George Herbert (1593-1633)


Having been tenant long to a rich Lord,
    Not thriving, I resolvèd to be bold,
And make a suit unto him to afford
    A new small-rented lease and cancel th'old.
In Heaven at his manor I him sought.
    They told me there that he was lately gone
About some land which he had dearly bought
    Long since on earth, to take possession,
I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
    Sought him accordingly in great resorts,
    In cities, theaters, gardens, parks, and courts.
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
    Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
    Who straight "Your suit is granted," said, and died.

This poem is constructed on a kind of extended metaphor that we call allegory:  each of several terms in the situation directly presented stands for some idea or object on a figurative plane in such a way that the overall pattern evident in the situation directly presented reveals the overall pattern among the elements that make up the situation indirectly presented, the real subject of the discourse.

To appreciate a well-wrought allegory, we have to make ourselves aware of the whole system of equivalences.  What, in Herbert’s poem, is pointed for by each of the following:

We also are expected to recognize the scene depicted in the last 3 lines of the poem.  What are the key details that enable us to do this?

If the poem were to be published without its title, would we be able to make sense of it?

Would the sense we make of the be the same as what we make of it in light of the title?