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George Herbert's emblem poetry

George Herbert, a parishioner in 1600’s England, was a contemporary of John Donne, one of the most famous poets of the period. He experimented with emblem, also known as shape or form poetry, and within the confines of the shape his poetry develops new poetry and comes alive. The poem shown on the left, “Easter Wings”, is one such poem

In this poem Herbert uses shape masterfully. The longer lines represent joy or abundance, and as the line gets smaller the theme becomes more negative. He discusses how God had granted man all that he needed, but man let it waste away. As he expresses this idea, the size of line wastes away. He discusses sorrow and decay in the first “wing”of each stanza.

The first “wing” of each stanza represents man’s inability to function or thrive without God, but the theme changes with the line “with thee” in both stanzas as a bridge to the second “wing”. Herbert shows his reliance on God in order to blossom or thrive. This idea is illustrated in the shape itself, because the lines get longer as he discusses the freedom and victory he feels in God.

Herbert’s poetry, whether or not the reader believes in what he discusses, has impact. The shape of the poetry, coupled with the meaning of each line, demonstrates Herbert’s veritable poetic skill.


  • Steve 4 years ago

    Something about the content and form makes it a true emotional and spiritual journey. Thanks for the review.


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