In the poem “Easter Wings” by George Herbert, form is used effectively to convey the mood and attitude of the poem. It is a religious-themed poem, in which the speaker is praising God for His gifts to man and the world. At the same time, it discusses the frailty and fragility of mankind, as he ages and loses more and more. The grace of God, however, helps man to overcome these obstacles and “feel this day Thy victorie.” (line 18)
Herbert makes use of carmen figuration in order to properly convey the message of the piece; shaped verse like this is used to create a visual image with the text that fits into the text itself. (Dykes 2007) Looking at the poem as it is shaped, the text grows smaller and larger in equal portions, almost forming wings if you look at them from the side. This helps to illustrate the Easter wings that are being described in the text to lift up Man and “further the flight” in him (line 10).
The content of the text itself very much reflects the form of the poem. The first and third stanzas of the poem talk about the frailty and decay of man – “decaying more and more, / Till he became / Most poore:” (lines 3-5). In those, the lines shrink further and further in size until they end with two words. The second and fourth stanzas, on the other hand, start with a hopeful “With Thee” and grow and grow, just like man does with the grace and glory of God, according to Herbert. This has the effect of making the text ebb and flow, much like man does when weighing his relationship to God.
The mood alternates between mournful and hopeful, and the text reflects that – the shortening and lengthening of the lines indicates how much Man is lifted by God at that particular time in the narrative. The first stanza is about decay, the second stanza is about the rejuvenation of man through God, and the third and fourth stanzas follow that pattern.
Alliteration is a big component of this poem as well. The line “Then shall the fall further the flight in me” helps to emphasize the status of his relationship with God at that point (10). Repetition is also a big factor in this poem, being used to emphasize the cyclical nature of God’s relationship with man. There is the aforementioned “With Thee” that begins every hopeful stanza (6, 16), as well as the lines that end the mournful stanzas – “Most poore” and “Most thinne,” describing the pathetic nature of man without God (5, 15). There are many other lines that are merely tweaked a bit, but recur for the most part in these stanzas: In stanzas two and four, he both “sing[s] this day Thy victories” and “feel[s] this day Thy victorie” (9, 18), and he asks God to “let me rise” and “let me combine” with him, so that he can experience the joy and ecstasy of God’s work and world.
The use of form in George Herbert’s “Easter Wings” helps to personify the wings that are in the title; with God’s help, man can fly further than he ever thought possible. The shaping of the verse into wings is yet another visual cue toward that end, and the repetition and alliteration in the language is indicative of just how reliable and eventual God’s raising of man is. The reader is taken through the highs and lows of man’s experience through this rising and falling of syllable counts, and they get to feel God lifting them up as well, experiencing the opening up of their lives, just as the poem opens up in the presence of God.
Dykes, Darrin. "Poetry analysis: Easter Wings, by George Herbert." Helium - Where Knowledge
Rules. N.p., 29 July 2007. Web. 1 Apr. 2011. <http://www.helium.com/items/492218-poetry-analysis-easter-wings-by-george-herbert>.