‘The Flower’ by George Herbert is a seven stanza poem that is separated into sets of seven lines, of septets. The poet has chosen to craft this piece with a structured and consistent rhyme scheme of ababccb. This pattern repeats in each stanza, varying with Herbert’s choice of end rhymes.
A reader should also take note of the way the lines are arranged on the page. Herbert has utilized different levels of indention in order to imbue the text with an additional amount of interest. A reader will be forced to move their eyes through the lines, jumping in and out in accordance with the amount of indention.
Throughout the poem, the poet maintains a contemplative tone. At first, the lines are filled with celebratory phrases, but as the details of the year are revealed the mood mellows and the speaker thinks over how he lives his own life what paradise will be like.
Summary of The Flower
The poem begins with the speaker celebrating the arrival of spring. This is something he relishes every year as it brings about a great mental and emotional transformation. During the winter months, like a flower, he is shriveled up in the ground finding comfort where he can. When spring comes, and God’s opinion of the world improves, he grows up towards heaven.
This is his most important goal in life, to prove himself to God and earn a place in the garden of Paradise. He has grown old over the years and is happy to embrace one more spring.
The speaker imagines what it will be like in heaven and knows that he would do anything to get there. He doesn’t imagine there could be anyone of the planet feeling any differently than he.
Analysis of The Flower
How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are Thy returns! ev’n as the flow’rs in Spring,
To which, besides their own demean
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring;
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
In the first stanza of ‘The Flower’, the speaker begins by addressing God. He is in a celebratory mood and wants to share his pleasure over the changing of the seasons. He exclaims, “How fresh…how sweet and clean / Are Thy returns!” The speaker is enthralled over the clean and beautiful coming of spring, something he contributes to his “Lord.”
As a reader will come to understand in this piece, the speaker’s mood changes in accordance with the seasons. As he moves out of winter and into spring his, “Grief melts away.” He relates God’s pleasure to spring and summer, and his anger to winter. When the snow has finally melted away, it is like it was never there at all. There was “no such cold thing.”
Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flow’rs depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown,
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.
In the second stanza, the speaker goes on to celebrate the fact that his “shrivel’d heart” has “recover’d greenesse.” He did not think this was going to be possible. It was such an outlandish change of outlook on the world that no one expected.
As the speaker compares his own pleasure to the coming of spring, he also compares himself to the flowers which shrivel in winter and bloom again once it warms. He goes “under ground” as the flowers do. He seeks out comfort in his retreat as the flowers “see their mother-root” under the ground. Together they “keep house.” They are “unknown,” or unseen, and completely “Dead to the world” in this state.”
It is clear that the speaker sees himself functioning in the same way, he is the “flower” which is referenced in the title of the poem. He is as dependent on the seasons as the real flowers are.
These are Thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickning, bringing down to Hell
And up to Heaven in an houre;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell.
We say amisse
This or that is;
Thy word is all, if we could spell.
In the third stanza of ‘The Flower’, the speaker describes how the “Lord of power” uses his abilities to “bring” one “down to Hell / And up to Heaven” whenever he chooses. It is like the “chiming of a passing-bell” to him, nothing more. While the speaker struggles with the dark times of his life, he has no problem acknowledging the power of God and the “wonders” he makes on earth.
In the last three lines, the speaker addresses the fact that humankind often purports to know something about the world— declaring that things are one way or another. This is not the case though. It is God’s word which means everything; only he sees all.
O that I once past changing were,
Fast in Thy Paradise, where no flower can wither;
Many a Spring I shoot up fair,
Offring at Heav’n, growing and groning thither,
Nor doth my flower
Want a Spring-showre,
My sinnes and I joyning together.
The fourth stanza is filled with the speaker’s imaginings. He thinks forward in his life to a time that he might join God in “Paradise.” Once he arrives here he will be “past changing.” He will no longer have to worry about the progression of the seasons or the ways that a “flower can wither.”
In “Paradise” there will endless “Spring[s]” in which he can “shoot up fair.” In this place his “sinnes” and his goodness will merge together. He tries his best through all the springs of his life to strive to find a place in Heaven and longs for the day he will finally get there.
But while I grow in a straight line,
Still upwards bent, as if Heav’n were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline:
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone
Where all things burn,
When Thou dost turn,
And the least frown of Thine is shown?
The speaker’s strength which allows him to exist on a path heavenward is not unlimited though. It only lasts through spring and then God’s “anger comes” and he “declines.” God brings on winter once more and he shrivels back into the ground.
The change in God’s outlook on the world, which is what the speaker sees as the cause of winter, exists all over the planet. On either end, on the “pole[s],” there is a “zone / Where all things burn.” There is no place on earth that can escape God’s “frown.”
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O, my onely Light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom Thy tempests fell all night.
In the second to last stanza, the speaker describes how he has aged. He is not the young man he once was, he has seen “so many deaths” through which he has lived and written. It is time for him to expense the “dew and rain” once more and “relish” in his writing. He speaks on his changed nature and how he feels so different from the person he was during winter.
The speaker is so overwhelmingly transformed by the process that he does not remember being he “On whom Thy tempests fell all night.” He is no longer this man, at least for the remainder of the warm months.
These are Thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flow’rs that glide;
Which when we once can find and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.
In the final stanza, the speaker states that God has a purpose in the changing of the seasons. It is so that one might see that “we are but flow’rs that glide” through life. One must spend their life trying to “prove” that God’s garden is a place they belong in.
The speaker finishes ‘The Flower’ by asking if it’s possible that there is anyone on the planet who would swell up so much that “Paradise” becomes forfeit. He does not believe this is possible. Pride couldn’t overwhelm someone so entirely.