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Explicatory Essay on George Herbert's “The Windows”

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In George Herbert's “The Windows” the speaker presents the idea of how the power of God impacts the flock of churchgoers through sound. The speaker notes that God has given preachers a set ability to portray his word, however, if you only preach the word of god without actually living the complete life, you are a phony. In order to be an adequate preacher and if by the grace of God they can live the word they preach they will be an authoritative figure of the church. In this case, those who can actually live the life and not just preach it are compared to beautiful, stained glass. In “The Windows” the human population is compared to Windows. Windows are a place where light shines through and are also in this case comparative to the opening of the soul where light equals truth. In this poem, normal people are cracked windows because although a perfect man would be a smooth pane, with every sin, man gains a crack in his window. Preachers are considered stained glass because due to the fact that God's word can so easily be illustrated through their way of life, they basically live so perfectly that they are this uncracked beauty that is stained glass.

The first stanza portrays a metaphor between man and windows to act as a structure for the rest of the poem. In the very first line of the poem: “Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?” the speaker is asking God himself, a question about how a normal man, thus established as a preacher, can speak for him. In the following line, the speaker uses the metaphor: “He is a brittle crazy glass” in an effort to compare man to fragile and cracked glass, stressing normal glass’s likelihood to be weak and break. In the next three lines of the stanza, the tone shifts from a negative tone, established through the comparison of Man to a brittle crazy glass to a more formal tone, established through the speakers' description of how man changes whilst in God's temple. Herbert further describes this metaphor of man being a window by stating: “ Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford / This glorious and transcendent place / To be a window, through thy grace.” This ultimately means that when man is in God's temple God affords him to change from a fragile glass which does not reflect light properly because of its imperfections, to becoming a window. “This glorious and Transcendent place” refers to the temple in which God is affording man to change because of his will to become a preacher.

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In the second stanza Herbert starts by comparing the process of annealing with the process of salvation: “But when thou dost anneal in glass thy story / Making thy life to shine within.” The speaker is stating that when glass is annealed it makes one shine from within. In this case, the glass getting annealed is comparable to salvation because when glass gets annealed it's basically getting repaired. This is similar to salvation because salvation is deliverance from sin and its consequences. Therefore, in order for one to shine from within they need to get annealed in reference to glass or salvationed in reference to actual humans. However, the process of being annealed is not limited, as Herbert switches from singular in the first stanza to plural in the second as “he” in the first becomes “preachers” in the second. In lines 8-9, the speaker presents the idea that the more the preacher grows or anneals the more that preacher will win and become rich with light and glory: “The holy preachers, then the light and glory / More rev’rend grows, and more doth win.” In the final line of the second stanza, the speaker explains that before one anneals and becomes rich with light and glory they are “wat’rish, bleak, and thin”, more characteristics of the average man which is cracked glass.

In the third and final stanza, Herbert declares that God’s word enacted in our lives, has a much more powerful impact than just plain old speech: “Doctrine and life, colors and light, in one / When they combine and mingle, bring / a strong regard and awe: but speech alone / doth vanish like a flaring thing.” In lines 11-12.5, the speaker uses words like “combine” and “mingle” to compare how doctrine and life portray a “strong regard and awe”. The speaker is demonstrating that one must preach and live what he preaches not just one or the other because without the combination of the two one would be hypocritical and lose all meaning behind their words. In lines 12.5-14, the speaker uses words like “alone” and “vanish” in reference to what will happen to one's word if they do not preach and live by what they preach. The use of the metaphor in the fourteenth line: “Doth vanish like a flaring thing” further depicts what one word looks like when they do not live by what they preach. A flare is something that may fizz and sound cool at first but it only lasts a few minutes before vanishing forever. In the very last line of the poem, the author concludes with the line: “And in the ear, not conscience ring”. This line is essentially furthering the speaker's statement of practice what you preach by stating that if one does not do this the people to whom one preaches will not be affected. The speaker is suggesting that the word of God should become part of the preachers' conscience in order to preach successfully.

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Explicatory Essay on George Herbert’s “The Windows”. (2023, November 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from
“Explicatory Essay on George Herbert’s “The Windows”.” Edubirdie, 27 Nov. 2023,
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