Herbert’s is visibly devout and requires very little in-depth reading to realise this. He’s so focused on the deliverance of a religious message that he even structures the poem’s shape according to the context to the poem, which is obviously indicative of his piousness, but what appears in his poetry is also that despite this devotion, it’s never quite enough. The most obvious example of a poem wherein the context is delivered not only through language but very powerfully through structure as well is The Altar, where the poem itself is structured eponymously as an altar.
Herbert’s rather unusual way of layering his poetry with allusions to what it is about is however undeniably effective in emphasising the clarity of the message and perhaps also as a mean to please God at the same time through the devotion of this literary altar. The Altar, like much of Herbert’s poetry, is rather straightforward and plain and doesn’t contain much complexity, save structurally, and it may be because they are devotional poems to God, and he thus keeps it simple so as to humble himself.
The piety of his poetry is really understandable, given that he was in fact a minister until his death in 1633, even choosing to become a rural vicar in favour of his position as Member of Parliament. Suffering from tuberculosis in his later years, it is clear that he became more aware of his mortality and consequently more devout, which is evident in Virtue.
Virtue is not as dense as The Altar and follows a more conventional type of writing, though Herbert still uses anABAB rhyming scheme and ‘Virtue’ is an Iambic Tetrameter.
Typical of Herbert’s style of writing, despite that Iambic pentameter was becoming more popular at the time, being particularly promoted by Shakespeare. The poem follows the path of life. The stanzas start with beautiful and happy things but finishes with a darker, unhappy ending. This was how life was seen at the time. Everything was beautiful when you were young but as time goes by; life loses its colour and becomes more of a hardship. Each stanza starts with ‘sweet’ description of the things which appear beautiful to humans; ‘Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright’ and ‘Sweet rose, whose hue angrie and brave’.
The first line also features a strong use of sibilance, that adds emphasis and force behind the poem and it is also the first line of the poem which provides an opinion of the poem almost immediately. The stanzas are split into 2 moods, of a happy side and a depressing, morose side. This shows the two sides of the poem and life. Like Herbert, many of John Donne’s poems have a religious background, owing to his time as Dean in St. Paul’s Cathedral, as well as a wilder side, as he was an adventurous man who sailed and fought in naval battles against Spain.
Donne also secretly married the daughter of his boss without permission and inevitably received a lot of criticism for this. Perhaps because of this, Donne wrote many religious and passionate, but at the same time forceful poems. Holy Sonnet 10 is an Iambic Pentameter, and follows an ABBA pattern as opposed to ABAB used by Herbert. However Holy Sonnet 10 does not follow this pattern, as halfway through the poem the pattern changes to CDCD which is the same as Herbert, then however, the final 2 lines are in an E, E pattern which is completely random from the other poems I have studied.
Donne may use these sudden changes in pattern to project an atmosphere depending on the mood he wants to convey. These changes may reflect Donne’s temperament and wild ideas. Holy Sonnet 10 uses more grammatical and metaphorical structures than Herbert’s poems. He uses enjambment, plosive letters, paradoxes, sestet and octaves, alliteration and metaphors. Even at the beginning of the poem, the first line can be said powerfully. ‘Batter my heart’, ‘Batter’ is an explosive word and adds emphasis right at the start of the poem. This already gives an impression of the poem and shows Donne’s preferred style.
‘Knocke, breathe, shine… ‘ are all actions that imply a direct approach, it is also related to the three persons of God, mentioned in line 1; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. This is to further emphasizethe idea by relating to God. Enjambment is used at the end of the first line as it runs on into thesecond line, this keeps the words and rhythm flowing. There are also examples of enjambmentat the end of lines 3 and 12, this keeps the atmosphere going at important points and maintains the mood. Line 4 also contains a more violent and wilder relation to the line 2 actions.
‘breake, blowe, burn’ as opposed to ‘knocke, breathe, shine’. Already it is clear how Donne uses religion and passionate, wild ideas in his poems. But Donne’s poetry never comes off quite as lacking in faith, as Herbert’s does. In the 7th line, Donne makes a reference to reason ruling man instead of God. Being quite a heretical thought at the time, it is however Biblically rooted -it was believed that it was reason that separated humans from animals and so is human’s defining characteristic. Donne goes on to say that reason sometimes fails man and betrays him, but God is always there and will forgive men.
This shows Donne’s faith in God, which is much the same as Herbert. Donne however seeks accepts the inevitable and gives himself up to God and imprisonment. The whole idea of God imprisoning and ravishing a person is completely paradoxical when God is seen as a forgiving being. To show this, Donne has made the last 2 lines, paradoxes. ‘You enthrallmee, never shall be free’ and ‘ever chast, except you ravishmee’. While Donne is more daring and passionate, he is still more fervent in his belief that God will be there, where Herbert is less certain, evident by his devotion within the poetry that still lacks a sense of drive.