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By George Herbert
George Herbert was born on April 3, 1593 at Montgomery Castle, the fifth son of
an eminent Welsh family. Herbert\'s religious beliefs caused him to be an active
opponent of the puritans and the Calvinists. Herbert became the cannon of
Lincoln Cathedral and in 1630 he took holy orders. During the years Herbert
spent at Bemerton he worked on a collection of verses known as The Temple. Upon
his death they published the manuscript. The poem "The Collar" is a
complaint voiced by person embittered against the constraints that bind him.
Impatient with the human condition, the writer resolves to break free. "My
lines and life are free, free as the road, / Loose as the wind, as large as
store" he insists. The accompanying gesture, "I struck the board and
cried, \'No more!\'" is a dramatic, and boastful act. The tone of these lines
is recognized as an exaggeration. The writer is impatient with the need to
recognize one\'s dependence and to accept one\'s need to worship and serve God.
The poem as a whole is about blowing off steam. Herbert develops two quite vivid
major images to build the poem\'s theme. The images of restraints such as
"collars / cages / cable / rope"suggests something stiff and
restrictive, but not harmful, like a noose or shackles. The title of the poem,
"The Collar," an article of clothing a man wears when he must be at
his best. The word "Collar" also refers to the white band worn by the
clergy, and it is the role of priest the poem alludes to. This collar symbolizes
the priest\'s role as servant. The writer chafes at being "in suit."
The image has at least a double meaning. The word "suit" refers to the
clerical "suit" and connotatively to the attendance required of a
vassal at his lord\'s court. "Forsake thy cage, / Thy rope of sands."
The word "cage" suggests a contraption for animals. The purpose is not
to harm but merely to restrict movement, and keep from harm. This prevents the
creature from getting hurt by its impulses and curiosity about what lies beyond
the confines. This imagery of restraints suggests the writer of being in an
animalistic state. This animalistic condition is clear when "as I raved and
grew more fierce and wild/ At every word." The writer is getting himself
worked up. He is unreasoning, like an animal. Even the text, seems to bark:
"What? Shall I ever sigh and pine?/ My lines and life are free, free as the
road, / Loose as the wind, as large as store." The feeling is that the
restraints are perhaps appropriate. Yet, this is not a jail, if the writer can
"forsake" it, then he can get out. His confinement contains an element
of choice. However, "Ropes of sand" is something else. Ropes are not
chosen, and "sand" describes the way they feel on the skin, the
discomfort of being chafed by them when one struggles to get them off.
"Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee/ Good cable, to enforce
and draw, / And be thy law, / while thou didst wink and wouldst not see."
Then the fuller meaning that Herbert intended for this image is realized. The
whole image of the ropes represents a turn in thought. Service to God, makes us
sometimes feel strained. The writer is also enslaved by "petty
thoughts," the writer\'s tirade is an example of such thoughts. Such
thoughts are true shackles, and not the disciplinary kind of restraint which
"collar" or even "cage" is. Another important image pattern
in the poem is that of the harvest. The clergy, are workers in the vineyard. The
writer, however, feels his only harvest has been a thorn that has made him
bleed. His "sighs" and "tears" have made him ruin the fruits
of his labors. Herbert means that, when done in the wrong spirit, service is
fruitless; self-pity cancels the good. The writer mourns for "bays to
crown" the year, for "flowers [and] garlands gay," emblems of
personal rewards, accomplishments, and pleasures. He wishes for greater
recognition for his talents. He wonders if he has given up too much, let many of
life\'s rewards pass him by. The turn in the poem occurs near the end, when the
writer leaves off his tirade in the immediate reply to the Master\'s call: "Methought
I heard one calling, Child! / And I replied, My Lord." The distressed note
in the writer is silenced and the discontent is passed . The effect is to arouse
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