AD's English Literature : George Herbert’s "The Collar" as a Metaphysical Religious Poem

George Herbert’s "The Collar" as a Metaphysical Religious Poem



The Collar
By George Herbert

I struck the board, and cried, No more.
I will abroad.
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me blood, and not restore
What I have lost with cordial fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did dry it: there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the year only lost to me?
Have I no bays to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
All wasted?
Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Away; take heed,
I will abroad.
Call in thy death's head there: tie up thy fears.
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load.
But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child:
And I replied, My Lord.


For George Herbert poetry is religion and religion poetry. He believed that a man should dedicate all his gifts to God’s service, that a poet should make the altar blossom with his poetry. Accordingly his most famous poem included in The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations (1633), The Temple as well as his other poems like Virtue and The Pulley are full of faith and fervor. Read More Poetry In the poem Elixir the poet declares that his only desire is ‘In all things Thee to see’ and that the only true elixir is God. Yet not all of Herbert’s poems are of placid piety, for he himself declared that in many of his poems he presented ‘a picture of the many spiritual conflicts which have passed between God and my soul’. The Collar which is included in the said volume exemplifies such a spiritual conflict, the difficult, lifelong struggles of the Christian faith presented in terms of metaphysical wit and conceits.


The poem has a fervid beginning and is as sticking as any other metaphysical poem:
             “I struck the board, and cry’d. No more.”
Here the board stands both for the dining table and for alter. Being a priest, Herbert has the duty of giving the sacrament of Holy Communion. Read More Poetry But he obviously wants to give up his religious and priestly duty because the feels that he has to sacrifice all his personal pleasures. Indeed, his religious vocation is the ‘Collar’ which is keeping him tied to his job. Again, it is the French choler (anger) and is a reference to Christ's own yoke or burden.  Collar also implied a relation between the human master and his dog tied o a leash. The word Collar is also a pun on ‘Choler’, for the bondage imposed by God results in irritation on the part of the priest.

The poet laments the fact that for him there is no ripe harvest of sensual pleasures but only the thorn of pain. If he had ever known wine, it was much before his becoming a priest, for the sighs of the priest have dried the wine up. If there was golden corn, it too has been drowned by tears of the suffering priest. He wonders if the ‘year’ which is also a pun on an ear of corn is lost only to the priest. For him there is no crowning glorious, and not does he have any garland or flowers of gaiety for they have all been laid a waste by his self-sacrificing vocation.

But the poet seems to realize all of that there still is ‘fruit’ and that if he only uses his hands in the sense of sensual instincts, he would be able to avail of it. Therefore he would try to recover all that his period of priesthood has deprived him of. Read More Poetry He would live the ‘cold dispute’ of theology for much greater pleasure. Using a series of metaphysical conceits as in The Pulley, the poet declares that his present religious vocation is no more than a ‘cage’. The bond between man and God which he had thought to be exceptionally strong ‘coble’ to draw him from the earth to heaven was actually nothing but a ‘rope of sands’. He feels that it is because of his weakness that he has been so firmly enslaved by God. Even the message of death, the Biblical remainder that man must one day turn to dust and then face the wrath of God was only an illusion. Read More Poetry Therefore he would abandon his priestly ways for ‘double pleasures’. He believed that then his life would be ‘free’ and not only would it be free as the road or loose as the wind, but also as large as store.

It is at this juncture when the poet has almost decided upon releasing himself from God’s bondage and when he has grown ‘fierce and wild’ that he receives a hearing God call out to him ‘child’. Under the experience of such a divine intervention the poet can do nothing else except make his humble reply: ‘My Lord’. Read More Poetry Although this resolution of Herbert’s spiritual conflict would appear almost perplexing. The poet certainly wants to emphasize that God’s purpose and functioning transcends the logical of man’s limited rational mind. The conclusion is certainly the most and the most satisfying possible. So moved was Aldous Huxley by this poem that he called it one of the most moving poems in all literature.

  Ardhendu De 

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