in the dialogue are sometimes an unnamed questioner (as in “The Rose”), sometimes two aspects of self, and sometimes God and self. Through this technique, readers sometimes hear the voice of the tired, angry, or lonely Christian with whom they identify. At other times, readers hear the voice of Herbert’s gentle, loving, and caring God. This intimate voice draws readers into the poem, creating...

(The entire section is 470 words.)