Imagery and symbolism in The Collar

The whole poem is basically imagistic, and in that sense, seems quite modern. Everything has a symbolic value, either as an emblem or a metonymy. For what an emblem is, look at the analysis of Herbert's The Church-floore.

Fruit and harvest

One of the main clusters of imagery has to do with fruit and harvest:

  • ‘store' (l.5)
  • ‘harvest' (l.7)
  • ‘fruit' (ll.9 & 17)
  • ‘wine' (l.10)
  • ‘corn' (l.11)

The idea of fruitfulness is an obvious image of fulfilment in life. But Herbert combines this with images of freedom. The similes of ‘free as the road/ Loose as the wind' bring a sense of space as well as plenty waiting out there for him.


To make the point, of course, Herbert needs contrasting images. Thus ‘no harvest but a thorn' may echo Jeremiah 12:13, which is about frustration for those who go against God's will. His sighs ‘did dry', and his tears ‘did drown' the wine and corn, which echo in the bread and wine of communion. Wine and corn are also metonymies of plenty and joy, now ‘all blasted/All wasted'. ‘Thy death's head' is an emblem of conscience as well as symbolising deathward thoughts. These thoughts are also imaged by ‘thy cage/Thy rope of sands'.

Investigating The Collar
  • Consider the imagery of The Collar
    • What do ‘bays' and ‘garlands gay' represent?
    • ‘but there is fruit,/ And thou hast hands': what sort of image is this?
    • Explain the full significance of the image about the rope in ll.22-25.
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