The Pulley by George Herbert

The Pulley by George Herbert 

The Pulley by George Herbert

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
Let us, said he, pour on him all we can:
Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.
So strength first made way;
Then beauty flowed; then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.
For, if I should, said he,
Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So should both losers be.
Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness:
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.

Analysis : The Pulley by George Herbert

The poem “The Pulley” illustrates the relationship between God and man especially his benevolence to man. The first stanza describes how God made man and blessed him with worldly riches: “When God at first made man, Having a glass of blessings standing by”. The stanza also portrays the concept of Trinity as seen in the Biblical creation story in Genesis: “Let us, said he pour on him all we can” (Note the use of the phrase “Let us”).
In the second stanza, God actually poured his blessings of strength, beauty, wisdom, honour and pleasure on man but withheld one important blessing- The Gift of Rest: “Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure, Rest in the bottom lay”.
In the third stanza, God gave his reason for withholding the gift of rest from man. He withdrew this blessing because he felt giving man the gift of rest would make him conceited or excessively proud and man may not worship him: “He would adore my gifts instead of me, And rest in nature, not the God of Nature”. With the withdrawal of rest from man, man is thrown into perpetual restlessness so that he can always remember his creator whether as a result of goodness or weariness: Let him be rich and weary, that at least, If goodness lead him not, yet weariness may toss him to my breast”


i.          God’s supremacy and love for mankind. He blessed man with many gifts but shows his supremacy over man by withholding the gift of rest.
ii.         Man’s dependency on God.
iii.        The insatiable nature of man’s needs. This throws man in a perpetual state of restlessness, anxiety and worry.

Poetic Devices: The Pulley by George Herbert

Looking for synecdoche and paradox in George Herbert’s “The Pulley.”
As I understand it, paradox is a statement that at first seems contradictory but then it starts to make sense.  Given that definition, the only line that seems to be paradoxical is “Let him be rich and weary, that at least.”
Synecdoche is a really tough concept for me.  It’s defined as the use of part of a thing to stand for the whole (she lent a hand).
1. The pulley as we all know is a simple machine which is useful for lifting heavy loads. It is a device which enables a person to pull and control  the rope at the end of which is the load to be lifted. The pulley represents God’s loving nature by which he draws mankind close to his bosom where man can find rest. It is the synecdoche-a trope which represents the entire divine life force by which God the Creator holds on to and controls his creation, Man.
2. Similarly, “breast” – the last word of the poem – is another synecdoche. “Breast” represents not just the physical bosom of God but represents the comfort and consolation which only God and not the secular blessings can give Man.  It is a ‘part’ which represents the ‘whole’ of the goodness of God.
The Paradox, of course, lies in the fact that God who is so benevolent and generous and fills Man to the overflowing with all the wonderful secular gifts,
Let us (said he) poure on him all we can :
Let the worlds riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.
So strength first made a way ;
Then beautie flow’d, then wisdome, honour, pleasure :
withholds from him the most precious gift – the jewel – rest.
The fact that God did not give ‘rest,’ the most precious gift to man seemingly detracts from his benevolent and generous nature, but God has done this for Man’s own good –  to compel him always to worship and adore only God and to seek comfort and solace only in God’s bosom and not in “Nature”:
For if I should (said he)
Bestow this jewell also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts in stead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature :
By denying man the most precious jewel, “rest,” God has not been unkind to Man but he has only been all the more good to him. It is this denial of “rest” which acts as the “pulley” which always draws restless Man to God and also helps God to keep ambitious and wayward  Man under His control.  If God had not been kind enough to deny Man “rest” then Man would not seek God and he would lose eternity and consequently God would also lose Man to the eternal fires of hell: “So both should losers be. Paradoxically, God the ‘giver’ by refusing to give the most precious gift proves himself to be all the more generous and kind.
Another paradox can be found in the line, “Rest in the bottom lay.” The most precious gift is at the bottom of the “glass” and not at the top.

Structure of the Poem: The Pulley by George Herbert

The poem does not hold a specific rhythm. It has 4 stanzas of the poem, the first and the last lines of each stanza are of equal trimeter but the second, third, and fourth are not clearly equal in each stanza.

The poem The Pulley by George Herbert has a to total of 20 lines, each line with end rhyme pattern of ABABA, CDCDC. The first stanza is  about the reason God endowed man during creation, the second stanza showed all the endowments, the third stanza is about the reason God gave man a companion, the last stanza is about how all the blessings and possessions given will lead man back to God’s bosom.

So in The Pulley by George Herbert God retains his precious jewel lest man abandoon him and worship nature instead. In this way man will always need God and turn to him in his desire for eternal peace.

About the Poet

George Herbert was born in to a noble Welsh family on April 3, 1593. His poetry was influenced chiefly by the puritanical stance of the 17th century in which he was born. After graduation from the University, he was ordained as a priest and served in a little church in Bemerton. His major collection of poems titled “The Temple” was published after his death.
George Herbert was an Anglican priest, theologian, and poet. Born into a wealthy family, he was very well educated and attended Trinity College in Cambridge. He briefly served in Parliament in 1624-25. In his mid-thirties, he gave up his secular career and was ordained a priest in the Church of England. He served as rector of a small parish 75 miles southwest of London and was known for his dedication to his parishioners and those who were needy and ill.
Herbert was a remarkable preacher and a brilliant writer of religious poems, many of which were put into popular hymns. He wrote in Greek, Latin, and English. Known for his humility, quiet devotion and saintly character, Herbert died on the 1st of March 1633.
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