The Pulley - George Herbert Summary & Analysis [Non-African Poetry]
Non-African Poetry: The Pulley by George Herbert Summary, Setting, Author's Background, Themes, Language and Style for JAMB, WAEC and NECO Literature Students Syllabus.
It is no longer news that the above selected poetry is among the selected texts for literature students in the WAEC, NECO and JAMB Syllabus.

Well we have decided to help students by providing some insights such as summary and poetic devices and analysis of the poem to aid them understand and prepare ahead of their examination.


George Herbert was born in to a noble Welsh family on April 3, 1593. His poetry was influenced chiefly by the puritanical stance of the 17th century in which he was born. After graduation from the University, he was ordained as a priest and served in a little church in Bemerton.

Religious themes are integral to George Herbert's poetry and "The Pulley" is not an exception. The poem is an artistic or poetic narration of the relationship which exist between God and man.

This poem can be classified as metaphysical poem. It was written in the seventeenth century, when the metaphysical poets flourished in England.

George Herbert was a prominent metaphysical poet. What is metaphysical about the poem is the fact that a religious idea is conveyed through scientific representation. Pulleys are mechanical objects used to lift heavy loads. The use of the pulley in this poem, to convey Herbert's idea, is an example of a far-fetched imagery or conceit.

Metaphysical poetry is characterized by the use of metaphysical wits and conceits.


When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
"Let us", said he "pour on him all we can
Let the world's riches which dispersed lie,
5 Contract into a span".

So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay
Perceiving that, along all of his treasure,
10 Rest in the bottom lay

"For if I should," said he
"Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature,
15 So both should losers be.

"Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast."


The poem was written in the 17th century England. The metaphysical poets sre 17th century English poets who employed the use of conceit and syllogism.

These poets were well educated, as most of them were university graduates. This high level of their education exposed them to many innovative ideas, which were represented in their poems and it explains the elevated language and intellectual complexity of their poems.

Other poets that are usually classified as Metaphysical poets include John Donne, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell and Henry Vaughan.

As a religious metaphysical poet. Herbert wrote "The Pulley" during the Metaphysical Age of English literature and it is acclaimed as one of the best of the religious metaphysical poems.


George Herbert's "The Pulley" focuses on the relationship between God and man. In this poem, Herbert uses the metaphor of the pulley to talk about man's dependence on God and the fact that without God man is nothing.

The point being stressed in this poem is that after creating man, God deliberately withheld some benefit from him so that man would turn to Him for his needs and salvation.

The implication is that man's yearning for those things lacking in his life would ultimately bring him back to God. Thus, the pulley serves as a metaphor presenting man's helplessness and dependence on God for his sustenance and assistance.

The poem adopts a three-part syllogistic approach, which is a common feature of metaphysical poetry. The first part usually raises a question or an issue, which needs to be resolved. The second part works on the issue, the last provides the solution.

Within the context of "The Pulley", the first part narrates the creation story, while the second part describes the endowment of man with virtues like riches, honour, etc. In the third part, God finds a way to retain man's interest in Him by giving him everything but rest He succeeds in devising a strategy to continually draw men unto Him.

George Herbert's poems are usually emblematic in nature and "The Pulley" is no exception. The structure of the poem is unusual as the first and last line of every stanza are shorter than the remaining lines.

Readers can easily imagine the shape of a pulley and appreciate the poem as these lines create a visual description and the analysis of the poem creates its significance.

The poem also talks about the love of God towards man, which is boundless and inestimable. God gave man everything he will ever need after creation but in a bid to keep man in tune with God.

He bestowed weariness and restlessness on man so that man will always run to Him for salvation.

Stanza One

Lines 1 - 5: In the first stanza of the poem, Herbert presents a narration on how God created man and gave him the best of everything that He had to offer. What is compressed into these five line is the creation story as narrated in Genesis 1 - 2. From this first stanza, the unlimited love that God has for man is revealed, a reflection of the goodness of God's heart and love for mankind. God made man the centrepiece of everything created by Him, by giving him unfettered access to untold riches and benefits that he does not actually deserve

Stanza Two

Lines 6 - 10: In the second stanza, the reader is made to understand that after man has been richly blessed by God who created every other thing for the benefit of man, God nourishes man with a number of other gifts such as strength, wisdom, honour and pleasure, which will assist man in managing the blessings that he had received earlier. In order to retain man's allegiance, God tactfully withholds a very important precious gift that would eventually serve as a pulley to bring man back to God and this gift is rest.

Stanza Three:

Lines 11 - 15: The reason why God took the decision to withhold rest, the most important of all His gifts, from man is revealed in this third stanza. According to God, should man be given rest as one of the divine gifts from Him, man would turn his attention from God to nature, ignoring the "God of nature"(line14).  Within the context of this poem, nature represents an aggregation of the best of God's creation. God knows that man cannot be self-reliant or self—sufficient. By withdrawing rest from man, man is obligated to depend on God for his sustenance and assistance in hisjourney through life.

Stanza Four

Lines 16 - 20: In the last stanza, God allows man to keep all other gifts bestowed on him, gifts to be kept by man in repining restlessness".

The implication is that even when an individual possesses all the good things of life, he or she would not be satisfied. There would always be a yearning to be fill a void that can only be filled by God.

At another level of interpretation, the rest that is withheld from man, which is also God's peace is eternal salvation through Christ. The essence of this very religious poem is that without christ, no one can ever find rest and this idea is vividly exemplified in Mathew 11:28: "Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest",. The "rest" within this context is not only peace of mind on this earth but eternal salvation in heaven. God therefore creates a metaphorical pulley that reminds human beings of their connection to their creator.


1. God‘s superiority
2. The frailty of the human mind
3. God desires that man should look up to Him
4. The reason for man's restlessness
5. Man must accept his limitations
6. God's love for man's limitless.


1. Assonance
2. Consonance
3. Biblical Allusion
4. Alliteration
5. Contrast
6. Imagery
7. Synedoche
8. Dramatic monologue
9. Personification