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The Collar

'The Collar' is a metaphysical poem written by George Herbert, a renowned 17th-century English poet. It is part of his collection The Temple, published in 1633. The poem consists of thirty-six rhymed couplets written in the first person, which express the speaker's feelings of frustration and rebellion against the restrictions of his religious duties. 'The Collar' is told in the first person by its narrator and follows the angry thought processes of a religious narrator questioning his faith.

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The Collar

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'The Collar' is a metaphysical poem written by George Herbert, a renowned 17th-century English poet. It is part of his collection The Temple, published in 1633. The poem consists of thirty-six rhymed couplets written in the first person, which express the speaker's feelings of frustration and rebellion against the restrictions of his religious duties. 'The Collar' is told in the first person by its narrator and follows the angry thought processes of a religious narrator questioning his faith.

Below is a summary and in-depth analysis of 'The Collar'.

'The Collar': Summary and Analysis
Publication1633
AuthorGeorge Herbert
FormNo set form
MeterNo set metre
Rhyme schemeIrregular
Poetic devicesRhetorical questions, alliteration
Frequently noted imageryImagery of confinement
ToneFrustrated, angry, resentful
ThemesThe difficulty of devotion, doubt
AnalysisThe poem explores the concept that religious life is complicated and can lead to frustration, but is worthwhile in the end.

The Collar by George Herbert: poem

Let's consider the poem:

I struck the board, and cried, "No more;

I will abroad!

What? shall I ever sigh and pine?

My lines and life are free, free as the road,

Loose as the wind, as large as store.

Shall I be still in suit?

Have I no harvest but a thorn

To let me blood, and not restore

What I have lost with cordial fruit?

Sure there was wine

Before my sighs did dry it; there was corn

Before my tears did drown it.

Is the year only lost to me?

Have I no bays to crown it,

No flowers, no garlands gay? All blasted?

All wasted?

Not so, my heart; but there is fruit,

And thou hast hands.

Recover all thy sigh-blown age

On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute

Of what is fit and not. Forsake thy cage,

Thy rope of sands,

Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee

Good cable, to enforce and draw,

And be thy law,

While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.

Away! take heed;

I will abroad.

Call in thy death's-head there; tie up thy fears;

He that forbears

To suit and serve his need

Deserves his load."

But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild

At every word,

Methought I heard one calling, Child!

And I replied My Lord.

The Collar by George Herbert: summary

In 'The Collar,' the speaker voices his frustration with his spiritual obligations, feeling as if he's been restrained like a servant. He questions his devotion and contemplates indulging in worldly pleasures. However, by the end of the poem, he hears a soft voice (interpreted as God's), which reminds him of his faith. This prompts a change in the speaker's attitude, leading him to abandon his rebellion and recommit to his spiritual path.

Lines 1-16

'The Collar' begins as the narrator strikes a table in anger, loudly stating that he intends to leave his situation. He proceeds to ask a series of frustrating rhetorical questions. He ponders if he should spend his life sighing and feeling bad when, in reality, he is free to do what he wishes. Furthermore, he wonders if he should stay trapped.

The narrator feels as if his life has much pain but no pleasure. He had wine and fresh bread, but these are gone now. He then continues asking questions aloud, inquiring if he has lost and wasted the past year because he has nothing to show for the time that has passed, no achievements or prizes.

Lines 17-32

Speaking still, the narrator's approach to his issues now changes somewhat. He states that it is not true that his year has been wasted as he still has the opportunity to fix it. He must now go out and make an extra effort to enjoy his life and stop obsessing over what is right and wrong. He must also leave the metaphorical cage he feels trapped in. Addressing himself, the narrator states that the multitude of moral rules he feels restricted by are fake and of his own invention. This other version of his voice now says that he will go, and advises him to forget his fears, as one who remains trapped deserves the negative feelings this state causes.

Lines 33-36

The quotation marks now close, and the speaking portion of 'The Collar' ends. As the narrator becomes increasingly furious, he hears a voice calling 'Child!' and he responds with 'My Lord'. This seems to be the voice of God in his mind.

The Collar by George Herbert: theme

The difficulty of devotion is a key theme in 'The Collar'. As suggested by the poem's title, the protagonist of 'The Collar' is a priest. A white collar is part of a priest's regular uniform. However, the narrator is profoundly struggling with his faith. He is frustrated and angry with the life he leads, feeling trapped and restricted by the rules of religious life. There is a questioning of belief in 'The Collar'. The narrator feels that the rules he has been following in the name of devotion have been created within his mind and are, therefore, not legitimate. Because of this, the theme of doubt is also important in 'The Collar'.

However, 'The Collar' changes its outlook in its closing lines. The narrator feels God calling out to him, and he readily replies. It is likely he will not run away from religious life anymore. 'The Collar' explores the idea that devotion is difficult and complex, but these are not reasons to abandon it.

The Collar, A sketched portrait of George Herbert, StudySmarterFig. 1 - George Herbert published 'The Collar' in his 1633 collection The Temple.

The Collar by George Herbert: literary devices

The main poetic devices featured in 'The Collar' are rhetorical questions and alliteration.

Rhetorical questions

Rhetorical questions are used extensively in 'The Collar'.

Rhetorical questions are when a character or narrator asks a question where either the answer is obvious or there is no clear answer. They can be used to convince an audience of a particular opinion or emphasise an issue.

'The Collar' is littered with rhetorical questions. For example, 'shall I ever sigh and pine?' and 'Is the year only lost to me?'. No simple or easy answers are given to these questions. Both the narrator and readers of 'The Collar' are left to ponder them instead. Herbert does this to emphasise the complex and unknowable nature of religious devotion. No simple answers to questions arise when one devotes themself to God.

Alliteration

Alliteration is another literary device found in 'The Collar'.

Alliteration is when a work has the same consonant sounds, often at the beginning of words, located closely together. The sounds of different letters can be used to indicate different moods and tones.

Below is an example of alliteration in Herbert's poem.

While thou didst wink and wouldst not see. (l. 26)

A significant amount of 'w' alliteration is found in this line. W sounds in this context can appear soft, subdued, and unsure. This mirrors the narrator's uncertainty at the religious rules he feels he has created for himself.

The Collar by George Herbert: poem analysis

"The Collar" by George Herbert is an intricate exploration of the speaker's emotional struggle between religious duty and personal desire. It uses rich metaphoric language and passionate expressions of rebellion, coupled with the recurring motif of the collar representing restraint and obedience. However, the poem ends in a moment of spiritual surrender, reiterating the speaker's commitment to his faith.

Form, metre, and rhyme scheme

'The Collar' is a poem of one stanza, thirty-six lines long. It has no set form or metre, and the poem's rhyme scheme is irregular. Formally, 'The Collar' is a very chaotic poem. This parallels the chaos of the narrator's life. As he questions and doubts his religious devotion, his life has no structure, just like Herbert's poem.

However, the last four lines of 'The Collar' follow the rhyme scheme ABAB. This is when the figure of God intervenes in the narrator's life. This more consistent rhyme scheme suggests that a sense of structure may gradually return to the narrator's existence.

Frequently noted imagery

Throughout 'The Collar', there is the imagery of confinement. This is even in the title of the poem itself. 'The Collar' refers to the collar a priest wears, but the image of a collar can also suggest being trapped and confined. The narrator feels as if he is in a 'cage' and tied up in ropes. These images paint a picture of a life of submission with little choice of escape. Herbert emphasises the doubts his narrator is having regarding faith. He feels the life he is leading is hindering instead of helping him. He finds only entrapment in religion.

Tone

The tone of 'The Collar' can be described as frustrated, angry, and resentful. The poem is essentially one long monologue of the narrator venting his frustration about the restricted nature of religious life. He feels he has got nothing but misery in return for his devotion. Much of this frustration is turned on himself in this monologue as he believes he is to blame for agonising over following particular moral rules.

However, the shift in mood in the final lines of 'The Collar' implies that this frustration may not condemn religious life but exists as a part of it.

'The Collar' by George Herbert: quotes

Below is a selection of important quotes from 'The Collar'.

QuoteLine numbersExplanation
'I struck the board, and cried, "No more; I will abroad!What? shall I ever sigh and pine?'Lines 1-3.The opening lines of 'The Collar' exemplify the poem's subject matter. The narrator's frustration and anger are immediately apparent. He questions if he will forever feel negative and guilty in his religious life.
'Is the year only lost to me? Have I no bays to crown it,No flowers, no garlands gay? All blasted?'Lines 13-15.The narrator mourns the year he could have had. He thinks he has wasted his time but has received nothing in return, no accolades or acknowledgements. Herbert shows the often unforgiving nature of religious life.
'Forsake thy cage, Thy rope of sands,Which petty thoughts have made,'Lines 21-23.Here, the narrator urges himself to abandon the various moral rules he believes he has made up. These are likely the strict religious rules he has been following. He doubts their validity in calling them 'petty'.
'But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild At every word,Methought I heard one calling, Child! And I replied My Lord.'Lines 33-36.The closing lines of 'The Collar' can easily change interpretations of the poem. Despite all the narrator's frustration, God still calls him and he replies. It seems much more unlikely that he will leave religious life now.

The Collar - Key takeaways

  • 'The Collar' is a 1633 poem by the well-known Welsh poet George Herbert.
  • It is a one-stanza monologue about a religious man doubting his faith.
  • The poem is formally inconsistent and chaotic.
  • Two key themes in 'The Collar' are the difficulty of devotion and doubt.
  • Rhetorical questions and alliteration are both used in Herbert's poem.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Collar

'The Collar' was written in 1633.

The message of the poem is that religious life can be difficult but is worthwhile.

'The Collar' is a one stanza monologue with no set form.

He despairs because he feels confined by his religious devotion.

George Herbert wrote 'The Collar'.

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