In the following poem, A Wreath, George Herbert provides an excellent example of what is known as ‘figure poetry’ – when the form of the poem in some way reflects its theme, title, or content. In this case, Herbert weaves interlacing verses and lines together with subtle repetitions, until finally the topic of the first line (praise) is reiterated in the last, thus giving the textual impression of a garland or wreath.
In the poem, Herbert not only offers his art up as praise, but uses the poem as a petition to God that his ‘crooked winding ways’ may be conformed to the simplicity of the divine will. It is simplicity, in the Peace of God, that he seeks, and the structure of the poem reflects perfectly the continuous wrong-turnings of sinful man finding their resolution in that simplicity which is praise of God for His own sake; praise not just in liturgical worship and prayer, but of knowing God’s ways and practising them (c.f.; John 15:10). The poem itself is also a wonderful example of carefully wrought simplicity itself, with each line effortlessly ‘wreathing’ itself into the next, drawing the reader deeper into Herbert’s inner journey:
A wreathed garland of deservèd praise,
Of praise deservèd, unto Thee I give,
I give to Thee, who knowest all my ways,
My crooked winding ways, wherein I live,—
Wherein I die, not live; for life is straight,
Straight as a line, and ever tends to Thee,
To Thee, who art more far above deceit,
Than deceit seems above simplicity.
Give me simplicity, that I may live,
So live and like, that I may know Thy ways,
Know them and practise them: then shall I give
For this poor wreath, give Thee a crown of praise.