Term Paper: Elixir George Herbert's "

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George Herbert's "The Elixir"

The title of George Herbert's deceptively titled poem "The Elixir" initially suggests that the poem will have an intoxicating rather than a theological subject. But the title of the poem is actually derived from the name for the medieval science of alchemy. Alchemy was a field of ancient study that was devoted to finding the substance or the elixir that could change base metals such as lead into to precious metals such as gold. This alchemical science of the divine and all-transforming elixir becomes a metaphor in George Herbert's poem of the same title. But the poem, rather than about finding earthly riches, is really about finding the right way of belief and mentally approaching one's daily tasks. By finding the right mode of belief and thought, the commonest servant can actually dignify all his or her experiences by changing his or her base beliefs, feelings, and practices into holy ones.

The poem begins, "Teach me, my God and King, / in all things Thee to see." In other words, the poem begins by imploring God to make over the poet, or his base vision into a holy vision. The poet's voice asks that his eyes of the common day be infused with the divine when seeing all earthly things. He asks for God to be present not simply in the sacred spheres specifically designated as God's place as church, but in all places where he dwells, and in all things that he does. "And what I do in anything/to do it as for Thee." Let me, the poet asks, do God's bidding not simply in the pulpit, but make even the mundane actions of the base world, through divine alchemy, into acts of worship.

The poet thus wishes to proceed through life so that simply seeing a neighbor on the street and smiling to that neighbor becomes a divine act, because the poet sees the divine presence in his neighbor's face. Herbert makes a distinction between human and animal life and consciousness, setting humanity above mere and base nature as he begs to act, "Not rudely, as a beast, / to run into an action;" in other words, to go about action with base thoughts and feelings. Rather, "But still to make Thee prepossest, / and give it his perfection," in other words, to make perfect all Herbert does on a daily basis. Unlike beasts, humans have rational thought and God-crafted souls. Thus, Herbert wishes to use this ability to think rationally about God when in motion, so his daily motions are not the motions of a beast.

Even gazing into a mirror, a traditional act of vanity can become divine, in Herbert's view. "A man that looks on glass," or looks at himself in a mirror, may become transfixed with his own image, "On it may stay his eye;" in other words, may indulge in senseless, sensual vanity, but with the right perspective, that vision "Or it he pleaseth, through it pass," in other words or that same individual can be glad to see the divine hand temporarily mirrored in his own image, but look through the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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