George Herbert's "The Pulley": Word Notes & Glossary


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 dispersèd 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.”

About the Poet

George Herbert was a Welsh-born English poet, orator and Anglican priest. Herbert's poetry is associated with the writings of the metaphysical poets, and he is recognized as "a pivotal figure: enormously.

Born: April 3, 1593, Montgomery, United Kingdom

Died: March 1, 1633, Bemerton, United Kingdom

Siblings: Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury

Parents: Magdalen Newport, Richard Herbert of Montgomery Castle

George Herbert is regarded as an extra-ordinary original poet. His simplicity and lucidity of style is well known. He uses everyday images. He comprehends the nature of God’s love for man and man’s love for God. In the whole range of English poetry no one turned so completely away from
mundane to divine love as Herbert did. “The Pulley” appeared in The Temple volume of poems in1633.

Word Notes & Glossary

The Title, ‘The Pulley’:              A pulley is an arrangement for lifting; the poem describes God’s plan for   drawing man up to Himself.

Blessing:                       expressing thanks, affection, or good wishes
The blessing in the prayer usually said at the end of a Church service asking God to bless or look kindly upon the people who are present.

Standing by:                                   Something that is always ready to be used if it needed, especially in an emergency.

Pour on:                                            You fill up a cup or glass with a liquid which flows out quickly. Here there is a reference to the overflow of the God’s blessing.

Riches:                                                    valuable possessions, wealth/ huge amount of money or property

Dispersed:                                         spread, scattered / spread over a wide range of area

Contract:                                           (here) they tighten and become smaller

Strength:                                           physical  energy                or potentiality of a person

Made a way:                                   made an entry into the soul

God made a stay:                         God stops his activity    

Perceiving:             to realize or notice you continue to be there and do not move away

Treasure:                                           gifts

Rest:                                                     the poet uses pun out of this word,’ rest’. It indicates duplicity of meaning. In the first place, it refers ‘mental peace’ or ‘mental satisfaction’. Secondly, it signifies relaxation after heavy burdensome activity or boredom.

This jewel:                                        reference to ‘rest’, peace of mind, free from worries, tensions and anxieties.

Creature:                               we, the human beings created by God

Adore:                                                 worship, praise

Rest in Nature:                              Man will enjoy material objects and forget the Creator, who has given such precious gifts and even the life.

The rest:                                          the remainder of all gifts of God

Repining:                            worrying; distressing oneself with regret

Weary:                                            tired, exhausted, dispirited

Toss…breast:                                   dissatisfaction with the earthly life will lead man to God, the Creator. The poet had in his mind the statement made by Saint Augustine: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee”.

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