Being Human

George Herbert:

Henry Vaughan:

Andrew Marvell:

The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da VinciWe might imagine that Metaphysical poets would spend time considering what being human is all about. After all, it is a basic philosophical question, and many poets so spend large amounts of time considering it. So it is interesting that the Metaphysicals don't do this. They are concerned about what being in love is like, or with being a believer - but not with just being. The nearest, for example, that Donne approaches the theme is in his microcosm imagery: man is a miniature world which corresponds to the wider cosmos. But this was traditional Elizabethan imagery and Donne adds only a little to it.

However, there are some poems that do address the theme, which could be linked to that of The Transience of Life. The two poems entitled Man are a good starting point. Herbert's poem touches on the microcosm imagery, as it does on ecological concerns: what is man's place in creation? But the final conclusion is in Christian terms: man is the temple of God. It is an optimistic account of man. Vaughan's poem is less positive in outlook. Human beings are restless because they do not belong in the world. This is where Herbert and Vaughan differ radically, however much Vaughan looked to Herbert for his initial inspiration.

Marvell belongs more to Vaughan's side of the argument. The nature of humankind is to lose peace and innocence, and to be in unresolved inner conflict. Again, Herbert believes a resolution is possible in humility and acceptance of the will of God's purposes for one's life: for him, being human is being a child of God.

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