Analyzing“The Altar” by George Herbert
Thispoem is under the category of shape poems due to its meaning and itsparticular voice. Herbert has carefully illustrated the meaning inthe shape of every verse.This poem was composed during the earlier century period. During thisperiod up to early sixteenth century, poets composed poems that weremainly characterized by specific styles known as doctrine signaturesas indicated in TheAltar.This was to mean that most poems played a large resemblance in themanner that they were composed. The knowledge of western styles ofcomposition was widespread. This specific Western knowledge was auseful tool in guiding the reader to interpret the poems and derivemeaning.
Forinstance in TheAltar,Herbert has demonstrated of immense knowledge of many visible andinvisible things. In addition, the poem depicts high level ofcontrolled art in the manner that that specific knowledge has beendemonstrated. It highlights the popular style of writing that existedin the sixteenth century.
Thepoem begins with long sentences that are shorter in the middle onlygetting longer towards the end. This specific shape could have beendesigned to enhance the meaning and the main theme represented in thepoem. Additionally, TheAltarindicates high level of resemblance between the internal visiblestructures and the externally disguised meaning. When the readerisolates the capitalized words in the poem structure, he or she isable to highlight the poetic theme that is in the outline.
TheAltarjust like many of Hebert’s earlier poems was a personal record ofhis religious devotions. In this regard, when trying to derive themeaning of the title, one could get the impression that it could haverepresented Hebert’s close relationship with his God. There arevarious elementary religious definitions and meanings of the termAltar the first definition as described in the Bible is a structurethat purposely created for sacrifices to serve and worship God. Thesestructures are normally based in religious institutions at the centreof worship. Herbert used the term “reare”in TheAltarthat basically could mean raising the altar from one end when it isassumed to be broken. The brokenness of the altar as indicated in thepoem could indicate the sense of inadequacy that he seemed to befeeling in his heart.
Forthis reason, TheAltaris basically a metaphor that was used to represent Herbert’s heart.It is assumed that any servant is typically expected to serve his orher master’s needs to full expectations despite any pain felt.Therefore as a servant of Lord, Herbert was indicating that he didnot have any other option other than offering his services to theLord even with tears. In this regard, tears are a metaphoricalrepresentation of a binding element that is essential tool of healingthe brokenness felt. As a binding element, tears are seen to beimportant representation of a relationship that exists betweenHerbert and God.
Onecould conclude that tears are a metaphoric representation of abinding tool between man and God. This is normally witnessed whenfamily and friends are attending a burial for their loved ones. Tearsin this case are used to cement the existing relationships of peoplewho have joined together to weep.
Justas used in Herbert’s poems tears are used in the shortest sentenceof the Bible, popularly ‘Jesuswept”.The tone that is experienced in the beginning lines of the poems isone of deep emotional brokenness. Therefore, Herbert was using tearsas an important tool of taking his heart closer to God and binds therelationship.
Aheart is yet another name and part of the body that Herbert hassuccessfully employed in the poem. Naturally, a heart has naturalpassions or desires that may expose one’s weaknesses or strengths.He has indicated that his alter has not been framed through the handsof man rather through God Himself.
However,there are strong indications and interpretations to Old Testaments,which are visible through some lines employed by Herbert. One of theideas that come to mind is the weaknesses of the heart that led manstray from God. For this reason, God gave man an altar that was to beused for true and sincere worship that was guided by faith. This wasone main reason that Herbert used the altar in place of the heart inthe poem.
MoreoverHebert has utilized stones in his poem yet as another form ofmetaphor. The specific stones that he used were very familiar to thepeople living during his time. Typically stones are either small orlarge in size, light or heavy, cold or hot however it is normallyregarded to be dead. One could get the impression that Herbert wasthus, refereeing the heaviness of his heart that he equated to deadstones. Christians believe that the heart was originally created byGod and purposed to be alive as per the willingness of God.
However,after man disobeyed God, they believe that the heart instead died dueto his sinful nature. Herbert has used a paradox in representing theheart when he employed the use of stones and brokenness. It is forthis reason that he intended to build an Altar to mend hisrelationship with God through worship. Additionally, the heart is themain essential tool that brings a true worship that is required byGod.
Itis important to understand that Hebert has not used one tonethroughout the poems. This is because the reader gets to see thechange of tone between nine and sixteen lines of the poem. Theprominent impression that one gets is that there is a form oftrusting hope developed in these specific lines. Despite the factthat he had equated the heaviness he felt in his heart to brokennessand stones, he seems to believe and trust that God was going tochange how he felt. In this regard, there is renewed hope andconfidence in God.
Herbertindicates that this was going to be possible even though many partsof his heart were still the old parts. However, due to the strengthof the altar his heart was directed towards a renewed new end. Hethen indicates that he ought to unify and use these same old parts topraising God. The metaphor that is indicated when using the wordframe could have indicated his natural physical makeup. Hesuccessfully applied yet another style where he used stones torepresent The Holy Scripts when his stone felt heart could now beused to praise God towards the end.