To Find God by Robert Herrick

The title of this poem alone, ‘To Find God’, strikes interest in the hearts of the readers. Throughout many generations, people have claimed to have found God, while others have claimed that He does not exist. Whether or not there is a higher power has been the subject of intense debate across cultures and time periods. Herrick centers this poem around that age-old question: does God exist? Without offering a definitive answer, Herrick leaves readers with powerful images that linger and cause the readers to ponder the possibility of the existence of a higher power. The purpose of the poem, To Find God, is not to convince readers one way or another, but simply to bring the question to the forefront of their minds.

 

To Find God Analysis

Stanza 1

Weigh me the fire; or canst thou find
A way to measure out the wind?
Distinguish all those floods that are
Mixed in that wat’ry theater,
And taste thou them as saltless there,
As in their channel first they were.

To Find God begins with a series of challenges. The speaker challenges the reader to find the weight of fire. His next challenge, in the form of a question, is to measure the wind. These are two things that are impossible to do. We know that fire is indeed and real and tangible thing, for we have all seen it. But fire cannot be weighed. One cannot find out it’s mass. One cannot touch and handle fire as one would another tangible object. But that does not mean that fire does not exist. The speaker presents the same concept with the challenge to measure the wind. One cannot measure the wind. One cannot handle the wind. One cannot, in essence, prove that the wind exists apart from the effects that the wind has. People feel the wind, they see the trees sway under it.

The next challenge the speaker presents is to “distinguish all those floods”. This is an interesting challenge. All of the bodies of water on the earth are connected to one another in such a way that one cannot really distinguish where one body of water starts and another begins. The speaker asks why, if all of the water is connected, are some bodies salty and others fresh. While there are sure to be scientific explanations for this, the speaker seems to insinuate that there is an intelligent force behind the science of the floods which directs and guides the water, making some of it salty and some of it fresh.

The challenges that the speaker presents in this first stanza reveal the mysteries of the elements of the earth. He talks about water, wind, and fire. These, of course, are three of the five essential elements. These elements, Earth, Water, Wind, Fire, and Void. These elements, first introduced by Japanese philosophers, were widely acknowledged as the key elements of existence. The speaker challenges the reader to offer tangible proof that those elements exist. This can only be done through the personal experience of those elements. People have felt the warmth of fire, the gusts of wind, and drank the fresh cold water (though they may not know how it came to be fresh).

 

Stanza 2

Tell me the people that do keep
Within the kingdoms of the deep;
Or fetch me back that cloud again,
Beshivered into seeds of rain.

Here, the speaker reminds the reader how little we really know about the world we live in. There are countless species, probably not yet discovered, in the depths of the sea. The speaker challenges the reader to tell him of all of “the kingdoms of the deep”. This, of course, cannot be done because not all the species of the deep have been discovered. The second challenge the speaker presents in this stanza is to fetch a cloud and bring it back before it is “beshivered into seeds of rain”. The speaker continues to refer to the mysteries of the world. He implies, subtly, that there must be intelligence behind the way the cloud works to bring the rain and purify the water. His challenge to fetch a cloud reminds the reader that we have no control over the earthly elements. One cannot fetch a cloud any more than one can weigh fire or measure wind.

 

Stanza 3

Tell me the motes, dust, sands, and spears
Of corn, when summer shakes his ears;
Show me that world of stars, and whence
They noiseless spill their influence.

The challenges continue as the speaker asks them to count for him the dust, the sand, or the spears of corn. He asks for an account of space. His vivid descriptions of “when summer shakes his ears” and the way that stars “noiseless spill their influence” create a feeling of wonder and majesty about the universe. The speaker clearly feels in awe of these wonders of the earth. He knows, of course, that no one can count the dust particles or the grains of sand or even the ears of corn. He knows that the stars cannot be all accounted for. So why does he challenge the reader to do what he knows is impossible? He wants the reader to stand in awe with him- to become aware of the majesty of the universe, and just how little we actually know about it.

 

Stanza 4

This if thou canst; then show me Him
That rides the glorious cherubim.

The final two lines of To Find God get to the heart of what the speaker implies throughout the poem. He knows, of course, that no one can perform the challenges he has presented. So he says, “if thou canst; then show me Him that rides the glorious cherubim”. This is the center of all that he has said thus far. He knows that it is impossible for anyone to show him God, just as it is impossible for anyone to weigh fire or to measure wind, to count the stars or to fetch a cloud. But just because a cloud cannot be fetched does not mean that it does not exist. Just because fire cannot be weighed does not mean that fire is not real. Just because the wind cannot be measured does not mean that the wind is not there. And though the grains of sand cannot be counted by the human hand, there is still a definite number of them on the seashores. In the same way, just because we do not know about a certain species of the deep, does not mean that it does not exist somewhere. And even though we cannot understand space, it is there and functioning all the same.

All of these challenges set up the reader to accept what the speaker is really trying to say. Just because no human being can show you God, does not mean that He isn’t there. The speaker does not necessarily offer proof that God is there, but he does give his reasons for believing that He is. He knows that there are many things in the earth that exist, though they are not tangible objects to be weighed, measured, or counted. He implicitly suggests that God exists as the force behind the essential elements, and as the one who can fetch a cloud, count the sand, measure the wind, and weigh the fire. He implies that the one who “rides the glorious cherubim” is behind the mysteries of the heavens and the earth. Then, upon remembering the title, one can conclude the speaker’s meaning: that to find God, one must only look to the mysteries of the heavens and the earth. 

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