A Wreath

Peter A. Gilbert’s Look at Life through the Humanities

December 24, 2007
Simple holiday wreaths made of evergreen branches make me think of a wonderful poem: “A Wreath” by George Herbert. Herbert was an Anglican priest who lived in England about the same time as Shakespeare. He wrote metaphysical poetry, poetry that emphasized wit cleverness or startling similes, rather than comparisons and images that seem natural—like love and roses, purity and fresh snow.

In high school, you may have read a poem by John Donne, another seventeenth-century Anglican clergyman, in which a man tries to seduce a woman by comparing their potential encounter to a flea that has bitten them both. It’s hard to imagine a less romantic object or argument to make his case—and that’s the poem’s charm.

Donne wrote another poem that compares two lovers saying goodbye to each other to a compass, the kind of compass with which you draw a circle. Although the lovers must part temporarily, they continue to act in sync: as the man travels around, the woman stays put at home, but leans toward the circling man. And its the woman’s standing firmly at home that causes the man’s circle of travel to stay true and not wander. These two poems are classic metaphysical poems built on an idea, a conceit, a clever and startling comparison.

Now to Herbert’s poem “A Wreath.” The poem’s wit rests in the fact that each of the poem’s twelve lines overlaps with the next line, just as the evergreen branches in a wreath overlap one another to form a circle. You’ll hear how the end of one line kind of repeats at the beginning of the next line. And the end of the poem, you guessed it, brings you back to the beginning—like a circle, a wreath, or a garland that crowns a hero.

It’s a religious poem, but one doesn’t have to be Christian to be struck by the poem’s beauty and technique. Here’s George Herbert’s “A Wreath”:

A Wreathed garland of deserved praise,
Of praise deserved, unto Thee I give,
I give to Thee, who knowest all my ways,
My crooked winding ways, wherein I live, —
Wherein I die, not live; for life is straight,
Straight as a line, and ever tends to Thee,
To Thee, who art more far above deceit,
Than deceit seems above simplicity.
Give me simplicity, that I may live,
So live and like, that I may know Thy ways,
Know them and practice them: then shall I give
For this poor wreath, give Thee a crown of praise.

So, because of its structure or style, the poem itself literally becomes, as the last line says, a wreath, and that wreath-poem becomes, in turn, a garland—a crown of praise. Clever indeed.

This article first aired as a commentary on Vermont Public Radio.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

BosGuy

The life and interests of a gay, urban professional from Boston

myhusband&i

two guys making out & trying to make it

NAKd.life Opus

Real men. Really NAKd.

Jamie Fessenden's Blog

The musings of a gay fiction author

Recked with Finn West

"Your body, naturist & lifestyle blog"

Sex, Love, Xander

The Ins & Outs of Being Out

Stumbling Through Life

the struggles of a Pansexual Christian

jackiperrette

exploring life, writing & alternative romance

gaygeeks.wordpress.com/

Authors, Artists, Geeks, Husbands

A Queens' Queen in Exile

Memoirs on the death of camp

Kade Boehme

Southern boy...hold the charm...extra sass.

The Amazon Iowan

Blog of Author Heidi Cullinan • full website at heidicullinan.com

Lust Spiel Magazine

Gay literature meets gay art meets much more

Mia Kerick

Love is What I See

The Novel Approach Reviews

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

badass theology

very reformed. very christian. very gay.

Get It Write

Perseverance Press authors' blog

Bro Bonding

Making the best of Bro time

%d bloggers like this: