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The Rooted Flower and the Flower that Glides: An Interpretation of Herbert's "The Rower" by Kim Moreland In a message to Nicholas Ferrar, George Herbert said: "The Temple is a picture of the many spiritual Conflicts that have past betwixt God and my Soul, before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus my Master."1 And yet, if we try to read The Temple as a simple narrative of sin and conversion, we must inevitably become confused, since Herbert repeatedly frustrates our desire for an ordered and absolute spiritual progress. Instead, The Temple pulsates with the systolic and diastolic pressures of the spiritual life, which is characterized by recurrent periods of spiritual aridity punctuated by moments of intense spiritual joy. Herbert suggests the fIuctuations of the spiritual life, in which no single and absolute triumph is possible, by grouping certain poems together within The Temple in such a way that the movement from conflict to triumph is recapitulated within each group. For example, as Joseph Summers suggests, three adjacent poems, "The Search," "Grief," and "The Crosse," describe "griefand disorder and the sense of God's absence," while the poem which immediately follows these three, "The Flower," describes "a personal resurrection."2 "The Flower" thus functions as the spiritual climax of the smaller pattern that exists within the larger pattern of The Temple. Yet "The Flower" does more than merely recount the moment of triumph that rewards those struggles described in the three earlier poems. This single poem itself recapitulates the systolic and diastolic rhythm of The Temp/e as a whole, for it embodies several conflicts, each of which is followed by a spiritual triumph. Though the grief to which the poet was alive in "The Crosse" now "meltsaway" (1.5) in thefirst stanza of "The Flower," other conflicts as well as other triumphs are yet 37 Kim Moreland forthcoming in this poem.3 Indeed, the very structure of the poem (four long lines, followed by two very short lines, and then a final long line) suggests this alternating movement. Within "The Flower," the poet takes a few steps forward, slides a step or two back, and then steps forward once again in a halting movement toward God. Though it is generally acknowledged that "The Flower" is a poem about spiritual triumph, opinions vary widely as to just where in the poem this triumph actually takes place. Because Louis Martz, Frances Malpezzi, and Joseph Summers are most interested in the way that "The Flower" provides a climactic spiritual triumph after the struggles embodied in the three preceding poems, they regard all of "The Flower" as an extended description of a single triumph.4 Though such a triumph certainly exists within the poem, evidence of conflict, which gives the poem so much of its power, should also be noted. Louis Martz, however, dismisses such evidence, stating: The word grief ... is erased; along with the storms and frosts which have provided the basic imagery for dozens of stanzas scattered throughout the whole preceding portion of the "Church." Instead, we have now the dominant image of the flourishing flower, to replace the image of the "blasted," "wasted" plant which has so often dominated earlier poems.5 Yet numerous references to hard weather, frosts, tempests, blasted flowers, death, and the shrivelled heart fill the poem,6 and the various conflicts suggested by such words distinguish and individualize the particular experiences recounted in individual stanzas. Since Martz acknowledges no conflicts which might distinguish the various experiences described in individual stanzas, he must regard these stanzas as simple restatements of the same experience. Thus, no one of these stanzas is regarded as representing a more intense, more elevated spiritual triumph than that represented by the other stanzas. 38 HERBERT'S "THE FLOWER" Helen Vendler and Stanley Fish, in direct contrast to Martz, Malpezzi, and Summers, consider "The Flower" to be an extended description of a spiritual conflict that is only punctuated by a single moment of triumph. Vendler suggests that the first stanzas manifest Herbert's rebellious feelings against an arbitrary God, his rebellion culminating in the lines: "We say amisse, / This or that is: / Thy word is all, if we could spell...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 37-45
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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