Poetry Analysis: Essay Six [22 out of 25, 2000/2001]


Chris Larham’s essay on George Herbert’s The Collar [22 out of 25, 2000/2001] can be opened in a print-friendly text document format here
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‘Read the poem The Collar. Comment in detail on how George Herbert writes about a time of doubt in his life.’

{Essay CONTENTS: The Collar – context and introduction; Connotations of title; Initial passion AGAINST religion; Rhetorical question conveying doubt/disillusionment; Use of similes and declarative mood; Religious imagery; Forlorn interrogative mood; Use of metaphor; Third person perspective; Use of contrast [anger – meekness]; The Collar ending: Herbert at peace.}

Drawing heavily on the traditions of his contemporary metaphysical poets, George Herbert passionately relates a turning point in his life in The Collar. Herbert attempts to convey his inner angst at the crossroads of his life, with the theme of religion a prominent feature of the poem.[^]

The title of the poem – The Collar – can be interpreted in many ways in relation to the rest of the poem. It could be an allusion to a preacher’s collar, thus emphasising the religious foregrounding of the poem. It might be a reference to the “choler” he feels inside; perhaps he is angry with himself for such self-doubts, or maybe he experiences “choler” at having meekly, blindly obeyed the “law” of religion and thus lived his life in a self-enforced “cage”.[^]

Traditional metaphysical poetic passion is displayed by his aggressive, struck the board, and cried…” The ‘board’ here could justifiably be interpreted as the communion table; therefore the poem seems to start off with a positive stand against religion and its various restrictions.[^]

A rhetorical question, “What? shall I ever sigh and pine?”, is used as he articulates the inner thoughts which he has seemingly repressed for so long. This is a continuation of his angry-yet-introspective outburst against religion; he appears to be implying that he is bored by religion, and craves (possibly blasphemous) activities to bring pleasure to his life.[^]

A series of similes moves the mood from the interrogative to the declarative, “My lines and lie are free; free as the road…” It is as though he’s trying to justify a move away from the comfort zone of religion; perhaps he is trying to convince himself that he could live a happy, “free”, fulfilled life without religious constraints. The abundant natural simile that his life is “as large as store” appears to show a desire to go and live it in the manner he wants.[^]

His attachment to the lord is demonstrated as he paradoxically uses imagery that has religious connotations. “Sure there was wine” is an allusion to the ceremonial drinking of wine when remembering the way Jesus supposedly suffered for us – the wine is His blood {metaphorically}.[^]

“Have I no bays to crown it? No… garlands gay?” demonstrates a forlorn interrogative mood, in which he appears to be at his lowest religious ebb – the years seem to be passing him by, and he feels he has nothing to show for them.[^]

His resolve to break away from the religious “cage”, to “Recover all thy sigh-blown age/On double pleasures”, appears to grow stronger with every passing line. As his “petty thoughts” have made “Good cable” (which appears to be a metaphor for the limitations of religion) bind his life, and reduce his free will, he becomes ever more convinced that he will forever have the kingdom of God, “I will abroad”.[^]

Herbert views himself from a third-person perspective- with a hint of cynicism and mockery- when he says, “He that forbears/To suit and…Deserves his load.”[^]

However, in the height of his confusion and desperation- “as I raved… more fierce and wild…”– he, perhaps inevitably, arrives at communication with, ‘My Lord’, and is meekly accepting of the Lord’s place in his own life.[^]

Herbert calmly ends the poem with, ‘My Lord’; he appears to be at peace once again with the world after his troubled opening to the poem where he was considering banishing all religious notions from his existence. George Herbert appears to have found himself by accepting that He has a major role to play in his life.[^]

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Forty-year-old father of three wonderful children [William, Seth, and Alyssa]. Works as an Assistant Technical Officer in the Sterile Services Department of Treliske Hospital, Cornwall. Enjoys jogging, web design, learning programming languages, and supporting Arsenal FC. Obtained a BA degree in English from the University of Bolton in 2008, and has continued to gain qualifications in a diverse range of subjects thereafter.

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Posted in AS Level English [A1]

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