by George Herbert
Analysis: Form and Meter
Rhymed Stanza, Pattern Poetry, Variable Iambic
So the most obvious thing about the form of "Easter Wings" is that it actually has a physical form. No same-old left-aligned vanilla-flavored poems in Herbert's Easter basket. These stanzas give new meaning to the phrase, A picture's worth a thousand words—or, in the case of "Easter Wings," 96 (yes, we counted).
Officially known as carmen figuration or pattern/shaped/figural poetry, this type of poem-picture takes the relationship between form and content to a visual level. Take a look at these stanzas. Not only does their elegant unfurled wing-shape mimic the title of the poem; the changing line length also reflects the line-by-line meaning of each stanza. For further deets, head down to "Line Length" under "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay."
But just because "Easter Wings" looks like a bird doesn't mean it's flighty. With its symmetrical stanzas, ABABACDCDC rhymes, and impeccable iambic rhythm, this poem keeps its wings elegantly folded. Just check out how perfectly the stanzas match up. Adam ends up "most poor" at line 5? The speaker ends up "most thin" at line 15. The speaker's singing victories with the larks between lines 8 and 9? He's feeling the same with the hawks in lines 18 and 19. And lines 6 and 16 are actually identical.
And just how do we get that sleek wing-curve without messing up the rhythm? First off, this baby's made of iambs, or sets of two syllables with the first one short and unstressed and the second one long and stressed. This non-stress/stress pattern gives iambic poetry its characteristic dadum dadum sound. Check out the stress pattern in the first line to get a feel for how this iambic rhythm plays out here (stressed syllables are bolded and italicized):
Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store (1)
If you count the number of non-stress/stress pairs here, you'll notice that this first line contains five iambs or 10 syllables. But wander down to line 2, and you'll count something different. This line has only 4 iambs or 8 syllables:
Though foolishly he lost the same (2)
Get out your magnifying glasses, sleuths, it's the case of the disappearing iamb. Keep counting and you'll discover the pattern: Herbert chops off an iamb every line until he hits line 5, which contains only two words, one iamb, and two syllables:
Most poor (5)
Line 6 is the same and then the pattern reverses, with each line gaining an iamb until at line 10 we're back up to a full 5. Tallying all the syllables gives us this overall pattern: 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10. On the page, those iambs look like wings. Simple but nifty. And even niftier when you realize that the content of the lines mirrors their size (for more on this, check out our summary).