Study Guide

Easter Wings Themes

  • Religion

    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.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Even though Adam and Eve are never mentioned by name, what role do they play in the poem? 
    2. Can sin and affliction ever be positive? How do you think our speaker would answer that question?
    3. The first stanza begins with "wealth and store" and goes to "poor," a decline from good to bad. But the second stanza begins in "sorrow" and only gets worse. Why the difference? 
    4. How is Christ's resurrection a paradox, according to our speaker?

    Chew on This

    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

    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"?

    Questions About Weakness

    1. Why do "most poor" and "most thin" form the shortest lines in the poem? What does that tell you about the relationship between the poem's form and the poem's themes?
    2. Why do you think Herbert repeats "more" in line 3?
    3. How much of this weakness is just a natural part of being human and how much results from choice, according to Herbert? 
    4. What is a "tender age"? Is it bad or good? And what does it have to do with weakness?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Transformation

    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.

    Questions About Transformation

    1. How and why does the shape of the poem support the idea of transformation?
    2. When is transformation good and when is it bad, according to Herbert? What's with this bird imagery? How does it advance the poem's meaning and themes.
    3. What is God's role in human transformation, according to the poem?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Sin

    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.

    Questions About Sin

    1. According to Herbert, is original sin different than individual sin? Are they different to God?
    2. In the poem, what is the relationship between sin and wellbeing, both material and physical?
    3. How does God punish sin, according to the poem?
    4. What does sin have to do with Easter for our speaker?

    Chew on This

    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.