Poet's Pick April 3
George Herbert: "The Collar"
Selected by David Wojahn
National Poetry Month 2017

Letter from the Editors

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Thank you so much for your support! Enjoy today's special poem and commentary from 2003!

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Don Selby & Diane Boller
Editors


David Wojahn's Poetry Month Pick, April 3, 2017

"The Collar"
by George Herbert (1593–1633)

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 my 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 though hast hands.
      Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit, and not. Forsake they 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,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child!
                       And I replied, My Lord.  

        

* David Wojahn Comments:
George Herbert is perhaps our greatest poet of devotional ardor — an ardor which can bring him to the state of spiritual ecstasy but which can just as frequently drive him to despair, to a condition where, as he puts it in “Affliction I,” “consuming agues dwell in ev’ry vein.” “The Collar” is a somewhat a-typical poem for Herbert, for it arises from a state which is neither ecstatic nor despairing. It is motivated instead by resistance, by a sense of the speaker’s inadequacy as he contemplates his priestly duties and his pledge to serve his God. The poem arises from stubbornness, in other words, from the weariness which can accompany duty, and recalls the famous conundrum of Beckett’s — “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” The punning title, evoking both the speaker’s clerical collar and his “choler,” immediately introduces us to the brooding tone of the poem, and the poem’s images of bondage are played out with remarkable inventiveness. Yet Herbert, as he does in so many of his poems, always undercuts his skill at conceit-making with interjections of deep emotional urgency — “Is the year only lost to me? / Have I no bays to crown it?” Lines such as these prepare us for the poem’s transcendent closure, when the imagery of shackling and restraint gives way to the exquisite release of the final four lines:

But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
                       At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child!
                       And I replied, My Lord.


David Wojahn:
David Wojahn is the author of numerous books of poetry, including For the Scribe, just out from the University of Pittsburgh Press; Interrogation Palace, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and World Tree, winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and the Poet's Prize. He is the recipient of four Pushcart Prizes, the William Carlos Williams Book Award, the Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize, the George Kent Memorial Prize, and the O. B. Hardison Jr. Poetry Prize, among other honors. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Wojahn is professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University and also teaches in the MFA in Writing Program of the Vermont College of Fine Arts.


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