If a poem's called "Easter Wings," it's no surprise that religion is a big player. But religion is a huge subject, folks, and Herbert plays with our expectations and takes us in some unexpected directions. For instance, you might assume that the poem would actually be about Easter: Christ's death, resurrection, and appropriate Christian rejoicing. We do get some of the rejoicing, but the speaker sidesteps the main event, first taking us back way before the crucifixion, to focus on Adam and the fall, then way after, to tell us about himself in 1633. That means that the poem is less about Easter itself and more about the origins and repercussions of Easter: why Christ's victories, so to speak, were and continue to be necessary in the Christian faith.
Adam started it, but according to our speaker, every Christian continues sinning until they can "rise" with Christ and obtain forgiveness.
"Easter Wings" paints so grim a picture of human life that happiness can only be found in religious devotion. Which is precisely Herbert's point.
Weakness is a double-edged sword in "Easter Wings." On the one hand, it's seriously bad. Adam is weak-willed and ends up "most poor." The speaker arrives in sorrow and endures so much that he collapses into line 15, "most thin"—and all because of Adam's weakness in the first place. But on the other hand, weakness is also opportunity. If humans didn't fall so low, they could never soar up to God like birds, to sing his praises and gain forgiveness. And Herbert emphasizes in lines 10 and 20 that it's also the journey itself, and not just the goal, that is full of hope and joy. Why else would he celebrate that Adam's fall will "further the flight" and that "affliction shall advance the flight"?
The speaker's weakness derives more from Adam's sin than his own sins. At least, that's what Herbert suggests.
Although God's punishments contribute to the speaker's weakness, according to the poem, God's strength allows the speaker to overcome it.
You can't even read two lines without "Easter Wings" transforming before your very eyes, dropping syllables right and left as it shapes itself into a pair of wings. Even on a smaller scale, Herbert matches the stanza's transformation with the theme of transformation. As Adam falls from comfort to poverty and the speaker goes from sad to saddest, the lines follow the same pattern, contracting into two syllables. And when the speaker looks forward to rising out of this mess, the lines expand just as joyously as his hope. Herbert's bird imagery, expressed through similes and metaphor, gives the idea of transformation an extra, feathered dimension.
The changing shape of each stanza mirrors the transformation of the speaker, plain and simple.
Using the language of flight, Herbert compares the speaker's religious transformation to the soaring of a bird.
We know Herbert never misses a shot at a good paradox, and sin is no exception. But is there anything contradictory about sin? Isn't it just purely, through-and-through bad? Wait just a second. As it's portrayed in "Easter Wings," sin is a complex and multidimensional beast, responsible for humankind's greatest sorrow as well as its greatest promise. Why? Because, according to Herbert, sin allows the speaker to repent and share this Easter with Christ in rising out of a pretty grim world.
Sin is a doubled-edged sword in "Easter Wings": it's both good and bad, unavoidable and repentable.
In "Easter Wings" sin is inversely correlated with wellbeing: as sin goes up, health and happiness go down.