Herbert’s use of imagery in his poems


George Herbert is one of the most important metaphysical poets, known for his saintly life and intense devotion to God, his poems are not meant to be expressive, but reflect his sincere religious feelings.  He was influenced by new metaphysical ideas such as John Donne and the Metaphysical Conceit.  However, George Herbert was not constrained by John Donne’s style and developed his own.  Herbert’s poems were also quite musical and included various forms of song poems, but they also reflect Herbert’s concern with the rhetorical, persuasive, and proverbial.

Concrete imagery:

Herbert’s poetry is marked by concreteness even as he deals with abstract ideas.  It is one of Herbert’s merits that he uses abstract religious ideas through concrete imagery, so that his ideas make a deep impression on our minds.  His imagery is almost realistic, almost every image has a touch of realism.  Through his image we can imagine what he has to say.  Much of his imagery is of the familiar, everyday type.Although Herbert came from an aristocratic and highly cultured upper-class family, he had an underlying understanding of the common life of the English people.

Realistic point of view: 

Like Donne, Herbert is a realist in literature.  He shows a preference for domestic imagery, similes and metaphors.  His poetry contains many learned allusions, but he also draws his analogies from carpentry, gardening, and everyday household chores.  Much of Herbert’s imagery is biblical, as was imperative in the writing of a man who chose the priesthood as his vocation.  The biblical character of his imagery lends it a familiar and concrete quality to the Christian reader.  Echoes of biblical psalms, proverbs and parables can be found through his poetry.  He also drew many of his paintings from architecture and music.

Pictorial imagery: 

In Easter Wings the poet wishes to share Christ’s victory over death and through this participation to achieve a closer relationship with Christ. So the poet gives us the picture of himself rising upwards like a lark and another picture of new feather being engrafted in his damaged wing to enable him to fly with greater speed. Both the metaphors- one of the poet rising upwards like a lark, and the other of the engrafting of feathers are perfectly concrete, even though the idea of spiritual elevation which the poet seeks is itself abstract.

Biblical imagery:

In the poem Redemption, Herbert uses a more familiar type of imagery.  In this he borrows his metaphor from the market place and the world of tenant-landlord relations.  Herbert considers himself a tenant in search of his landlord, namely Jesus Christ, as he seeks to negotiate a revised lease.  Added to this business-image is a biblical image, Christ among a hostile crowd of thieves and murderers who are about to kill him.  The main theme of the poem is that Christ redeemed mankind through his martyrdom and this point is established through familiar and specific imagery.


From the above discussion, we can conclude that he expresses everything by imagery, and tries above all, else to be concrete. To express some abstract ideas, through concrete and visible symbols constitute his merit as a metaphysical poet and at the same time a defect, because it sometimes leads him to draw an idea.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

Articles: 303

Leave a Reply