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Peace
By George Herbert (1593-1633)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Summary of the Poem
Text and Notes
Themes
End Rhyme
Internal Rhyme
Feet and Meter
Symbols
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Author's Biography
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2011
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Type of Work

.......George Herbert's "Peace" is a lyric poem in the form of an allegory. The poem focuses on a religious theme. It was first published in 1633 in a collection of Herbert's poems entitled The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations.

Summary of the Poem

.......The speaker of the poem addresses Peace as a person (personification), asking where he dwells. The speaker says he sought Peace in a cave but failed to find him there. Afterward, he sees a rainbow and examines it to find Peace. But the rainbow disappears when the clouds break up. Next, he looks in a garden and beholds a crown imperial, with its downward facing bulbs, and believes Peace is at its roots. But when he digs, he finds only a worm. 
.......Later, he meets an elderly clergyman and asks him where to find Peace. The man then tells him a story.
.......A prince once lived at Salem (Jerusalem), he says. "He sweetly lived," the man notes, but his enemies took his life. From his grave twelve stalks of wheat grew. This wheat spread throughout the earth after those who ate of it discovered that it contained a special virtue. This virtue could eradicate sin and bring forth "peace and mirth."
.......The clergyman says this same wheat grows in his garden. "Take of this grain," the clergyman tells the speaker, and make bread. It is in this bread that peace exists. 
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Text of the Poem

Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell? I humbly crave,1
Let me once know.
I sought thee in a secret cave,2
And ask'd, if Peace were there,
A hollow wind did seem to answer, No:
Go seek elsewhere.

I did, and going did a rainbow3 note:
Surely, thought I,
This is the lace of Peace's coat:
I will search out the matter.
But while I looked the clouds immediately
Did break and scatter.

Then went I to a garden and did spy
A gallant4 flower,
The crown imperial.5 Sure, said I,
Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digged, I saw a worm6 devour
What showed so well.

At length I met a rev'rend good old man,
Whom when for Peace
I did demand, he thus began:
There was a Prince7 of old
At Salem8 dwelt, who lived with good increase
Of flock and fold.9

He sweetly lived, yet sweetness did not save
His life from foes.
But after death out of his grave
There sprang twelve stalks of wheat;10
Which many wond'ring at, got some of those
To plant and set.

It prospered strangely, and did soon disperse
Through all the earth;
For they that taste it do rehearse11
That virtue lies therein;
A secret virtue, bringing peace and mirth
By flight of sin.

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
And grows for you;
Make bread12 of it: and that repose
And peace, which ev'ry where
With so much earnestness you do pursue,
Is only there.

Notes

1.....crave: Ask.
2.....secret cave: Perhaps a symbol of esoteric knowledge, or science, which cannot explain what faith accepts. 
3.....rainbow: Symbol of gaudy finery (clothes, jewels, etc.) that people buy to achieve contentment.
4.....gallant: Showy; stately. 
5.....crown imperial: Symbol of kingly power and authority.
6.....worm: Symbol of forces that eventually undermine earthly power and authority.
7.....Prince: Christ.
8.....Salem: Jerusalem. Jerusalem is derived from the Hebrew Yeru (Jeru), foundation or city, and shalayim (salem), peace. Jerusalem thus means foundation of peace or city of peace.
9.....twelve stalks of wheat: The Twelve Apostles.
10...good increase . . . fold: Christ (the Prince of line 22) has frequently been compared biblically and otherwise to a shepherd leading a flock of sheep. This clause says he has increased his flock (his converts to Christianity).
11...rehearse: Point out; tell in detail; repeat.
12...bread: The Eucharist.
 

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Themes

Peace Through Christ

.......George Herbert states the main theme plainly but symbolically: Only Christ, symbolized by the bread of the Eucharist, brings peace.

Quest

.......The speaker of the poem is on a quest. He is seeking peace. Quest themes occur frequently in literature. For example, in Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus is on a quest for knowledge. In Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Captain Ahab is on a quest for the white whale. In Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, old Santiago goes on a quest to catch a great fish and win the respect of others. 

End Rhyme

.......The The end rhyme in each stanza follows this pattern: abacbc. 

Internal Rhyme

.......The poem also contains internal rhyme, as in the following lines. 

I sought thee in a secret cave (line 3)
I did, and going did a rainbow note, (line 7)
Then went I to a garden and did spy (line 13)
What showed so well (line 18)
I did demand, he thus began (line 21)
Feet and Meter

.......The feet are iambic. The meter includes dimeter, trimeter, tetrameter, and pentameter. Following are examples

.........1.......................2.......................3..................4..............5
Sweet PEACE,..|..where DOST..|..thou DWELL?..|..I HUM..|..bly CRAVE............iambic pentameter (line 1)

.....1...............2
Let ME..|..once KNOW....................................................................................iambic dimeter (line 2)

.......1................2...........3..............4
I SOUGHT..|..thee IN..|..a SE..|..cret CAVE.......................................................iambic tetrameter (line 3)

.........1.................2...................3
And ASKED..|..if PEACE,..|..were THERE..........................................................iambic trimeter (line 4)


Line 10 contains an incomplete foot (catalexis).

....1................2..................3............4
I WILL..|..search OUT..|..the MAT..|..ter............................................................iambic tetrameter with an incomplete final foot (line 3)
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Symbols

.......See Notes, above.

Figures of Speech

.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. For definitions of figures of speech, see Literary Terms.

Alliteration

I sought thee in a secret cave (line 3)
At length I met a rev'rend good old man (line 19)
I did demand, he thus began (line 21)
Apostrophe
Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell? (line 1)
The speaker addresses Peace.
Metaphor
I did, and going did a rainbow note:
Surely, thought I,
This is the lace of Peace's coat (lines 7-9)
Comparison of the rainbow to lace

There sprang twelve stalks of wheat (line 28)
Implied comparison of the Twelve Apostles to wheat

Personification
Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell? (line 1)
The speaker addresses Peace as if it were a person.

A hollow wind did seem to answer (line 5)
Comparison of wind to a person

Study Questions and Writing Topics
  • Write a short poem on the theme of peace. 
  • The major religions all preach peace. But peace remains an elusive goal. Why?
  • Write an essay focusing on the nature imagery that George Herbert uses in "Peace."
  • What is the meaning of hollow wind in line 5?

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