The Collar by George Herbert: Summary & Analysis

the collar


“The Collar” may be a one-stanza, free-verse poem that’s widely understood to incorporate dialogue between one speaker’s two inner voices, sometimes identified because of the heart and therefore the will. While the desire rebels against God and therefore the “collar” or yoke of faiththe guts wins the battle, overcoming the desire.


In the first sixteen lines of the poem, the speaker (or “the heart”) states that he’s uninterested in the present state of affairs and plans to hunt out his freedom. He laments that he’s “in the suit,” during a lowly position, which he has not reaped greater rewards. As these lines progress, we learn that the speaker has undergone a period of pining and sadness, resulting in his present anger.


In lines 17-26, another inner voice interjects, “not so, my heart,” reminding the primary speaker that there’s an end to sadness in view. If only the speaker will “leave [his] cold dispute” and stop his rebellion, he is going to be ready to open his eyes and see the reality.


In lines 27-32, the desire reappears, commanding the opposite speaker “away!” and restating his commitment to going abroad. within the final four lines of the poem, the irregular vers libre gives thanks to an ABAB rhyme scheme. The second inner voice reveals that, even within the midst of raving, he heard someone calling “Child” and replied “My Lord.” this means a return to God after a period of rebellion. The Collar read more…


the collar

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The Collar Analysis


The first 5 lines of the poem introduce the long quote that creates up most of the poem. The speaker of the poem announces that he struck the board—a table or altar—and then began an extended monologue that extends from lines 1-32. He begins by stating “no more!” implying that he can not tolerate his present situation and can getaway. Lines 3-5 give further context to the situation: he has been sighing and pining, indicating his unhappiness.


However, he believes that he truly has the choice of creating another choice. He states, “my life and features are free.” Here, the “lines” seemingly ask the free-verse lines of the poem itself. He compares his life and features in two similes, stating they’re “loos because of the wind” and “large as store.” The comparison to the wind ties to his threat to travel abroad, suggesting he could travel anywhere. The comparison to the “store” or storehouse suggests that he’s well-stocked with nourishment.


Lines 6-16 continue the speaker’s monologue, also as introduce a variety of rhetorical questions. The speaker asks if he will remain “in suit,” during a subservient position, forever. Next, he introduces the motif of the harvest, asking if he will only harvest thorns that creates him bleed, instead of harvesting fruit. He remembers a past during which there was “wine,” here suggesting both literal wine, the fruits of the harvest, and maybe the sacrament, also as corn. However, his sighs and tears have destroyed the fruits of the harvest—he has been sad for too long. He wonders if he’s alone during this despair and if he will ever receive any worldly rewards or honors, as indicated by his looking for a bay (laurel) crow and a garland.


Critics have long identified lines 1-16 as revealing one among the speaker’s inner voices, then a second voice emerging inline 17 (persisting through line 26). The second inner voice counters the first: “Not so…but there’s fruit,/ And thou hast hands.” While the primary voice (the heart) denies the existence of spiritual or worldly fruit, the second speaker (the will) asserts that it’s readily available for harvest. The second voice encourages the self to prevent sighing and seeking after “double pleasures,” or worldly pleasures. He goes as far on metaphorically comparing this mindset to a “cage” and “rope of sands”: this means that the speaker has actually trapped himself together with his “petty thoughts.” These destructive thoughts, instead of God, have shaped his world, but he was winking and “wouldst not see” truth explanation for his affliction.


In lines 27-32, the primary speaker, the heart, addresses the desire and commands it “away!” He insists that he will get away. He asks the desire to require away its “death’s head”—its skull or reminder, a reminder of mortality. Furthermore, he states that the person who “forbears” or neglects to serve his own needs deserves his burden. These lines mark the top of the quoted monologue. The Collar read more…


In the final quatrain of the poem, the irregular rhyme scheme resolves into an ABAB rhymed couplet. After his wild, raving monologue, the speaker reflects: while he was growing “more fierce and wild,” he heard God’s call, “Child,” and replied, “my Lord.” Here, the resolution of the rhyme scheme reflects the resolution of the poem: the speaker is not any longer rebellious, free, and wild. Rather, he accepts that he’s God’s child, and resolves to finish his rebellion and accept God’s love (and God’s law) once more.

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