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'The Collar' by George Herbert (Short Questions and Answers)

 The Collar

George Herbert

(Short Questions and Answers)

'The Collar' by George Herbert (Short Questions and Answers)

👉 What is meant by ‘sigh-blown age’?

Answer: The phrase, ‘sigh-blown age’ from Herbert’s poem, ‘The Collar’ stands for the time of vigorously religious bondage. It refers to the condition when the poet was under the bondage of violent religious discipline, which he spent in sighing and longing.

👉 What are the meanings of the world ‘Collar’?

Answer: The word, ‘Collar’ throws different sides of meanings. Firstly, it means the neckband attached to a coat or a shirt. Secondly, the word means an instrument of slavery, since the slaves during the Roman period had to put on Iran collars around their neck.

Allied to this meaning is the third sense of the collar being that of a dog held in tight leash by the owner. Fourthly, the word collar also conveys the idea of the collar worn by a priest as a symbol of his priesthood. The fifth meaning originates from a pun on the work ‘collar’, since the over-restraint of priesthood causes a feeling of bitterness and resentment.

However, the word, ‘collar’ here means anything that keeps a man under restraint and curbs his freedom. In other words, ‘collar’ implies the bondage in which God holds man.

👉 “I struck the board and cried no more.” - What does the board mean?

Answer: The word ‘board’ has multiple associations. The most important meaning is the paucity of food in monasteries. The monks and priests were expected to leave frugal lives without delicious food. However, it means a dinner table.

It also alludes to the Holy Communion or the Eucharist, which is observed in a church to commemorate the Last Supper. However, it is important to note that the speaker strikes his hand on the dinner table to convey his protest against such priestly ceremonies.

👉 What does ‘corn’ stand for?

Answer: The word ‘corn’ stands for earthly achievement and pleasure in the poem, The Collar.

👉 What do ‘Lines’ stand for?

Answer: The word ‘lines’ in Herbert’s poem, The Collar refers to what is written down or spoken. The poet declares that his life and speech will henceforth be formed by the restraints imposed by the priestly vocation.

👉 What does ‘cordial fruit’ stand for?

Answer: In Herbert’s poem, The Collar ‘cordial’ means ‘restorative’. The phrase, ‘cordial fruit’ refers especially to medicine for the heart. The priest poet declares that he may be able to restore his former joyousness by giving up priesthood.

👉 What does Cage stand for?

Answer: In Harbour’s poem, ‘cage’ represents the life-pattern of the speaker. The priestly vocation with its religious restraint is compared to an imprisonment, a veritable cage.

👉 What does ‘the rope of stand’ or ‘cable’ stands for?

Answer: The priestly vocation is often assumed to be the rope or cable which pulls the ordinary man to a place near God. But, in Herbert’s poem, The Collar, the speaker feels that he has erroneously considered unreliable rope a straight fast cable.

👉 “I will abroad.” – What is meant by the italicized word?

Answer: In Herbert’s poem, The Collar ‘board’ implies the ‘order of divine life’, while ‘abroad’ hints at a direction away from the order of the board, to a life-pattern that involves a total and deliberate nullification of that order.

So, in the other sense of being outside of an implied place, ‘abroad’ indicates the desire for freedom; nevertheless, ‘abroad’ involves a clear lack of definiteness because the speaker does not know where to go and what to seek for. ‘Abroad’ in the scenes of beyond the boundaries of a country also shows the priests’ bashful admission, that of his own will, he has desired to go beyond God’s Kingdom, which is paradoxical and unreal, since God’s Kingdom is everywhere and one cannot really go abroad from God.

So, the desire amounts to be the whimsical wilfulness of an ill-tempered child who nags for the impossible. ‘Abroad’, also brings the idea of evolution of going astray; this suggests that the speaker is willfully choosing the path of deviation.

👉 “Have I no harvest, but a thorn?”

What does the poet mean by the phrase, ‘but a thorn’?

Answer: The phrase ‘but a thorn’ is richly ambiguous. Apparently it is expressing the poet’s sense of frustration and the consequent anger that as result of all his sacrifices, he reaps no corn, no fruit, but only a thorn. Thorn also suggests a desert plant. In the aridity of desert nothing grows but a corn. Therefor ‘thorn’ suggests the speaker’s spiritual aridity.

Again, Christ sacrificed himself for the whole mankind and as a reward. He was awarded with only a crown of thorn. If one considers this association of ‘thorn’, it becomes clear how the speaker criticises himself his own grievances by reminding himself of Christ’s great sacrifice.

👉 What does the phrase, ‘death’s head’ refer to in Herbert's poem, “The Collar"?

Answer: ‘Death’s head’ in the poem, The Collar refers to the picture of human skull, which serves as the ‘memento mori’ meaning, "remember that you must die”, better to say a reminder of death. These are used in churches to remind mankind that they must die and that they should therefore religiously prepare for the life after death. In the poem, the speaker asks the skull to be taken away because he is afraid of death.

“Death's head”, the skull of a dead man is also imagining the vision of Golgotha, the place of a skull where Christ enters bearing the heavy cross. The allusion unmistakably recalls Christ’s superb courage in restraining himself from pleading for himself and serving his own need, and serves as an ironic pointer to the inadequacy of the speaker.

👉 “Me thought I heard one calling, child!” – What does the poet suggest by the world ‘child’?

Answer: In the poem, The Collar, the word ‘child’ a mere address, suggest manifold meanings: one, the speaker’s ultimate recognition of his innate childlike dependence upon God; two, his own wonder and self-rebuke at his revolt against God, which seems to him now to be an act of infantile immaturity; three, the idea of forgiveness; Just as the prodigal child in spite of all its waywardness is forgiven by the loving parents so he is pardoned by God. ‘Child’ is also a symbol of the resurgent spirit; with the resurgence of love, the speaker is spiritually reborn, and this rebirth is recognized in the address ‘child’.

👉 And I reply’d, My Lord.” - What is suggested by the italicized phrase?

Answer: Towards the end of the poem, God calls out to the speaker of the poem and the speaker-poet responds to that ‘call’ with all the humility of the servant of God. ‘My Lord’ denotes this innate humbleness of a suppliant.

It also expresses a childish pride of the dedicated soul, that the Lord is also ‘my Lord’. Thirdly, the address exhibits a degree of ecstasy at the startling discovery that, after all, he is claimed by his Lord as child, and therefore may reclaim God as his own, ‘My Lord’.



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