17th Century English Literature Discuss the ideas of rebellion and authority in Paradise Lost by John Milton and George Herbert’s Denial and The Collar. Paradise Lost was published for the first time in 1667, whereas Herbert’s two poems were published in 1633. This period was called the Restoration. It started in England in 1660 under King Charles II, who restored the monarchy in England, Scotland and Ireland. The literature at that time was dominated by Christian writings and praises to God.
However, this period followed the discoveries of Galilee, Copernic and other mathematicians and physicians, who disturbed many people’s faith to God and created an opposition between Reason and Creation. Literature reflected those doubts and many poets and authors questioned Christianity. John Milton was a Presbyterian, and therefore was for the removal of all priests in the churches. He also despised the corruption of the Catholic Church and his views gradually drew him further from the Catholics.
George Herbert became a priest at the age of 37. He preached and wrote poetry. The Temple, his collection of poems which includes Denial and The Collar, is an instrument reflecting the author’s need to redefine his relationship to God. Those three works are centered on man’s submission to God and challenge its legitimacy. In a first part, we are going to emphasize on the characters’ rebellion against God. Then, we will focus on their resolution, the authors’ message and the historical context.
The Collar and Denial were written in 1633 as part of Herbert’s major collection of poems, The Temple. Denial narrates the story of a believer, who turns away from God. God did not listen to him, nor did he answer his requests: “ Thy silent ears ”. The speaker is as a result in spiritual desolation, and feels frustration over God’s seemingly abandonment. The state of rebellion against faith is seen through the rhymes. At first, disorder reigns in the speaker’s head, therefore his poetry is in disorder, his rhymes are broken, much like his heart and soul.
Only God can lead him towards belief and “ mend ” the disorder of his poetry and of his faith. The religious rebellion here is symbolized by the verses, until the last couplet, where God remedies to this rebellious mind. The Collar is also a poem of spiritual rebellion. The speaker here expresses his resentment for the life he had to lead; a moral and virtuous life, filled with pain and rigor. His life is one of “ sighs ” and “ tears ”, as he can only imagine one with joy, flowers and fruits.
The difficulties of a holy life are also expressed in the title. A collar symbolizes a priest’s submission to God. Here it is a restraining device. The first line is a challenge of God’s authority, a refusal to keep on living this life: “I struck the board, and cry’d, no more ”. The verse becomes more and more violent throughout the poem, as a reflection of an inner spiritual crisis, fiercer and wilder every verse. The rhyme is not very well structured and represents the speaker’s free rebellion.
He resists the divine authority by saying he will no more be bound to the moral laws imposed by faith. He will now serve only himself, and please his only pleasures and needs: “ He that forbears / To suit and serve his need / Deserves his load ”. However, the last verse changes the tone of the poem. The speaker hears a call from God, which says “ Child ”. This call comes when his rebellion was at its absolute, and reminds the speaker that he will always be answered, accepted and protected by God. He thought of himself as a servant of God, chained in obligations.
However, as he hears his call, he realizes that “ Child ” symbolizes the Lord’s everlasting affection to his worshipers. His life was not one of restrictions, but one of joyful freedom and spiritual harmony. He ends his rebellion and surrenders in complete devotion to God in one whisper, the supreme biblical term, “ My Lord ”. Paradise Lost is a Protestant epic poem. It depicts the story of the original sin, focusing on Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and rewrites the Genesis. At the very beginning of the poem, John Milton states that this will be story of “ Man’ first disobedience ”.
The rebellious characters here are Satan, who rebels against God, and Adam and Eve, who are not rebellious but challenge God’s authority by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. It narrates the fall of men due to their disobedience. Adam and Eve are the first humans to disobey God, however Satan is the first of God’s creation. Satan begins his rebellion against God when he appoints his Son to reign over the angels in Heaven. Thinking that they are equal in ability and that God is therefore unfair, Satan revolts against the reign of the Son. As a result, Satan is banished from Heaven and sent to Hell.