Lines 1-4 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
- Why start small, right? The speaker begins by saying that he believes God is good, so we guess we'll be reading a poem about God, or the existence of good in the world, or something related to that. Seems like a big topic, but right off the bat the speaker's saying, "Yeah, I'm going there… and I'm going big."
- The speaker likes to arrange his words in a unique way as well. He could have just said, "I know God is good." So, what's with all the "doubt not" stuff, buddy? One reason may be because the lines are in iambic pentameter (see "Form and Meter"), so Cullen may have adjusted the syntax to keep the meter regular.
- Something else we've noticed: our speaker likes to use words that use the same sounds. Check out how the D in "doubt" is echoed in the D of "God," "good," and "kind." He's linking sound with meaning here.
- How's that? The speaker says God is good and kind, and those words all sound alike, or, they share that D sound, right? (Check out our "Sound Check" section for more of the good stuff.) That, ladies and gentlemen, is called consonance. Don't forget to listen for more examples of this throughout the poem.
- The second line has "He," as in, God. That's who the speaker is saying could "tell why." At this point, though, we don't know what God could tell, just that he could "quibble" if he wanted to.
- The speaker has used the words "doubt" and "quibble." We guess he's interested in talking about arguing, or possibly even making an argument himself.
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirror Him must some day die,
- The speaker uses these two lines to list a few example of things God could explain if He wanted to, but won't. Cheeky! From the speaker's point of view, God knows the answers to these paradoxes but He's not spilling the beans.
- First paradox: it may seem like the mole has gotten a bad lot in life. It's blind, burrowing underground, alone all the time. On the other hand, moles don't really need to see anything because they're in the pitch dark all the time, so blind or not, it doesn't matter, right?
- Second paradox: "flesh that mirror Him" is a strange way of saying human beings made in the likeness of God. This is also an example of metonymy (using "flesh" in place of "human"). And if God made us in His likeness, why do we have to die? On the other hand, according to the Christian tradition that this speaker is referencing, we die physically but are given new life spiritually.
- It's starting to feel a little unclear if these are examples of God's goodness or examples from life that contradict God's goodness. And that confusion may be part of what the speaker is saying God could explain. It's sort of like the speaker is saying, "Hey, I don't know! I'm new here! But God, if He wanted to, could put us all in the know."
- In other words, the speaker says God is good but then gives us examples of how God could seem cruel, and he wants to know, what's up with that?
- We also noticed a new formal device. A formal rhyme scheme has been introduced to go along with the regular meter (check out "Form and Meter" for more about the effects of rhyme in this poem). Lines 1 and 3 rhyme (kind/blind) and lines 2 and 4 rhyme (why/die), so the rhyme scheme goes something like ABAB, and this pattern will continue in the next quatrain. Our speaker is pulling out all the old school poetry moves.