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Redemption

'Redemption' is a 1633 poem by the Metaphysical poet George Herbert. It is an allegorical poem that praises God and his humility.

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'Redemption' is a 1633 poem by the Metaphysical poet George Herbert. It is an allegorical poem that praises God and his humility.

The term Metaphysical is used to describe a group of poets from the 1600s. This is a term used by critics retrospectively; often, these poets did not know each other. Metaphysical works think deeply and philosophically about life, frequently focusing on morals and spirituality. They also subvert traditional poetic forms. Well-known metaphysical poets include John Donne and Abraham Cowley.

Below is a summary and in-depth analysis of Herbert's 'Redemption'.

Redemption: Summary & Analysis
Published1633
AuthorGeorge Herbert
FormEnglish sonnet
MetreIambic pentameter
Rhyme schemeABAB CDCD EFFE GG
Frequently noted imageryEarthly vs heavenly imagery
Poetic devicesAllegory, enjambment
ToneReverent, hopeful
Key themesGod's love, perseverance
SummaryA reflective poem that explores the Christian concept of redemption and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the salvation of humanity.
AnalysisA metaphysical poem that employs rich religious imagery, metaphorical language, and deep spiritual contemplation. Herbert uses the theme of redemption as a vehicle to explore his Christian faith and the concept of salvation. Redemption is always possible from a loving and humble God.

'Redemption' poem by George Herbert

George Herbert's poem 'Redemption' is a reflection on the concept of redemption and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the salvation of humanity according to Christian theology.

Having been tenant long to a rich lord,

Not thriving, I resolvèd to be bold,

And make a suit unto him, to afford

A new small-rented lease, and cancel th' old.

In heaven at his manor I him sought;

They told me there that he was lately gone

About some land, which he had dearly bought

Long since on Earth, to take possessiòn.

I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,

Sought him accordingly in great resorts;

In cities, theaters, gardens, parks, and courts;

At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth

Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,

Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.

'Redemption' by George Herbert: summary

Below is a stanza-by-stanza summary of the poem.

Stanza one

The narrator begins the first stanza of 'Redemption' by stating that he is a tenant to a wealthy lord. He rents farmland off this lord, but it has been recently struggling. The narrator has not been profiting from it as he should. He has built up the courage to ask the lord to rent a new area of farmland from him and cancel any debts from his previous one.

Stanza two

The tenant searches for the landlord in his manor, which he compares to heaven. Those at the manor tell the tenant that the lord has gone to what they call 'earth' to take possession of the land he purchased some time ago.

Stanza three

In stanza three, the narrator follows the landlord to Earth to find him. He refers to going to Earth as a return. The narrator knows how high and important a birth this lord hails from, so he only looks for him in the most prestigious places. Then, he hears harsh noises and laughter.

Stanza four

Stanza four reveals that these noises emanate from groups of thieves and murderers. The lord can be found amongst these people. The lord tells the narrator that his wish for new land has been granted, and then he dies.

'Redemption' by George Herbert: meaning

While George Herbert's poem may initially seem like a simple story of a tenant pursuing a kind landlord, it is much more than this. The title of the poem, 'Redemption', hints at this meaning. The concept of redemption is often associated with Christianity, and Herbert's poem revolves around religion. 'Redemption' is an allegorical poem. The tenant represents a man looking for a new religious life of redemption and salvation, and the lord represents a kindly God. However, Herbert also portrays God as humble and accepting of sinners.

The man expects God to be somewhere grand and great on Earth. In reality, he is in the company of thieves and murderers, accepting them. God readily grants the man redemption, emphasising his forgiving nature. The death of the God figure in 'Redemption' is Herbert's representation of Jesus dying for the sins of man.

Redemption, Jesus on the cross, StudySmarterFig 1. - The representation of Jesus dying for humanity fits in with the theme of redemption being possible.

'Redemption' by George Herbert: theme

As it is a religious poem, God's love is an important theme in 'Redemption'. The narrator spends the poem searching for God, believing he is the only one who can help him change his life and gain salvation. He is proven correct when God uses his dying breaths to grant him just this. The love of this God also extends to those that society may not always accept, as he spends his time on Earth surrounded by 'thieves and murderers'.

In the narrator's search for God, perseverance is another key theme. He must initially work up the bravery to make a request of his lord. When he cannot find him, the narrator sets out on a journey to track him down. He is determined in his journey because his redemption is so essential to him.

'Redemption' by George Herbert: literary devices

Let's look at the poetic devices in 'Redemption'.

Allegory

'Redemption' itself is an allegorical poem.

An allegory is when a story is used to disguise a hidden, more profound meaning. This meaning can often be spiritual or moral.

Herbert uses the poem's tenant as an allegory for a man seeking salvation. The landlord represents the Lord, or God, himself. The plot of land that the narrator wants to improve on is his life. He wishes to lead a better and more spiritual life with God's blessing, which he gains.

Enjambment

The device of enjambment is also used in Herbert's poem.

Enjambment is when a line continues into the next without being broken up by any punctuation. This can continue for multiple lines or stanzas.

Below is an example of enjambment in 'Redemption'.

They told me there that he was lately gone

About some land, which he had dearly bought

Long since on Earth, to take possessiòn. (ll. 6-8)

These lines run continuously into the next without breaks. Much of 'Redemption' is written in this manner; it is told like a story. Enjambment shows the steady progression of the narrator's journey as he searches for his lord. It can also be seen to represent the continuing nature of God's love which is shown in his immediate acceptance of the narrator's request at the end of Herbert's poem.

'Redemption' by George Herbert: analysis

Below is a further analysis of 'Redemption'.

Form, metre, and rhyme scheme

'Redemption' takes the form of an English or Shakespearean sonnet.

A Shakespearean or English sonnet typically contains fourteen lines divided into three quatrains followed by a couplet. English sonnets are in iambic pentameter. As the name suggests, the form was popularised by Shakespeare.

'Redemption' follows the form of a sonnet closely, with the exception of the rhyme scheme. English sonnets usually follow the pattern ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, but 'Redemption' follows the pattern ABAB CDCD EFFE GG. Herbert subverts the English sonnet rhyme scheme in the third stanza of 'Redemption'. This is the stanza in which the narrator discovers that God is not in a grand and important place as he thought. He is instead with much more undesirable characters. As the narrator's viewpoint changes, so does the stanza's rhyme scheme.

Sonnets are often love poems. Why do you think Herbert chose this form for a poem about God?

Frequently noted imagery

Herbert contrasts earthly and heavenly imagery in 'Redemption'. The imagery surrounding the tenant's landlord is linked to heaven and grandeur. He lives in a 'manor', and the narrator thinks it most sensible to search for him in 'great resorts'. The landlord, or God, is associated with places of beauty and importance in the narrator's mind.

These images are contrasted with the more earthly reality. Herbert paints a picture of where the narrator really finds his lord. It is a place of 'ragged' noises and dangerous people. This is a much more grounded, real, and down to earth image than the one the narrator expected. This contrast emphasises Herbert's belief that God is truly humble and is willing to spend time amongst humans regardless of who they are.

Tone

Much of 'Redemption' has a tone of reverence. It is told from the perspective of a narrator searching for salvation. He has great respect for his lord. As seen in the below quote, it takes significant courage for him to ask his lord for help in the first place.

I resolvèd to be bold, (l. 2)

The lord has an authority that inspires awe in Herbert's narrator. His high opinion of the lord is also evident in the grand places he assumes him to reside in on Earth.

The tone of 'Redemption' is also hopeful. The narrator pursues God with the intention of bettering his life. He has a goal in mind and hopes that he will be successful. His dreams are instantly fulfilled once he finds his lord. In an allegorical sense, Herbert argues that once one accepts and finds God, salvation and redemption are always possible.

Redemption - Key takeaways

  • 'Redemption' is a 1633 poem by the Metaphysical poet George Herbert.
  • The poem is allegorical for a man finding redemption in God.
  • It is an English sonnet written in iambic pentameter.
  • Two key themes in 'Redemption' are God's love and perseverance.
  • As well as allegory, Herbert uses the literary device of enjambment in his poem.

Frequently Asked Questions about Redemption

'Redemption' is about a man searching for salvation in God.

God's love and perseverance are key themes in the poem.

The tenant asking his landlord for new land is allegorical for a man asking God for redemption and salvation.

The landlord in 'Redemption' is God.

Herbert's main idea in the poem is if one accepts God, he will always grant redemption and salvation.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

When was 'Redemption' written?

What type of poet was George Herbert?

How many lines does a sonnet have?

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