Commentary on The Collar


The Collar opens with dramatic suddenness, rather poems by John Donne. As in Affliction I, the I-voice is re-enforced by the long i-vowels of ‘sigh', 'pine', 'Lines', 'life': the poet is full of himself and his frustration. ‘The board' just means a table, or any flat surface, even a desktop. The frustration is centred on two things: loss of freedom; and lack of any ‘harvest' or outcome, in spite of all his efforts.


There was plenty in the poet's life before his ‘sighs' and ‘tears' spoiled it. Whether this refers to suffering through illness, or through tears of repentance, of a moral turning away from his previous lifestyle, is not clear. ‘Thy cold dispute/Of what is fit, and not' does suggest the latter, unlike Affliction I, where it is more his poor physical health that held him back.

Whatever the cause, he feels it is not irremediable. He can surely

Recover all thy sigh-blownage
On double pleasures

Skull in studyHe does not need ‘thy death's-head'. People actually did have skulls in their studies in the seventeenth century to remind them of the imminence of death, and to take life seriously. His ‘need' now is to serve his own wishes.

The reversal

Then comes the reversal: as he gets more and more frustrated, it seems as if he hears a voice ‘calling, Child'. The term ‘child' is one Herbert uses elsewhere for an immature person of whatever age, but suggestingendearment rather than anger. It is God's loving voice and it immediately melts his anger. He turns at once to acknowledge ‘My Lord', a term which must mean God in the Christian context of Herbert's poetry. Suddenly, there is a new perspective on everything.

Investigating The Collar
  • Does the ending of The Collar seem weak or strong?
    • Would you have preferred to have heard Herbert argue it out with God?
  • Have you felt similar frustration at what seemed to be unfair constraints put on you?
    • How was the situation resolved?
  • What to you seems to be the cause of Herbert's frustration?
    • Pick out words and phrases that illustrate his feelings.
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