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What does the poem 'The Collar' mean by George Herbert?

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Quick Answer

George Herbert's poem "The Collar" reflects the speaker's impatience at feeling constrained, railing against humanity's innate need to serve its master, God. The last two lines of the poem ironically reveal that the poem is not simply a diatribe advocating freedom, but rather the temporary frustration of a generally willing and eager servant.

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Full Answer

"The Collar" draws upon imagery of chains and shackles binding the speaker, but the title itself betrays the true nature of these restraints; a collar does not necessarily imprison its wearer but rather controls and directs him. Religious undertones within the poem also imply that the collar may be a reference to the clergy, who dedicate their lives to serving God and their community. The speaker acknowledges his restlessness at being restricted, but the final line of the poem portrays a different response that demonstrates his true desires. Herbert describes the speaker as raving and fierce, suggesting that he is out of control and is therefore tamed and collared for his own good. The implication is that the true cage is not the bonds of servitude but the "petty thoughts" that blind and persuade the speaker to wrongful actions. It is also important to notice that the speaker's frustrations are immediately silenced by his master's voice, hinting at a willing submission.

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