By Chukwuma Ajakah
Welsh-born metaphysical poet and a priest of the Church of England, George Herbert (1593-1633) explores the beauty of man as the epitome of God’s creation in his poem titled, “The Pulley.” The poem portrays humankind as a richly endowed creation with enormous powers and potentials for a successful earthly existence.
“The Pulley” is a didactic poem embedded with spiritual, moral and socio-economic lessons. The poem mirrors the view that man, whose life is enriched with immeasurable treasures, is the epitome of creation. The attitude of the poet to God as revealed in each stanza of the poem is that God is a benevolent and loving Creator who has generously given mankind all that is needed to live a fulfilled life. The poet persona projects man as a spiritual and social being with devotional tendencies. The poet copiously alludes to the biblical story of creation as recorded in the first chapter of Genesis.
In the poem, mankind is depicted as the beneficiary of all the riches of the world. The dignity of humankind as depicted in the poem depends largely on the virtues that God has imbued man with from creation. The poet persona believes that wealth, strength, beauty, wisdom and honour are necessary, but inadequate to guarantee man’s spiritual health because man is wired to depend on God for his total wellbeing: 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 dispersèd lie/ Contract into a span.” “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 both should losers be.
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The thematic preoccupation of The Pulley hinges on God’s love towards man. This love is demonstrated as the Creator pours the contents of His “glass of blessings” on man, imbuing him with virtues such as strength, inspiration, creativity and intelligence. The supremacy of God is the central thematic concern of the poem. The sub-themes include: man’s necessary connection to God, the inevitability of death, the beauty of creation and eternal rest from struggles. As the poem reveals, human beings need occasional rest from their earthly work. But, the omnipotent God regulates this rest to keep a tab on them because absolute independence could be inimical to them: “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.”
Man’s destiny as portrayed in the poem, is so closely tied to God that he can only derive genuine satisfaction from God. Although man is provided with all he needs to live well and be wealthy, his world revolves around God and he is designed to return finally to his Maker for eternal rest. This assertion is reinforced in following lines through which the theme of inevitability of death is realized: So strength first made a 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.