'Prayer' by George Herbert

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Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgramage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;
Engine against th'Almightie, sinners towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear;
Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bels beyond the starres heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices; something understood.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Depth and Beauty of George Herbert's Poetry, Prayer

George Herbert's Poetry, Prayer is a timeless piece of literature that continues to inspire readers today as it did hundreds of years ago. This collection of poems is a testament to Herbert's deep faith and his ability to express it through his art. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will delve into the themes, imagery, and language of Poetry, Prayer, and explore how Herbert's work transcends its time and place to resonate with contemporary readers.

Background and Context

George Herbert was a seventeenth-century poet, priest, and theologian. Born into a noble family, he received a classical education at Cambridge and served as a Member of Parliament before becoming a priest. He is best known for his religious poetry, which he wrote in the last years of his life. Herbert's poetry is characterized by its devotion to God and its use of simple language and imagery.

Poetry, Prayer was published posthumously in 1633, a year after Herbert's death. The collection is made up of 116 poems, many of which are prayers or meditations on religious themes. The poems are arranged in a specific order, with the first half focusing on sin and repentance and the second half on redemption and grace.


The central themes of Poetry, Prayer are faith, sin, redemption, and the relationship between God and humanity. Herbert's poems explore these themes through a variety of images and metaphors, such as the soul as a temple, the heart as a garden, and God as a shepherd.

One of the most striking aspects of Herbert's poetry is his portrayal of sin. He sees sin not as a moral failing but as a condition of the human soul. In "The Collar," for example, he describes the soul as a "wilderness" that is "chained" and "miserable." Herbert's view of sin is not one of condemnation but of compassion. He recognizes the human struggle with sin and offers a path to redemption through faith and humility.

Herbert's poems also explore the nature of God and the human experience of divine presence. In "Love (III)," he describes God's love as a "sweet and gracious pang" that fills the soul with joy. In "The Pearl," he portrays the soul as a "jewel" that is sought after by God. Herbert's language is often intimate and personal, as if he is speaking directly to the reader.


Herbert's use of imagery is one of the hallmarks of his poetry. He employs metaphors and symbols that are drawn from the natural world and from the Christian tradition. In "The Flower," he compares the life of a flower to the fleeting nature of human existence. In "The Pulley," he uses the image of a pulley to describe God's desire to draw humanity closer to him.

The imagery in Herbert's poetry is often simple and direct, but it is also rich with meaning. In "The Altar," for example, he uses the image of an altar to represent the human heart. The poem is structured as a prayer, with each stanza building on the metaphor of the altar. The final stanza reads:

Oh let thy blessed sacrifice be mine,
And sanctify this altar to be thine.

This image of the heart as an altar is a powerful one, as it suggests that the human soul is capable of offering itself as a sacrifice to God.


Herbert's language is notable for its simplicity and directness. He uses everyday language to convey spiritual truths, and he avoids elaborate wordplay or rhetorical flourishes. His poems are often structured in a way that is easy to understand, with clear and concise lines.

At the same time, Herbert's language is rich with meaning and nuance. He uses repetition and rhyme to create a musical effect, and he employs a range of poetic devices, such as alliteration and imagery. His language is often deeply personal, as if he is sharing his own spiritual journey with the reader.


George Herbert's Poetry, Prayer is a work that continues to speak to readers today. His poetry offers a vision of faith and redemption that is both profound and accessible. Through his use of imagery, language, and themes, Herbert expresses the human struggle with sin and the possibility of grace. His poetry is a testament to the power of art to inspire and uplift the human spirit.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

George Herbert’s Poetry Prayer is a classic piece of literature that has stood the test of time. This poem is a beautiful expression of faith and devotion, and it has been admired by readers for centuries. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of Poetry Prayer, and we will examine why this poem continues to resonate with readers today.

The poem begins with the speaker addressing God, asking Him to “teach [him] to pray.” This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as the speaker is seeking guidance and wisdom from God. The speaker acknowledges that he does not know how to pray, and he is asking for help. This humility and vulnerability are central to the poem’s message, as the speaker is acknowledging his own limitations and relying on God for guidance.

The first stanza of the poem is focused on the speaker’s desire to pray. He says that he wants to pray, but he does not know how. He compares himself to a “busy fool” who is always doing something, but never really accomplishing anything. This comparison highlights the speaker’s frustration with his own inability to pray, and it emphasizes the importance of prayer in his life.

The second stanza of the poem is focused on the speaker’s relationship with God. He acknowledges that he has sinned and fallen short of God’s expectations, but he also expresses his faith in God’s mercy and forgiveness. The speaker says that he is “black” with sin, but he believes that God can wash him clean. This theme of redemption and forgiveness is central to the poem, and it reflects the Christian belief in the power of God’s grace.

The third stanza of the poem is focused on the speaker’s desire to be closer to God. He says that he wants to be “caught up” in God’s love, and he wants to be “lost” in God’s presence. This desire for intimacy with God is a common theme in Christian literature, and it reflects the belief that God is not just a distant deity, but a loving and caring presence in our lives.

The fourth stanza of the poem is focused on the speaker’s desire to be transformed by God. He says that he wants to be “moulded” by God’s hand, and he wants to be “fashioned” into a better person. This theme of transformation is central to the Christian faith, as believers are called to be “transformed by the renewing of [their] minds” (Romans 12:2). The speaker is acknowledging his own need for transformation, and he is asking God to help him become a better person.

The fifth and final stanza of the poem is focused on the speaker’s desire to serve God. He says that he wants to be a “vessel” for God’s use, and he wants to be “filled” with God’s spirit. This theme of service is also central to the Christian faith, as believers are called to use their gifts and talents to serve others and glorify God. The speaker is acknowledging his own desire to serve God, and he is asking God to use him for His purposes.

The structure of Poetry Prayer is simple and straightforward. The poem consists of five stanzas, each with four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, and the meter is iambic tetrameter. This simple structure allows the poem’s message to shine through, as the reader is not distracted by complex language or elaborate metaphors. Instead, the poem’s message is clear and direct, and it speaks to the reader’s heart.

The language of Poetry Prayer is also simple and direct. The poem is written in plain English, and it is easy to understand. This simplicity is intentional, as the poem’s message is meant to be accessible to all readers, regardless of their education or background. The language is also poetic, with beautiful imagery and metaphors that enhance the poem’s message. For example, the speaker compares himself to a “busy fool” in the first stanza, and he compares himself to a “vessel” in the final stanza. These metaphors help to convey the speaker’s message in a powerful and memorable way.

In conclusion, Poetry Prayer is a classic piece of literature that continues to resonate with readers today. The poem’s message of humility, faith, redemption, transformation, and service is timeless, and it speaks to the deepest desires of the human heart. The poem’s simple structure and language make it accessible to all readers, and its beautiful imagery and metaphors make it a joy to read. George Herbert’s Poetry Prayer is a true masterpiece of Christian literature, and it is a testament to the power of prayer and the grace of God.

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