Collar from The Temple (1633), by George Herbert:


¶   The Collar.

        I Struck the board, and cry’d, No more.
                                             I will abroad.
        What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
        Loose as the winde, as large as store.
                     Shall I be still in suit?
        Have I no harvest but a thorn
        To let me bloud, and not restore
What I have lost with cordiall fruit?
                                             Sure there was wine
            Before my sighs did drie it: there was corn
              Before my tears did drown it.
        Is the yeare onely lost to me?
                     Have I no bayes to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
                                             All wasted?
        Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
                                             And thou hast hands.
                     Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage,
                                             Thy rope of sands,1
Which pettie thoughts have made, and made to thee
        Good cable, to enforce and draw,
                                             And be thy law,
        While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
                                           Away; take heed:
                                           I will abroad.
Call in thy deaths head there: tie up thy fears.
                                           He that forbears
                    To suit and serve his need,
                                           Deserves his load.
But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde
                                           At every word,
        Me thoughts I heard one calling, Childe:
                    And I reply’d, My Lord.

1 Note on the "rope of sands" image: Teacher Mike writes "In Jorge Borges's story 'The Book of Sand,' he uses as an epigraph the words 'Thy rope of sands...' by George Herbert."
By this point in the poem, the persona now sees everything that he has been taught and believed to be true is his "cage." He sees these truths, that he has been taught to accept as real, as the "rope of sands," ineffective, unreal. Until now, he believed and acted on them as if they were true. Now he rejects them as just "thy [talking to himself] rope of sands."
The last 2 lines always remind me of the leash on the collar. I once watched a dog on a leash that someone had attached to a clothes line. The dog could cover the entire yard freely except for one end when the leash jerked him back and reminded him of his limits. The persona learns in the last 2 lines that the rope is not made of sand as he thought. JRA [Return] {Note to those who only know laundramats: A clothes line is a rope between 2 poles about 5 feet off the ground used for clothes hung on it to dry.}

General Note: The collar represents all externally enforced and internally reinforced restrictions on freedom.
If you assume that Herbert is the persona, it also refers to the Anglican priest’s collar that George Herbert wore. The appearance of the cleric collar would have been different in his day, but because of its present day appearance, it is also called a "dog collar."

Irrelevant Note: There is a story of an African who had to wear an iron collar because he was a slave. When he was freed, he took off the collar. When he became a Christian, he willingly put the metal, slave collar back on. (Different Master.)

Perhaps not irrelevant note: George Herbert, whenever he used the name of Jesus Christ, always added "My Master." See I Corinthians 7:21ff. [the Greek word may be translated "servant" or "slave."]

[3 asides:

  1. The title may be a pun on "choler." "To think of Herbert as the poet of a placid and comfortable easy piety is to misunderstand utterly the man and his poems." T. S. Eliot, "George Herbert." And from Outlandish Proverbs, 536. The cholerick man never wants woe.
  2. George Herbert uses more variety of stanza-rhyme structure than Keats, Shelley or any of the Romantics. [See Albert McHarg Hayes, "Counterpoint in Herbert." Also see list of poems with stanza meter and rhyme scheme.]
  3. One of the proverbs that Herbert collected was printed in Jacula Prudentum, 1651, as #1120. "The horse that drawes after him his halter, is not altogether escaped."]


  • "`Me thoughts I heard one calling, child!': Herbert's `The Collar'" by John R. Roberts.
  • "On George Herbert's 'The Collar' by Susan Siferd
  • "Herbert's 'The Collar'" by Roy Graves Neil in The Explicator.
  • George Herbert's Poetry by Russell Fraser. [Poems cited: "Holy Scriptures I"; "The Pearl"; The Temple; "Paradise"; "Affliction"; "Home"; "The Collar"; "The Flower"; "Virtue"; "Providence"]
    Essay on Rhyme: Rhyme as a Poetic Image in The Temple by J. R. Arner.

  • ''The Collar'' from the 1633 Edition

    Internal and Internet Links to George Herbert’s Reputation and Influence.

    Music Interpretation: A penillion arrangement of "The Collar,"  by Red Dragon. To open music in another window.

    [Editor’s note on the music: The melody for "The Collar" is a counter melody sung against the hymn tune Penpark.]

    Modern version

    1633 Poem Index George Herbert & The Temple Home Page