Date of Award
Master of Arts
The apparent simplicity of George Herbert's poetry has caused much comment and much misunderstanding of both the man and his poetry. The popular nineteenth-century picture of Herbert as the simple, tranquil country priest is being discarded, however, as twentieth-century scholars of metaphysical poetry re-exa mine both the works and life of George Herbert and find little simple about his life and a magnificent craftsmanship in his poetry.
Both the simplicity and the depth of Herbert's poetry lie in his imagery, in which concrete everyday objects and actions become high abstractions usually difficult to express. Of course, the presentation of abstractions through the common and concrete is a trait of meta physical poetry in general, but no other meta physical poet uses both fairly common expression and downright homely imagery as effectively as Herbert. Donne and most of the later meta physical poets achieved the metaphysical bond by startling contrasts of the ridiculous with the sublime, as in Donne's "The Flea," or wittily constructed conceits like the famous "stiff twin compasses" of Donne's "A Valediction: forbidding mourning." Herbert's household imagery could not serve in Donne's kind of poetry. It is distinctively Herbert's, the expression of a quieter man than Donne, but a man no less complex and no less an artist than the famous Dean of Saint Paul's.
It this seemingly ordinary day-to-day imagery that this paper intends to explore, in order to reveal how Herbert achieved hit apparent simplicity of imagery, to what effect he used the household imagery, and for what reasons he used it. By "household imagery" I mean Herbert's poetic use of concrete objects and actions commonly associated with everyday domestic life. If Herbert had been a simple country parson who wrote poetry as a genteel pastime, the household imagery probably would have been as simple and as quaint as many critics have said and would probably not be worth a second reading. However, since Herbert was born into great and noble family received the best education available, and spent several years in the English Court, the "simple" imagery is a matter of choice, not necessity. Attempting to explain both why Herbert chose his plain style over the eloquent style which be knew well and how be used his keen wit and great knowledge in plain poetry, the first part of this paper gives a view of Herbert as a man and as an artist in his times. The second part of the paper is directly concerned with the household imagery, its meanings and effects.
Halstead, Christina Hillquist, "Herbert's household imagery" (1967). Master's Theses. 264.