Study Guide

Easter Wings Quotes

  • Religion

    Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store
    Thou foolishly he lost the same (1-2)

    Okay, okay, it's easy for our speaker blame it all on Adam. God gave him a garden and a wife and the chance to just laze around with the tame tigers without even getting dressed—and he totally blew it with that apple. That first human mistake, which introduced a whole lotta bad into the world (we're talking pain, work, and evil), is the reason everyone else keeps losing money and getting sick.

    And sing this day thy victories (9)

    "This day" refers to Easter, a holiday that commemorates Christ's biggest victory: giving death the smack down and rising out of the tomb to eternal life. Good Christians celebrate by singing hymns or, if you're a poet named Herbert, writing shaped poetry called "Easter Wings."

    Then shall the fall further the flight in me (10)

    Adam's fall was bad, no doubt about it. But Herbert voices a unique take on the badness in this last line. It's only because Adam fell that it's necessary for the speaker to rise up out of human sin and poverty. And that opportunity to rise is actually a good thing and not just because flying is awesome. It gives the speaker the chance to worship God and get closer to him.

    My tender age in sorrow did begin (11)

    Gosh, Adam really ruined it for the rest of us—at least for Christians, like the speaker, who believe in original sin. This idea assumes that Adam's sin is passed down like a chromosome. Everyone inherits it at birth, meaning that everyone is born with at least some sin and enters a world where the sorrow only increases from day one.

    And still with sicknesses and shame
    Thou didst so punish sin (12-13)

    Herbert doesn't make it clear whether this "sin" is original (inherited from Adam) or the speaker's own doing. But to God sin is sin and must be punished. Sickness is part of living in a world that is Not the Garden of Eden (we have microbes now), so that's Adam's fault. And the speaker's shame could apply to either the universal badness of life (thanks Adam) or to his own wrongdoing.

    With thee
    Let me combine (16-17)

    These may look like throwaway lines, but they're actually theologically essential to Easter and this poem. On his own, the speaker is thin and sinful. It's only when he acknowledges this and asks for God's help that he can be saved.

  • Weakness

    Though foolishly he lost the same (2)

    Poor Adam was so dumb that he bungled away every good thing going for him: all the "wealth" and "store" created just for him. The verb "lost"—pretty mild considering the scope of what happened—makes Adam seem like a child, some poor second-grader who lost his sandwich on the way to school.

    Decaying more and more,
    Till he became
    Most poor (3-5)

    Herbert makes Adam sound like a corpse, "decaying" slowly in sin and pain and poverty, until everything is gone. The repetition of "more" is like a verbal nudge in the ribs: Herbert wants us to know that this guy's lost it all.

    My tender age in sorrow did begin (11)

    "Tender" here doesn't mean lovey-dovey; it means young and fragile. And that young fragility isn't helped any by confronting a world of sorrow. The speaker underscores his vulnerability.

    And still with sicknesses and shame
    Thou didst so punish sin (12-13)

    Fragile and sad to begin with, the speaker sets off on a life of strength-sapping illness and embarrassment, all meant to punish the sins he inherited and the sins he just felt like doing himself.

    That I became
    Most thin (14-15)

    "Thin" here definitely has the usual meaning of really skinny, but in the context of the speaker's life of sin and sorrow, it also means spiritually skinny. The speaker isn't feeling close to God and his religious strength is at a low ebb.

    For, if I imp my wing on thine,
    Affliction shall advance the flight in me (19-20)

    The speaker has been so weakened and thinned by sin and sickness that he can no longer recover on his own. In order to rise up to God's forgiveness, he must first borrow some of God's strength. But he also claims that his "affliction shall advance" his flight, or in other words, lengthen it. Doesn't that sound like a bad thing? Not so fast. For the speaker, advance = enhance. He welcomes the depth of his affliction because it means that his corresponding trip out of it is even more miraculous and God's greatness and mercy that much stronger. This is the religious paradox the poem ends on: out of great weakness comes great strength.

  • Transformation

    Decaying more and more,
    Till he became
    Most poor: (3-5)

    Life outside of Eden is just one bad thing after another. The accumulated badness transforms Adam from a just-created dude with everything to a poor and miserable man. "Decaying" sounds more like corpses on Halloween than hoppy bunnies on Easter, driving home the negative transformation that Adam is undergoing.

    With thee
    O let me rise (6-7)

    The speaker begs God to let him rise out of Adam's sin and transform himself from a miserable sinner into an adoring Christian. And hold on to your iambs, we've got a parallel transformation in line length. Notice how the shape of the poem mirrors the changing content. When Adam and the speaker become thin, poor, and despairing, the stanza also contracts, from 10-syllable to 2-syllable lines. And when the speaker's on the upswing, feeling great and soaring high, the lines get correspondingly bigger, from 2 back up to 10 syllables.

    Thou didst so punish sin,
    That I became
    Most thin (13-15)

    Borrowing "became" from line 4 in the first stanza, Herbert reemphasizes his bad-to-worse transformation. Being born with Adam's inherited sin is bad enough, but once God gets in on the game, punishing him with "sicknesses and shame" (12), Herbert wastes away. Line 15 marks the low point, in both Herbert's life and line length: Herbert is "most thin" and things aren't looking good.

    With thee
    Let me combine (16-17)

    But just as in the first stanza, the transformation is reversed. Herbert asks to "combine" with God, acknowledging that by himself he's too weak and damaged to turn his life around. At first "combine" seems like a general verb, but it gets a more specific meaning in the last two lines. It's clear that Herbert can't go it alone. He needs to join with God in order to transform himself into something new.

    For, if I imp my wing on thine,
    Affliction shall advance the flight in me (19-20)

    Let's get down in the feathers, folks. Here Herbert gets all nitty-gritty with his bird metaphor, and "imp" gives some precision to the idea of combining with God. Not only does the speaker want healing ("to imp" means to repair); he also wants transformation. He wants to incorporate some of God into himself, to borrow some of God's holy substance (or, in the metaphor, his feathers) to bulk up his soul.

  • Sin

    Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
    Though foolishly he lost the same (1-2)

    Although Herbert doesn't go out and shout SIN NO MORE to Adam, he makes it clear in stanza 2 that Adam's mistakes are more than just foolishness: they're genuine sins. Why else would every subsequent human be born into "sorrow" (11)? Because Adam committed the first sin against God, everyone else inherits it and must figure out some way to chuck it. For Herbert and other good Christians, that means using Christ's resurrection to repent.

    Decaying more and more,
    Till he became
    Most poor (3-5)

    Although "decay" usually refers to bacterial decomposition of organic substances (see: bananas), in the context of Adam's slip-up, it also means moral decay. That forbidden fruit might have tasted good and all, but now Adam's soul is rotting, so thanks for nothing.

    My tender age in sorrow did begin (11)

    There's a lot of blame in this one line and it's directed towards Adam. If he hadn't sinned, maybe the speaker could have been born in joy or glee or even just moderate okayness. Instead, every human comes into the world with Adam's baggage, or what Christians call original sin. Not only does that mean they have something to repent right off the bat; it also signals that they'll confront a life of hard work and pain.

    Thou didst so punish sin,
    That I became
    Most thin (13-15)

    According to the poem, God's job is to punish sin, whether it's long-gone Adam's or the just-born speaker's. His thinness here is metaphysical as well as physical, a thinness of the soul. Where is God's love when there's sin around? Nowhere, that's where.

    Affliction shall advance the flight in me (20)

    Adam's sin means that everyone after him starts out with a stacked deck. The speaker's additional sins have only increased the odds, but since he's willing to repent, the speaker actually sees this as a good thing. It's all about the mindset, folks. Remember when your teacher used to correct you for saying "have to": "No, you get to complete this math assignment"? Herbert does something similar here. The speaker's sin means that he gets to use Christ's resurrection for repentance, not that he has to.