Sunday, 8 April 2012

Portsmouth Point Poetry: Easter Wings

Easter Wings.
Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
  Though foolishly he lost the same,
      Decaying more and more,
        Till he became
           Most poore:
           With  thee
        Oh let me rise
   As larks, harmoniously,
 And sing this day  thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My  tender  age  in  sorrow   did   beginne:
  And still with sicknesses and shame
      Thou  didst  so  punish  sinne,
         That  I  became
           Most thinne.
           With  thee
       Let me combine
      And feel this day thy victorie:
   For,  if  I  imp  my  wing  on  thine
Affliction shall  advance the  flight in  me.

The first stanza of George Herbert’s “Easter Wings” (1633) shows mankind as squandering the gifts given by God, the lines shortening as man falls deeper and deeper into a state of sin, losing his moral and spiritual strength. 

Then the speaker asks that God “let me rise/As larks”; his fall has paradoxically strengthened his faith by making it clear how much he needs God, this strengthening exemplified through the fricative “Then shall the fall further the flight in me . . . Affliction shall advance the flight in me”. As the speaker’s faith gains in strength, as a result of God’s “victorie” over death (through resurrection), the lines lengthen once more, resulting in a poem shaped as a pair of wings.

The wings are those of the resurrected God and also those of the saved soul of the speaker; the final image is taken from falconry to suggest the grafting (“imp”ing) of a feather into a bird’s wing, as if the individual human soul becomes part of the body of God Himself flying up to Heaven.

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