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
of the Poem
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.
he meets an elderly clergyman and asks him where to find Peace. The man
then tells him a story.
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."
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
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
A hollow wind did seem to
Go seek elsewhere.
I did, and going did a rainbow3
Surely, thought I,
This is the lace of Peace's
I will search out the matter.
But while I looked the clouds
Did break and scatter.
Then went I to a garden and
Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digged, I saw
What showed so well.
He sweetly lived, yet sweetness
did not save
His life from foes.
But after death out of his
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;
of it: and that repose
And peace, which ev'ry where
With so much earnestness
you do pursue,
Is only there.
cave: Perhaps a symbol of esoteric knowledge, or science, which cannot
explain what faith accepts.
Symbol of gaudy finery (clothes, jewels, etc.) that people buy to achieve
imperial: Symbol of kingly power and authority.
Symbol of forces that eventually undermine earthly power and authority.
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.
stalks of wheat: The Twelve Apostles.
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).
Point out; tell in detail; repeat.
Peace Through Christ
Herbert states the main theme plainly but symbolically: Only Christ, symbolized
by the bread of the Eucharist, brings peace.
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.
The end rhyme in each stanza follows this pattern: abacbc.
poem also contains internal rhyme, as in the following lines.
I sought thee
in a secret cave (line 3)
and going did
a rainbow note,
Then went I
to a garden and did spy (line 13)
so well (line 18)
I did demand,
he thus began (line 21)
feet are iambic. The meter includes dimeter, trimeter, tetrameter, and
pentameter. Following are examples
tetrameter with an incomplete final foot (line 3)