[Link to Index]

Frequently Asked Questions


Question: Did Herbert write "For the loss of a nail ..."?
Answer: Herbert collected and edited rural sayings before his death in 1632/3. He did not create them although he may have improved the wording to make them clearer. 1,032 sayings were published in 1640 as Outlandish Proverbs ["outlandish" as you would say "outbuilding" meaning outside the main sources of knowledge]. Proverb #499. is "For want of a naile the shoe is lost, for want of a shoe the horse is lost, for want of a horse the rider is lost."
In 1651 the edition was enlarged to 1,184 proverbs and published as Jacula Prudentum. Both editions were widely circulated. Benjamin Franklin edited many of these sayings and printed them in Poor Richard's Almanac. #499 was improved to read "For want of a naile the shoe is lost, for want of a shoe the horse is lost, for want of a horse the rider is lost, for want of a rider the battle is lost, for want of a battle the kingdom is lost. All for the loss of a horseshoe nail." [Link to: Herbert's Outlandish Proverbs by Paul Moon] See selected Outlandish Proverbs with Translations.
Question: "I don't understand the ending of 'The Collar.' It doesn't go with the poem."
Question: In Jorge Borges's story "The Book of Sand," he uses as an epigraph the words "Thy rope of sands..." by George Herbert. I have tracked this down to Herbert's poem, "The Collar," but I am having trouble sorting out the significance, and especially, I am unclear of whether or not this expression is, itself, a biblical allusion. What does it have to do with the poem?
Answer to both of the above: I do not see it as a Biblical reference. Isaiah 5:18 is the only verse in the bible that mentions "rope:" "Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope." The word "ropes" is mentioned 6 times: in Judges 16:11, 12; 2 Samuel 17:13; 1 Kings 20:31, 32 ("ropes on our heads"); Acts 27:32. There is no reference to "rope(s) of sands."

The persona of the poem (which some take to be Herbert) is listing the reasons for leaving, for going abroad, for throwing up everything. He may be expressing the "drop out" attitude of his time.

Summary: He expresses his right to be free (lines 1-5). He asks what he got from this relationship. Implying that he got nothing (lines 6-16). He can still make something of this situation by giving up the "cold dispute" and look for "double pleasures" (lines 17-21a). Now he must convince himself that what he has been doing is worthless (lines 21b-26): He 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 as the "rope of sands," ineffective, unreal, that he has been taught to accept as real "Which pettie thoughts [of his teachers and even society in general] have made, and made to thee Good cable [because he accepted them as true and valid and functional], to enforce and draw, And be thy law, While thou didst wink and wouldst not see." [He followed them without examining them clearly, accepted them as his law of life as long as he didn't wink and see them for what they are - just a rope of sands, a convenient fiction that tied him down and held him back from being free.] He/she continues to berate all who accept their "collar" (lines 28-32).

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. [See The Poem, comments and criticism.]

Question: Is there a Herbert poem called "The Temple"? I can't find it.
Answer: There is no one poem called "The Temple." The Temple is the title of a book of poems made up of 3 sections:
  1. "The Church-porch," a series of stanzas concerning moral issues;
  2. "The Church," made up of lyrics and sonnets (all of the well known poems, "The Collar," "The Pulley," "Easter Wings" and "Love (III)," are in this section); and
  3. "The Church Militant," one continuous poem describing the Religious History of the World. [The poem "L'Envoy" concludes The Temple]
Note: There is a poem by Robert Herrick called "The Fairy Temple" with a heading "The Temple."

Mission Statement ["Pitch your behaviour low, your projects high"]: To bring together all knowledge about the major poems in The Temple by George Herbert. For a long time the Academic knowledge has been the guiding force in understanding and appreciation of these works. The Religious, Theological and Biblical; Historical, British and personal; and Musical influences only seldom brought to bear. [Except for the poet's personal history which has been overbearing.] This site attempts to unite all relevant information for the purpose of study and enjoyment.

A tribute to Professor Ray L. Armstrong.

Major & Minor Venues:


Many things are lost for want of asking. Outlandish Proverb #968