George herbert as a metaphysical poet

Question: Discuss George herbert as a metaphysical poet.


George Herbert (1593-1633) is known as a metaphysical poet and a poet of faith in God and religion. According to Johnson (1709-1784), Herbert belongs to the group of poets who became known as metaphysical or allegorical poets. The metaphysical philosophy of searching for existence, truth, and knowledge inspires Herbert to discover the truth that is hidden in our lives.

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The qualities of metaphysical poetry

Although the metaphysical school of poetry has been criticized severely till the time of T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), every critic has shown some transparent criteria which are prescribed for this branch of poetry. The use of conceits, argumentative thought, passionate thinking, and unification of sensibility are the features of metaphysical poetry in accordance with H.C. Grierson (1866-1960) who was a professor of rhetoric and English literature.


Herbert’s poems speak of a number of qualities that are described as metaphysical. First, we must recognize that Herbert’s poetry is metaphysical because of its content. His poems are highly philosophical and reflective. Much of his poetry deals with Biblical themes and the Christian faith. The poem “Easter Wings” deals with resurrection. “The Collar” depicts a man who is losing his faith and feels anger for his commitment to God. But finally, he can overcome his rebellion against God. Thus, Herbert is literally a metaphysical poet.


Metaphysical poetry is characterized by its lyrical quality. Herbert’s poems are not only melodious, but they are psalms that increase religious concentration. Two lines of “Easter Wings” may help us to trace the lyrical quality of Herbert’s poetry.

“O let me rise

As larks, harmoniously,”

Unification of sensibility

The fusion of thought and emotion in poetry is called the unification of sensibility. Unification of sensibility can be illustrated in short by citing the example rose. When we look at the rose, we feel its fragrance and can see its beauty too. The poetry of Herbert is indeed realizable and understandable like the fragrance and outer appearance of a rose because of the excellent blending of thought and emotion. In the poem “The Collar”, Herbert provides an excellent instance of the blending of thought and emotion. The poem has a dramatic opening-

“I struck the board, and cried, “No more;

I will abroad!

What? shall I ever sigh and pine?”

The poem depicts two extremes of emotions. One is anger for the commitment to God and another is his desire for freedom. After a reasonable argument, he overcomes his resentment which symbolizes his deep feelings for God.

Use of conceits

Metaphysical poets are brought under severe criticism because of their conceits. It is believed by critics like Johnson that the use of conceits is the difficult term of metaphysical poetry. But in the 20th century, it is proved that conceits are the source of a proper blending of thoughts and emotions. Herbert’s poetry abounds in metaphysical conceits. The following phrases are an example of conceits:

  1. Forsake thy cage,
  2. I will abroad.

Wit and argument

Herbert is unique like other metaphysical poets in respect of wit and argument. The metaphysical poets use allegorical conceits to express their thought and argument.

Dramatic quality

It is thought that metaphysical poetry is the paradigm of a morality play. This genre of poetry is engulfed with dramatic qualities. Abrupt beginning confers the fuel to dramatic quality. Besides, the conversation manner of writing creates a dramatic sensation. The closure of the poem “The Collar” is an outstanding token of a colloquial manner.

“Methought I heard one calling, Child!

And I replied My Lord.”

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Now, we can say that Herbert is a great metaphysical poet in both content and method. He is a poet of spirit in respect of emotions and thoughts. In style, he is intellectual, in diction he is homely and graceful, and in the construction of his poems, he is logical. In belief and faith, he is a perfect Christian.

S Ridoy Kumar
S Ridoy Kumar
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