*The Pulley by George Herbert*: Compiled by Chiedozie Ude

*About The Poet:

* 1593 to 1633. He was born in England. He is a metaphysical poet.


Metaphysics talks about things science cannot explain.


The time and location of an event. Metaphysical poet existed between mid seventeenth century and early eighteenth century. At this period, religion was given much importance in write-ups. The setting of the poem can be traced to the beginning of time I.e when God created the world.


4 stanzas, 5 lines each with a rhyme scheme of ABABA. This poem is conversational.

*Style:* The poem is written in form of a conversation between God and other supernatural beings

The Pulley

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.”

So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.

“For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be.

“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”

*About The Poem:*

A pulley is a mechanical instrument which is used to bring things closer.
The Pulley by George Herbert is a religious, metaphysical poem which centers on the relationship between God and man, and how God metaphorically uses a *pulley* (rest) to draw man to him. Herbert uses this poem to unveil the reason for man’s ‘repining restlessness’. He explains why God refuses to give man the most important gift which is rest because according to God, if this jewel of rest is bestowed upon man, man will be content, and forget God. Hence, God withholds this gift so that man in his discontent and restlessness will seek God.

*Stanza by Stanza Analysis*

1. This stanza describes how God made man, and how he decides to bestie multiple gifts on man. The poet begins this conversational poem with his account of the creation story as narrated in the Bible. When God creates man, God speaks to other supernatural beings, and it is agreed that man deserves God’s blessings.

2. God begins with distributing his gifts to man,
‘So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour and pleasure.’
When God has given most of his gifts to man, HD suddenly stops, thereby withholding the most important of his gifts which is ‘rest’. ‘rest in the bottom lay’

3. In this stanza, God gives his reasons for withholding test from man. The reason for this withdrawal is that God in his omniscient nature knows if he gives man the treasure, man will become excessively proud with no regard for God. Man according to God will find comfort in the things God created instead of in the creator which is God. That is, ‘and rest in Nature, not the nature of God’. If the happens, God and man stand to lose a lot.

4. This stanza begins with a play on the word rest. That is, ‘yet let him keep the rest’. This means that God has given man the go ahead to keep his other gifts, but with a clause which is restlessness. That is, ‘but keep them with repining restlessness’. God gives man these gifts so that at least man will come to him in appreciation for all that God has done. But if man refuses to do this, he will remain dejected with restlessness despite the fact that man has almost all the treasures in life. As a result of the yearning to fill this vacuum, man will ultimately turn to God.

*Figures of speech*

1. *Synedoche:*

stanza 4, line 5 ‘..may toss him to my breast’. Breast here is a part of the body which is used to represent a whole, that is, God

2. *Biblical Allusion:* The poet makes reference to the creation story in the Bible.

3. *Metaphor:*

The title ‘pulley’ metaphorically means rest.

Stanza 1, line 2 ‘glass of blessings’
Stanza 3, line 2 ‘jewel’, another metaphor for rest.

4. *Pun:*

This is a play on words. The poet plays with the word rest in the first line of the last stanza ‘yet let him keep the rest’. Rest here doesn’t mean ‘peace of mind’, it represents the other gifts.
Stanza 3, line 4 ‘and rest in Nature, not the God of nature’

5. *Alliteration:* stanza 4, line 2 ‘repining restlessness

6. *Personification:*

stanza 2, lines 1 and 2.
‘So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour and pleasure.’
‘if goodness lead him not, yet weariness may toss him…’


1. The superiority of God
2. The reasons for man’s restlessness


This booklet should never be reproduced without the writer’s permission.*

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