Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I read "The Collar" by George Herbert

My Metaphysical poets book. A bit grubby as I had it at school.  We studied these poets for A-level.  It's the Penguin Poets edition (reprinted 1964), price 5/-. That’s pronounced 5 shillings. And now a reading of my favourite poem from it.  I perfected reading it aloud - but only in an empty room if I recall. Now 47 years later I've made this recording which is, I think, a faithful rendering of my 17-year old self in 1965.

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The Collar by George Herbert (1593-1633)

   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?
                       All wasted?
        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.

Another Metaphysical Poet was John Donne, perhaps the best known, and like Herbert an Anglican priest.  What are we to make of the poem’s title, The Collar? I've a feeling that in the early 17th century “collar” was not yet being applied to clothing. The original audience would have thought of a horse’s collar used to restrain the animal and force it to work; and they would also have been on the look-out for a pun and would have thought of “choler”. Tempting as it is to picture a clerical dog collar, this was not yet used, neither the expression nor the thing itself, which is Victorian.   

Additional note: The term metaphysical poets came into being a long time after the poets to whom it applies were dead. Samuel Johnson who coined it, did so with the consciousness that he was giving a kind of nickname (I'm quoting from the introduction to my Penguin Poets edition).  A quote our English teacher (oh that I could remember his name) advised us to learn was that Samuel Johnson said of these poets that “if they frequently threw away their wit upon false conceits, they, likewise, sometimes struck out unexpected truth; if their conceits were far-fetched, they were often worth the carriage”.

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