Easter Wings

April 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
   Though foolishly he lost the same,
     Decaying more and more
       Till he became
          Most poor:
          With thee
       O let me rise
     As larks, harmoniously,
   And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did begin:
   And still with sicknesses and shame
     Thou didst so punish sin,
       That I became
          Most thin.
          With thee
       Let me combine,
     And feel this day thy victory;
   For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

– George Herbert

Like, say, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Herbert’s religious beliefs helped fashion a body of truly inventive and inspired work. Contrasting with the artifice of its secret acrostics and nonce forms, his poetry speaks frankly to God on issues of faith and morality.

“Easter Wings”, which is probably the earliest concrete poem in English, bolsters its message by the use of form. Originally published sideways, each stanza mimics the shape of an angel or bird wing in flight. The lines, which wax and wane in length, are shortest when expressing doubt or severance from God and longest when proclaiming His glory. It is, at least in a typographic sense, a resurrection.

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