Introduction

George Herbert’s poem ‘The Pulley’ is about a section of the Christian story of creation in which God chose to bless humanity. The poem explores the relationship between God and his finest creation, man. The poet uses the pulley to illustrate humanity’s restless nature and the reason for its inability to be satisfied. God, the ultimate parent figure to mankind, uses a special pulley to entice man to return to him. Consider how a pulley generates force and leverage to understand this concept. God kept “rest” to himself so that he could always draw people back. However, because of this liberty, humanity is always hopping from place to place in search of fulfilment.

About The Poet

George Herbert was a Welsh poet, orator, and Church of England priest who lived from April 3, 1593 to March 1,1633. His poetry has been linked to the works of metaphysical poets. He wrote religious poems with a lot of imagery and conceits.

Theme

There are significant aspects of human life that were easily transferred from God to humanity. “Rest” is one blessing that God did not allow, to elude (escape). In order to keep his creation near to him, He opted to deny humanity the capacity to slumber (rest). According to Herbert, God did not want humans to adore Nature more than “the God of Nature. In this poem, Herbert has engaged in the study of human nature and religion.

Structure

‘The Pulley,’ by George Herbert, is a four-stanza poem divided into quintains (groups of five lines). The rhyme scheme used in the first three stanzas of the poem is ‘ababa’ while that of the fourth stanza is ‘abcba’. The rhyme scheme’s consistency, along with the metre, gives the poem a fairly ordered sense.

Stanza 1

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.”

In the opening verse of ‘The Pulley’, George Herbert discusses the origin of humanity (first made man). Herbert attempts to retell the Christian story of creation with a few additions. He expresses the feelings of God, when He chose to create humanity. When God saw what He had created, He decided to gift humanity with “a glass of blessings.”

Stanza 2

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

Strength was the first of the blessings that flowed to humanity in ‘The Pulley.’ It “made way.” Then there was beauty, followed by wisdom, honour, and finally pleasure. All of these are critical elements of the human existence. After showering man with blessings so abundantly, God decided to retain rest. In this poem, rest is the treasure that stays at the bottom of God’s cup. The word ‘rest’ is a pun here, since it may refer to both physical rest and the feeling of being abandoned.

delivers God’s words at the time. He decides to “pour on him[humankind] all we can.”

These “blessings” were

just “standing by” in a cup, waiting to be used. As he addresses all of creation, the speaker

Everything from strength to beauty is showered onto the “world’s riches.” They’ve formed

“span” out of them.

Stanza 3

“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.

In the next five lines, the poet states that God chose not to grant humans “rest.” He was well aware that if he did, “He (humankind) would adore my gifts rather than me.” God, according to Herbert, made this decision because he didn’t want humans to spend their days adoring and worshipping nature. They should be adoring “the God of Nature” instead. In simpler words, if man worships the gifts rather than God, (So both should losers be) then both man and God have failed in their intention.

Stanza 4

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.”

God commands that the man keep the gifts, but he is dissatisfied in every part of his life as a result of his hasty decisions. God determined that the man might remain rich but weary. Because God’s compassion could not persuade man to adore him, let these trials and tribulations lead humanity back to God. As a result, we are back to talking about the pulley that was mentioned earlier in the poem.

Conclusion

Man has been denied the blessing of rest by God on purpose. God is well aware that his other goods would eventually cause spiritual unrest and exhaustion in man. After all, man will become bored of the material gifts he has received. Humans will soon turn to God in desperation and weariness (tiredness). God is unquestionably omniscient (all-knowing) and prophetic. Because God created them, Herbert prays that people might be given the powers to choose the right path and obey God.