George Herbert’s “The Pulley”: Establishing Our Relation to God

Before we go into the Christian doctrine let’s focus on the title Pulley or the Gift of God by George Herbert first. Pulleys and hoists are mechanical devices aimed at assisting us with moving heavy loads through a system of ropes and wheels (pulleys) to gain advantage. We should not be surprised at the use of a pulley as a central conceit since the domain of physics and imagery from that discipline would have felt quite comfortable to most of the metaphysical poets. God is the most important character in “The Pulley”, and the only one whose name is given except the poet narrator. In the beginning of the poem, he is excited by the ringing of the truth while He and his creations, i. e. the human being are having a conversation while in imaginations through the poet’s conversation with the God. Herbert sees a perfect design of our psychology in Christian ideological terms explained through his God's eyes, but he longs to join the religious journey.


God opened a glass of blessings and poured it on man. The glass refers to the material world. Strength, beauty, wisdom, honour and pleasure were the specific riches that God poured on man. God considers rest to be the most precious of all the blessings as all the material blessings will ultimately lead to longing for peace of mind. The pursuit of materialism will lead to longing for peace of mind. It is to explain this philosophy that rest was placed at the bottom of the glass:
“When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.” ”

If God gave man rest also then Man will think only of the worldly blessings God has granted him and forget God who has given him those blessings. In such an arrangement, man would forget God and God would lose Man. The poem starts out with God creating man. He wants to pour all of His blessings into man. He knows that man is a beautiful, strong creation, and He wants to reward him. The one thing he doesn't want to give to man is His rest. God gives these blessings to man by pouring them out of a "glass of blessings." The only blessing that God leaves in the bottle is "Rest."  This gift is so precious that God does not want to give it to man; if man would have it, he would worship "Nature, not the God of Nature." Rest is seen as kind of a Pandora's Box. God knows that if he gives rest to man, then man will come to worship all the things in nature, instead of worshiping God.



“For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be.

God has to with hold the gift of rest from man as he knew all his other treasures would one day result in spiritual restlessness and fatigue in man- ‘repining restlessness’- that moment when God would lift with his pulley. We can say that the withholding of Rest by God is the leverage that will draw mankind towards God when other means would make that task difficult. A pulley thus signifies a method God adopts to lift human beings to Himself.

God does not have faith in man which is why he has withheld the blessing of rest until man seeks it. God had full knowledge that His treasures would tire man and make him exhausted. He wanted man to find true rest only in Him. He wants all of us to come to Him, for He alone can truly give us the rest we so desperately seek. It is in his weariness, then, that man will realize his imperfections and his need for God and the spiritual life. Then, he will reach for God's "pulley" and seek heaven. When men are separated from godly blessing, they encounter horrible stories about the cruelty of strength, beauty, wisdom, honour and pleasure. They become confused when these things do not harm them and seem to trust him if used the pulley to reach the creator.
“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”

When God made man, he poured all his blessings on him including strength, beauty, wisdom, honour and pleasure. However, as in Pandora’s Box, one element remained. We are told that God after a second thought with held ‘rest’. We might in modern parlance call this God’s ace. God is aware that if He were to bestow this ‘jewel’- REST on man, man would adore his gift instead of God who gave those gifts. God has to withhold the gift of rest from man knowing full well that His other treasures would one day result in spiritual restlessness and fatigue in man. The material gifts would tire him and he eventually would turn to God in exhaustion. God prefers that man should be "rich and weary," so that eeriness may toss him to God’s breast. In other words, if man will at least be tired, he will have reason to fear God.  If God bestow this jewel also on creature, He would adore his gifts instead of God, and rest in Nature, not the God of Nature; thus, both are losers. God is concerned that man will rest in Nature, and not in Him. God both fears and admires the Human being before this battle of life. The Human being is important because his actions force God to question his definition of the prayer and creator. Finally, the Human being ends up in a situation where they have to trust the God when they discover a pulley is set up as design. They turn out to be worthy of God’s trust and says a prayer for them in heat’s core. This confuses the Human being even more because they now see this materiality as lures rather than just as bouquets.

The Pulley is a good example of Herbert’s simplicity that only a great artist can attain. He gives this story a delightful twist. The poem, "The Pulley," is one of those poems, that is deep in meaning. It is a comforting sort of poem. God is shown as a God who knows everything and how everything will turn out. God needs to toss man to his breast. In the context of the mechanical operation of a pulley, the kind of leverage and force applied makes the difference for the weight being lifted. Applied to man in this poem, we can say that the withholding of Rest by God is the leverage that will draw mankind towards God when other means would make that task difficult.

Two literary devices that Herbert uses to establish theme and tone are titling the poem's brief stanzas by the dialogue form and giving identities of us a generic the Human being. Both techniques establish the alienation that we experiences during our day at living. Herbert suggests the impersonality of living without God. People are pawns with designated functions; search for peace of mind forces them to give up their individual identities and their capacity to form human honours. George Herbert’s “The Pulley” can be considered the first modern peace of mind poem, incorporates a very essence of metaphysical poem. Herbert’s protagonists are the human race who envisions feats of glory as a glorious adventure only to be disillusioned by ultimate reality of peace of mind- the God.

Ardhendu De

References: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/herbert/wadia.htm

                                    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/44370

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