Some Important Short Notes from Herbert's "The Pulley"





Q.      Asses George Herbert’s The Pulley as a metaphysical poem?

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. 

Q.       Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
           If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
           May toss him to my breast.”                                           - Explain

The Supreme Creator delves into His jar of blessings that contains virtues and attributes, bestowing strength, beauty, wisdom, honor, and pleasure upon man. Wishing that man reach for heaven for his peace rather than being complacent with nature, the Creator uses the metaphorical "pulley" of restlessness which will draw man to reach for heaven and attain spiritual perfection, rather than being satisfied on earth with Nature. 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. If love of God does not return man to him, his weariness of the world will.  God wants an emotional relationship with man.

Q.      How far the title of the poem “The Pulley” is justified?

The key to understanding the poem's title is two-fold: the denotation and connotation of the word, pulley. A pulley is a mechanical device used for lifting weights with a downward application of force.  The poet places this contraption then in the hands of God to ascribe certain qualities to man: loveliness, astuteness, reverence, enjoyment. God pulls each sacred gift from a glass brimming over until he comes to the last one. Man falls into the trap, in the process, forgetting his true nature, borne out by these possessions. Herbert professes that God uses Rest as a pulley to pull Man towards Him, it was indeed within Man from the beginning. Thus, the title of the poem clearly highlights the main tune of the poem.


Q.      Consider “The Pulley” as a religious poem.

Mankind takes pride in its religious traditions, legends and literature. Through ages religion is the part and parcel of human life. Therefore, great devotional poets have given to powerful expressions to their faith in God. 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 (1633), The Temple as well as his other poems like Virtue and The Pulley are full of faith and fervor. 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.

Q.      What is the jewel of God’s blessings? Why does God decide not to bestow it on man?
‘Rest’ is God’s most precious gift to man.

Since first attaining consciousness, the human creature has been plagued with feelings of restlessness. This has resulted in finding new and better ways of doing things. Herbert intends to use pun on this word to emphasize on the rest that man can afford every day and the ultimate rest that is in the hands of God. While man is allowed the pleasure of all gifts, he retains ‘rest’ with him because it was man’s choice to decide the time of rest, he will either end up using God’s other gifts completely or over-use it to such an extent to forget the creator of these. So he created pain along with pleasure to let man realize His worth. In that sense, this feeling of restlessness has been a boon and blessing to all mankind.

Q. What does the expression mean ‘So both should losers be’ in the poem “The Pulley”?

By denying man the most precious jewel, "rest," God has not been unkind to Man but he has only been all the more good to him. It is this denial of "rest" which acts as the "pulley" which always draws restless Man to God and also helps God to keep ambitious and wayward Man under His control.  If God had not been kind enough to deny Man "rest" then Man would not seek God and he would lose eternity and consequently God would also lose Man to the eternal fires of hell: "So both should losers be. Paradoxically, God the 'giver' by refusing to give the most precious gift proves himself to be all the more generous and kind.

Q. What did the God hope in the final stanza of the poem, "The Pulley"?

 The poet, George Herbert in the final stanza of his poem, “The Pulley” hoped that the human beings, in spite of having all the supreme qualities like ‘beauty’, ‘honour’, ‘wisdom’, ‘pleasure’ bestowed by the God, have to come to God as they lack best gift ‘rest’. 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, then, would be the leverage He needed to toss man to His breast.
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