I love the way this poem actually draws wings in the way it is set out on the page! (see the image above)
But there are some even more beautiful touches…
Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.
In the first verse, the shortest lines imitate the meaning, “Decaying” in length until you get to “Most poore” – the shortest line.
Then the poem beings to “rise / As larks, harmoniously”, and sings of “flight”.
Something similar happens in the second verse:
My tender age in sorrow did beginne
And still with sicknesses and shame.
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Let me combine,
And feel thy victorie:
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
This time, the shortest line is “Most thinne”! (I think George Herbert, the poet, had a great sense of humour!)
The strange word “imp” means “join” or “attach”. Herbert knows how to combine (his word) humour with depth.
This is not a superficial poem about being happy. It is “affliction” (suffering) that will “advance the flight in me”.
He is thinking about resurrection, but it is a resurrection that does not ignore suffering.
Just like this amazing painting of resurrection, where wounds are also very visible: