The Pulley by George Herbert
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 dispersed lie, Contract into a span. So strength first made a way; Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure: When almost all was out, God made a stay, Perceiving that alone of all His treasure Rest in the bottom lay. 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.
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. Analysis and Summary In the poem, the central idea posited by Herbert is that when God made man, he poured all his blessings on him, including strength, beauty, wisdom, honor and pleasure.
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However, as in Pandora’s box, one element remained. We are told that God “made a stay,” that is, He kept “Rest in the bottome. ” We might, in modern parlance, call this God’s ace. God is aware that if He were to bestow this “Jewel” (i. . rest) on Man as well then Man would adore God’s gifts instead of God Himself. God has withheld the gift of rest from man knowing fully well that His other treasures would one day result in a spiritual restlessness and fatigue in man who, having tired of His material gifts, would necessarily turn to God in his exhaustion. God, being omniscient and prescient, knows that there is the possibility that even the wicked might not turn to Him, but He knows that eventually mortal man is prone to lethargy; his lassitude, hen, would be the leverage He needed 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 hoist or draw mankind line of the last stanza, Herbert puns on the word “rest” suggesting that perhaps God will, after all, let man “keep the rest,” but such a reading would seem to diminish the force behind the poem’s conceit.
The importance of rest -and, by association, sleep- is an idea that was certainly uppermost in the minds of Renaissance writers. Many of Shakespeare’s plays include references to sleep or the lack of it as a punishment for sins committed. In Macbeth, for example, the central protagonist is said to “lack the season of all natures, sleep” and both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are tormented by the lack of sleep. Even Othello is most disconcerted by the fact that he is unable to sleep peacefully once Iago has poisoned him with the possibility of his wife’s nfidelity with Cassio.
Herbert’s Pulley, then, does not present a new concept. In fact, the ideas in the poem are quite commonplace for seventeenth century religious verse. What is distinctly metaphysical about the poem is that a religious notion is conveyed through a secular, scientific image that requires the reader’s acquaintance with, and understanding of, some basic laws of physics. 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 This poem portrays the relationship betweem man and god and also explains the method by which god recieves the respect from man by keeping the information of his eternal rest. towards God when other means would make that task difficult. However, in the first that discipline would have felt quite comfortable to most of the metaphysical poets.