Religious Paradox and Formal Variation
Even for a clergyman Herbert was a pretty rigid one-genre man: he did religious poetry—no love songs, no epics, no haikus. So how to distinguish Herbert's churchy poems from the rest of the religious verse out there? For one thing, Herbert never shies away from complexity. His poems delve deep into the intricacies and difficulties of religion. Paradox is central: by writing about what seems contradictory, Herbert's poems work to resolve it, demonstrating the logic and beauty of even the most confusing Christian ideas. God dies so we can live? Now there's a headscratcher. But don't worry—Herbert's here to explain it.
You can also spot a Herbert poem by its elegant use of iambic rhythm, generous sprinkling of assonance and alliteration, and last but not least, the formal variation in the verse form. Wings, anyone? There's also a poem-altar.