When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
Let us, said he, pour on him all we can:
Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.
So strength first made way;
Then beauty flowed; then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.
For, if I should, said he,
Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So should both losers be.
Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness:
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.
About the Poet
George Herbert was born in to a noble Welsh family on April 3, 1593. His poetry was influenced chiefly by the puritanical stance of the 17th century in which he was born. After graduation from the University, he was ordained as a priest and served in a little church in Bemerton. His major collection of poems titled “The Temple” was published after his death.
The poem “The Pulley” illustrates the relationship between God and man especially his benevolence to man. The first stanza describes how God made man and blessed him with worldly riches: “When God at first made man, Having a glass of blessings standing by”. The stanza also portrays the concept of Trinity as seen in the Biblical creation story in Genesis: “Let us, said he pour on him all we can” (Note the use of the phrase “Let us”).
In the second stanza, God actually poured his blessings of strength, beauty, wisdom, honour and pleasure on man but withheld one important blessing- The Gift of Rest: “Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure, Rest in the bottom lay”.
In the third stanza, God gave his reason for withholding the gift of rest from man. He withdrew this blessing because he felt giving man the gift of rest would make him conceited or excessively proud and man may not worship him: “He would adore my gifts instead of me, And rest in nature, not the God of Nature”. With the withdrawal of rest from man, man is thrown into perpetual restlessness so that he can always remember his creator whether as a result of goodness or weariness: Let him be rich and weary, that at least, If goodness lead him not, yet weariness may toss him to my breast” .
i. God’s supremacy and love for mankind. He blessed man with many gifts but shows his supremacy over man by withholding the gift of rest.
ii. Man’s dependency on God.
iii. The insatiable nature of man’s needs. This throws man in a perpetual state of restlessness, anxiety and worry.
The poem is rhythmic with an alternating rhyme scheme. The first stanza rhymes a b a b a as follows:
When God at first made man, (a)
Having a glass of blessings standing by, (b)
Let us, said he, pour on him all we can: (a)
Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie, (b)
Contract into a span. (a)
Mood and Tone
The mood as well as the tone is reflective. The poem is a product of the poet’s long, quiet and thoughtful reflection on the Biblical creation story.