Exam Lessons Literature in English




George Hebert was born in Wales in 1593. He was an English poet, orator and Anglican priest. His background as a clergyman had a profound influence on his writings. He has been classified as a metaphysical poet. His poems were greatly influenced by John Donne’s works because the latter was his mother’s friend. His poems were highly philosophical in nature and they celebrated God’s love towards man. Herbert wrote about issues of life using a religious approach. Throughout his life, he wrote religious poems characterized by a unique use of imagery, which were easily accessible to his readers. Herbert’s writings express his relationship with God. He confessed that his poetry is a picture of the spiritual conflicts between God and man’s soul.


George Herbert’s “The Pulley” focuses on the relationship between God and man, God’s love for man and man’s weakness. In this poem, Herbert uses the metaphor of the pulley to talk about man’s dependence on God and the fact that without God man is nothing. The point being stressed in this poem is that after creating man, God deliberately withholds some benefits from him so that man will turn to Him for his needs and salvation. The implication is that man’s yearning for those things lacking in his life will ultimately bring him back to God. Thus, the pulley serves as a metaphor presenting man’s helplessness and dependence on God for his sustenance and assistance. The poem adopts a three-part syllogistic approach, which is a common feature of metaphysical poetry. The first part usually raises a question or an issue, which needs to be resolved. The second part works on the issue, the last provides the solution. Within the contest of “The Pulley”, the first part narrates the creation story, while the second part describes an endowment of man with virtue like riches, honour, wisdom beauty, etc. In the third part, God finds a way to retain man’s interest in Him by giving him everything but rest. He succeeds in devising a strategy to continually draw men unto Him. George Herbert’s poems are usually emblematic in nature and “The Pulley” is no exception. The structure of the poem is unusual as the first and last line of every stanza is shorter than the remaining lines. Readers can easily imagine the shape of a pulley and appreciate the poem as these lines create a visual description and the analysis of the poem creates a visual description and the analysis of the poem creates its significance. God gave man everything he will ever need after creation but in bid to restore man to God, He bestows weariness and restlessness on man so that man will always run to Him for salvation.


  1. Give a brief background of George Herbert.
  2. Analyze the poem above.



The main theme of the poem is God’s supremacy over man. “The Pulley” establishes the fact that God is in all ramifications superior to man. It is a fact that every human being must accept, that God, as Supreme Being, controls the destiny of each individual and that without Him, nothing that exists can subsist. Thus, the poem is a symbolic portrayal of the fact that man’s efforts are dependent on God, his creator. The poem asserts that God, in His infinite wisdom, knows that making man independent would lead to the abuse of that independence. Therefore, the tone of this poem shows God’s superiority over man. There is that master-subordinate relationship depicted in the poem where God, the master, has full authority over His creation. God requires respect from manhence, He withdraws one special gift which is that of emotional fulfilment and contentment. According to God, the lack of this gift will definitely draw man back to him to draw him under His feet. This tempo is made prominent in the last stanza of the poem: “Let him be rich and weary, that at least/if goodness lead him not, yet weariness/may toss him back to my breast”.


Another major theme depicted in the poem is the frailty of the human mind. God as Sovereign and the creator of mankind understands the nature of man. He knows that the mind of man is frail, that man is weak and easily susceptible to a myriad of negative, ungodly influences. God knows that man can easily be manipulated and that he could easily forget his maker if he has all he needs in life. This is why God decides to take rest from man to constantly remind man of his need to depend on God.

  • God desires that man should look up to Him

This poem reveals the fact that God desires to draw men unto Him because He created man for a purpose, to serve and worship Him. God desires that men depend on Him and seek His face at all times for everything. God also desires that men should worship and adore Him alone and not idolize the things he made. He, therefore, creates a way to make this possible by not giving man rest, which is synonymous with peace of mind.

4.         The reason for man’s restlessness

The poem provides an answer for the restlessness of man. People often ask the question: why is man restless? Why is the need of man insatiable? This poem provides an answer to this philosophical question. God bestows restlessness and weariness upon man so that man will always run to Him.


The following figures of speech and sound devices are apparent in the poem.

  1. Alliteration: This is found in expressions like “so strength” (l. 6), which alliterates the /s/ sound and “repining restlessness” (l. 17), which alliterates the /r/ sound.
  2. Assonance: This is found in line 8: “when almost all was out…”
  3. Contrast: One also notices the use of contrast in the poem. This is evident in the last stanza of the poem. There is a contrast between “rich” and “weary” in line 18.
  4. Dramatic Monologue: this is one prominent technique that runs through the poem. This technique encourages the dramatic mood of the poem by unfolding the relationship between the addresser and addressee. Thus, there is that position of an audience. This is exemplified by use of dialogues in the poem. The phrase, “let us” unconsciously signifies the presence of an unseen audience. All these attest to the effectiveness of the dramatic monologue in the poem.
  5. Imagery: The presentation of mental images to express a central idea is seen in the poem. From the title of the poem, readers are prone to create a mental picture as they analyze the poem. The pulley is an image that embodies the idea the poem seeks to express.
  6. Inversion: In line 4, the normal order of words reversed towards the end of the line: “let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie” the normal order should be: “which lie dispersed” However, if this arrangement of words was the one used, “dispersed” would not rhyme with “by” in line 2
  7. Personification: Two things, goodness and weariness, are endowed with human attributes in lines 19-20: “if goodness lead him not, yet weariness/may toss him to my breast”.
  8. Synecdoche: There is an example of the use of synecdoche in line 20, the last line of the poem where the word “breast” is used as a metaphor for God. Synecdoche is a form of metaphor where a part is used to represent the whole of what is referred to.
  9. Biblical Allusion: the poem is an example of biblical allusion as all its contents allude to the creation of the world and man in Genesis 1-2


  1. Analyze four poetic devices in the poem.
  2. What is the main theme of the work and why?


  1. Analyze the content of “The Pulley.”
  2. Discuss on any two themes in the poem.
  3. Examine five poetic devices in the poem.


  1. The struggle between two opposing forces in the plot of a story which can either be internal or external is ____ (a) Conflict      (b) Struggle       (c) Pathos
  2. ____ is the conversation between characters in a literary work.

(a) Dialogue            (b) Connotation              (c) Canto

  • ____ is the greatest point of interest or entertainment intensity in a literary work.

(a)  Climax             (b) Anti-Climax              (c) Denouement

  • ____ is the quotation that occurs at the beginning of a literary work that highlights a theme.  (a)  Epigraph         (b) Epigram      (c)  Epithet
  • ____ is an exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis.(a)  Exaggeration (b)              Litotes (c)  Pun


How does Herbert explore religion in “The Pulley”?


Read analysis on the poem above on the net.