Part of Professor Strier's talk yesterday involved close readings of four poems: a Shakespeare sonnet (“The expense of spirit in a waste of shame”), a Donne sonnet (“Batter my heart, three-personed God”), Herbert's poem “The Collar,” and Robert Frost's “The Road not Taken.” It's a pleasure to watch someone expertly and gently pull apart a poem to show you how it works, and I especially enjoyed his reading of “The Collar,” one of Herbert's better known and certainly one of his better poems. There are a number of different inflections available to the sensitive reader, and the ending is famously ambiguous. Though, as the Professor pointed out, however you interpret the final two lines, they really have to be seen as positive if we understand Herbert at all. Which brings us back to the idea that constraint - this time within a loving, if disciplined, familial relationship with God - is more fruitful than the freedom to follow the road, or chase the wind.
I struck the board, and cry’d, No more.
I will abroad.
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
Loose as the winde, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me bloud, and not restore
What I have lost with cordiall fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did drie it: there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the yeare onely lost to me?
Have I no bayes to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which pettie 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 deaths head there: tie up thy fears.
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load.
But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, Childe:
And I reply'd, My Lord.