The Pulley by George Herbert: Summary and Analysis

The Pulley by George Herbert is a religious, metaphysical poem which centers on the ‘pulley’ as a prime conceit in the poem. Herbert wants to unveil the truth that why human beings are so restless and unsatisfying despite having all the things he wants.

George Herbert (1593-1633)

After God made this universe, he gathered all the blessings of the world in a glass and distributed them to the human beings one after another. First, he gave the strength, therefore human became strong enough to survive. One by one, god gave them the beauty, wisdom, honor, pleasure and many other blessings. When almost all was gone, God kept ‘rest’ at the bottom of the glass, thinking that ‘both should losers be’ if the ‘rest’ is given. When they get all they want, in the sense of sufficiency, they may forget God. On one hand, when human beings get rest, they forget god and take a rest. As a result, god will lose the love and affection of human beings.  On the other hand, when rest is given, people will lose strength, honor, wisdom and beauty and all other human capacities. God knows the man is by birth prone to lethargy. They will get rest at the cost of the progress. Progress and the rest never come together. We get one losing the other. God is sure that man will only praise the things God has given to them not the god himself. Mankind will lose their essence, get tired and wander in search of rest.

In the concluding part of the poem, Herbert gives two reasons behind human going to god. First, they will go to God out of the goodness, faith or divine emotions and inborn loyalty for him. Secondly, if they do not go to god out of the first cause, they will go to him when they are tired. Weariness takes human beings to the shadow of god. So, the God decides to keep the mankind away from the rest so as to make him feel the eternal rest can only be found in God. For the sake of the rest, at least man will remember to god and go to him for his love and rest. The repining restlessness or the discontentment with the worldly things will finally lead a man to god. He wanted man to discover the real rest only in Him. He alone can truly give the mankind the rest they frantically seek.

The poet answers in a simple tone that the reason behind man being so unsatisfying and weary is that God has not bestowed us with his precious jewel ‘rest’, but kept the jewel ‘rest’ with him. So for the sake of rest, we always run from here to there. We think now we are complete because we have everything, but the moment we feel so, another moment we feel empty and become restless. This is what exactly God wants us to be. If this happens to us then only we remember god and go to him for the ‘rest.’

The title of the poem the pulley is a conceit that carries the theme of the poem. In pulley from the mechanical point of view to operate it a kind of power and force has to be applied to one end to lift the object of the other end. The force applied makes a difference to the weight that is being lifted. The ‘rest’ that god keeps with him is the leverage that draws the mankind towards god. Two quite different objects are forcefully compared here, one from the pure physics that is pulley and the other from the pure religion that is God. The relationship of man and god is compared with the metaphorical pulley. To pull mankind back to the God, back to his origin, God keeps man away from the ‘rest.’ This can only be possible in the metaphysical conceits. So the title is thematic.

Related Topic

George Herbert: Biography