Devin Jones on George Herbert's "Prayer 1"

Published by admin_main on Mon 18 Oct, 2010

14. Try to make some connections and contrasts between the various "descriptions" in the sonnet. Do you think these connections and contrasts make some statement when you put them together? (The phrase, "Church-bells beyond the stars heard" is particularly helpful here.)

Here are some of the connections and contrasts I found in the descriptions in the sonnet:

Line 2: "God's breath in man, returning to his birth;"

This line describes prayer as God's breath returning us to our innocence.

Line 3: "The soul in paraphase, heart in pilgrimage;"

This line says that prayer expands the soul and sends one's soul to a sacred place.

Line 4: "The Christian plummet, sounding heaven and earth;"

This line describes prayer as a way for Christians to gage their depth of faith.

Line 6: "Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,"

This line uses thunder as a metaphor for prayer saying that it ascends to the heavens.

Line 10: "Exalted manna, gladness of the best;"

This line states the things that God provides.

Line 12: "The milky way, the bird of paradise,"

This line describes that god can provide both celestial and biological beauty.

Line 13: "Church bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood"

This line asserts that prayer once again ascends to the heavens, and prayer drives the soul

Line 14: "The land of spices; something understood."

This line points out that prayer can be centering or grounding.

The overall theme of this sonnet I believe is that prayer not only stays with the people that say them, but also is sent to God in the heavens. I believe that Herbert is saying that prayer is a meditative experience that has a centering or grounding effect on people.

15. Consider the phrase, "something understood." What is understood? How would you connect this little "summary phrase" that ends the sonnet with the subject ("prayer") and/or with the catalog of noun phrases throughout the sonnet?

The phrase "something understood" is the summary phrase of the sonnet. The noun phrases that Herbert uses, such as banquet, age, breath, soul, plummet, engine, thunder, spear, world, tune, manna, heaven, man, milky way, bird of Paradise, church-bells, blood, and land of spices, describe the broad range of subjects which encompass prayer. Prayer is a mediated process which allows you to better "understand" yourself, the world you live in and the afterlife in heaven.