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George Herbert's "The Windows" Illuminated: A Critical Approach by Sigrid Rénaux Starting from the basic assumptions that in George Herbert's "The Windows" the window is an opening towards the air and light, or, more abstractly, an emblem of "receptivity";1 and, further, that it is an "opening in the soul towards the spiritual realm, whereby the light of Truth may enter in and illuminate the receptive mind";2 I would like to present a reading which follows the development of the "man-window" metaphor, which is established in the first of the poem's three stanzas, as this metaphor is the key to the understanding of the poem. The poem starts with an invocation to God in which the speaker acknowledges that man is incapable of preaching God's word: "Lord, how can man preach thy eternali word?"3 The identification of "man" as "preacher" is thus established, even if at the moment the addresser is only asking God in what way man can preach his Gospel. In the second line, the metaphor that will run through the entire poem is partially introduced through metonymy, for "man" is likened to "a brittle crazie glasse"; that is, fragile ("brittle" comes from the Anglo-Saxon "breotan" = to break, easily broken or shattered), and cracked ("crazie" coming from Middle English "erasen" = to crack), the synonymity of both qualifiers stressing even more plain glass's characteristic fragility and tendency to break. In addition, the sound similarity between "crazie," "glasse," and "grace" reminds us of Jakobson's statement that "in poetry, any conspicuous similarity in sound is evaluated in respect to similarity and/or dissimilarity in meaning."4 Here the similarity in sound leads to what Jakobson terms "similarity/ dissimilarity in meaning" simultaneously, for the similarity in meaning between "crazie"and "glasse" is laterdestroyed by "grace." HERBERTS "THE WINDOWS"27 But this acknowledgment of man's imperfection and weakness in the first two lines is immediately counterpointed by the next three lines, in which the speaker, continuing his address to God, reverses the questioning and negative tone of the first two lines (as well as the metaphoric/metonymic "man'V'glasse") by adding that "Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford / This glorious and transcendent place, / To be a window through thy grace." That is, when man (as preacher) is inside God's temple, God affords him, through his grace, to be a window — a metaphor in which the tenor "man," the vehicle "window," and the ground "This glorious and transcendent place" are all clearly stated. Thus man as preacher moves, though God's grace, from being a fragile glass which does not reflect light properly because of its imperfections, to becoming a window. And the soft consonants which seem to frame the word "window" (the nasal In/; the initial and terminal semivowel Iw/) plus the sonority of the vowel /ol help to corroborate, at the level of sound, the contrast established between the negativity of the comparison "man'V'brittle crazie glasse" with the positiveness of the comparison "man'V'window," through the suggestion of fluidity versus the harsh sound of the term "crazie glasse." Further, the very sounds of "brittle" and "crazie," with their voiceless plosives ItI and/k/ and the voiced plosive IbI brought together in the consonant cluster /br-tl/ and /kr/, give a particular density and abruptness, besides reminding us, through "crazie," of the onomatapoetic sound of "crack." To sum up, God, by granting man as preacher to be a window, an opening through which the light of Truth enters and consequently illuminates his mind, is at the same time affording the preacher "This glorious and transcendent place" in the pulpit while he preaches. In the liturgy of many churches, before the preacher goes to the pulpit to deliver his sermon, he sings "God be with you" and the congregation answers "And with your spirit," thus confirming the illumination that the priest needs in order to preach. This spiritual perception that man as preacher acquires by becoming a window is therefore already the answer to the question in the first line of the poem, but it will be further qualified and developed by Herbert. In stanza...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 26-32
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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