Poem: Jordan II by George Herbert

Herbert introduced his own work, "The Temple," by describing it as an intensely personal exercise. The human yearning to work through emotional conundrums by imposing physical restraints on them is well known; we write in diaries, take out aggressions through physical exercise, talk to friends about our concerns. Herbert's "Temple" is not merely a working through his spiritual doubts, as he claims, but a celebration of God's grace in times of personal trial. "Jordan II" reveals Herbert's turbulent struggle between his poetic urges and his need to be humble before his lord.

The poem begins in lines eleven syllables long, alternating with ten (iambic pentameter). This alternating rhythm gives way to complete iambic pentameter in the second and third stanzas. The eleven syllable lines strike the tongue oddly at first, soon becoming familiar with the combined pentameter lines. This effect aids the reader in feeling Herbert's initial feelings of inadequacy as he wrote his first poems dedicated to God. As he became engrossed in his new mode, he settles down with pentameter lines, but keeps his original rhyme scheme, perhaps a remaining symbol of his need for poetic decorum.

The conceits of "Jordan II" are small, as is appropriate in a poem that hopes to abandon conceit. Herbert describes his struggle critically, comparing himself with a tailor for God, his poetry attempting to clothe Him in unmatchable splendor, yet paradoxically unable to surpass the magnificence of the wearer. As the poet realizes his impossible position, he recognizes the frenzy he has worked himself into - writing verse pleasing to the sensuous ear and tongue, and not the humble soul. Now his self-conscious humility speaks up, quiet and true, to end the verse and satisfy Herbert's questing pen.

Like John Donne, Herbert uses his poems to question the nature of his relationship to God, often using conceits combined with fairly simple diction. Unlike Donne, Herbert is always able to submit to a higher power, with humility and resolution.

Copyright 1995, Kaye Anfield