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Friday, 29 April 2016

The Pulley by George Herbert

Literary Analysis (Summary)

Written in the 17th century, The Pulley is a metaphysical poem that examines the relationship between the creator and the creation. It gives us an insight of how God relates with man and how he regulates man’s life. In this religious poem, George Herbert creates a myth about God’s creation of the world and humankind. He presents this with the metaphor of a pulley, a scientific equipment that has a wheel or set of wheels over which a chain or rope is pulled to lower or lift heavy things.

George Herbert begins the conversational poem with the account of the creation story as narrated in the Bible, in the book of Genesis. “When God at first made man”, he provided everything at his disposal. In his infinite love, God gave man the control of everything that he created. He bestowed on man stupendous wealth and all the good things man crave. God pours on man “glass of blessings” for man to flourish abundantly without any feeling of lack.

Having blessed man with “the world riches”, God decides to add more to it so that man would not, in any way, be wanting in other things. Thus, he continues by giving man strength. “Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.” With all this, God feels man would appreciate his benevolence and worship him. “Perceiving” that man could be rebellious if he makes at man’s disposal “all his treasure”, God conceives a plan to tame man’s excesses or treachery to retain his allegiance. As a result, God withholds a particular precious gift of all his treasure that would serve as a pulley to draw man close to himself. God lays at the bottom “rest”, which would pull the creation to his creator. In other words, he makes man depend on him for survival. So, without God, man is nothing.

As the conversation continues in the third stanza, God says if he gives man “this jewel”, man would become disloyal and adore those precious gifts he has bestowed upon humanity, instead of him the giver. If that particular divine gift is not restrained, man would “rest in Nature, not the God of nature.” In order not to lose on both ends, God withholds rest to pull man to himself when man has become too heavily drenched in the “glass of blessings” poured on him.

In the last stanza, God allows man to keep all his treasures, including rest, with “repining restlessness”. Although man has had all the treasures and refined virtues of the world, he would remain dejected with discontentment. He would be dissatisfied and long to fill a vacuum. Even with the riches of the world, weariness would make him yearn for more. With this, Providence keeps man in check, for if the good things of life do not draw man to his maker, man’s restlessness or “weariness” will pull him to God to quench his raging thirst. “My breast” that ends the poem shows that God is magnanimous and he is the ultimate provider that nourishes humanity.

In conclusion, The Pulley is a scientific representation of man’s helplessness and reliance on God for his salvation. The poem invokes a visual imagery of a heavy object being lifted up by a pulley to the desired place.


The love of God towards man
The helplessness of humanity
God’s divine gifts
God’s plan for man
The weak nature of humans


The poem is divided into four stanzas of 20 lines. The style of the poem is conversational, with the rhyme scheme ababa.

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  1. Thank you so much as I am preparing for my M.A English Papers your review has been a great help to me :)

  2. Tq u soooo much.Its really very useful

  3. I find this explanatory. I'm teaching my students at present especially as a metaphysical poem... A religious poem. Thank you so very much

  4. I am a 400level student of English. I have graciously accepted your review on this poem as a sumptuous meal. More ink to your pen.