• Mass Times

• Coming Events

• Sacraments

• Ministries

• Parish Staff

• Consultative Bodies

• Photo Gallery

• Virtual Tour

• History

• Contribute


• Bulletin

• In Your Midst

• Pastor's Desk


• Becoming Catholic

• Bookstore

• Faith Formation

• Funerals

• Immigrant Assistance

• Liturgy

• Mental Health

• Music

• Outreach/Advocacy

• Pastoral Care

• Weddings

• Young Adults

• Youth Ministry






The Collar
I struck the board, and cried, "No more;
                         I will abroad!
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free, free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store.
          Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me blood, and not restore
What I have lost with cordial fruit?
          Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did dry it; there was corn
    Before my tears did drown it.
      Is the year only lost to me?
          Have I no bays 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,
Which petty 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 death's-head there; tie up thy fears;
          He that forbears
         To suit and serve his need
          Deserves his load."
But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
          At every word,
Methought I heard one calling, Child!
          And I replied My Lord.

This poem by George Herbert is not an easy one for modern readers, but I think it is the perfect poem for the beginning of Lent. It’s called “The Collar,” meaning “yoke.”  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:30).
The speaker of this poem finds the yoke, the collar, anything but easy. He pounds the table and says, “no more; / I will abroad.” He’s done. He’s getting out of town. Why “sigh and pine,” when he could be free—in Herbert’s wonderful phrase, “free as the road.” He could go anywhere; why stay here, to fret over his sins?  This life of faith is just too difficult. It seems to be bearing no fruit. “Have I no harvest but a thorn?” he asks, a reference to Christ’s crown of thorns. Why should he not taste “cordial fruit”? Why should he not enjoy the fruits of this earth—“corn” or wheat; “bays” of success; “flowers,” and “garlands.”
The poet answers himself. “Not so, my heart… there is fruit / And thou hast hands.” He urges himself to go for it, to stop worrying about “what is fit and not,” and instead to seek “double pleasures.” Leave behind the “cage” of conscience, which is but a “rope of sands,” after all, made up of “petty thoughts.” Stop worrying about the future, he says to himself, “tie up thy fears” and “call in thy death’s head”—don’t contemplate your mortality any longer. Enjoy.
The last four lines of the poem bring a total reversal. “as I raved and grew more fierce and wild / At every word, / Methought I heard one calling, Child! / And I replied My Lord.” At that word, “child,” the speaker’s “fierce and wild” ravings cease: his resolution to reject “the collar” of Christ, his desire to escape and be “free as the road,” simply vanish, and he recognizes and acknowledges the one who speaks to him: “My Lord.”
In “The Collar,” the speaker asks seven questions. But when God speaks to him at the end, it is not to answer any of them. God does not explain how following Christ or bearing his yoke, his collar, will be worth it in the end. He does not offer any substitute for the fruits, the flowers, and the garlands, the good things of life, which so appeal to the speaker. In fact, God provides no answers or explanations at all. All the speaker gets is that simple word, “child.”  In other words, God offers relationship, not answers.
I think this is the perfect poem for Lent. Lent begins with ashes, which are such a potent image of our mortality. The ashes on our heads remind us, in the words from the Roman Missal, that “we are but ashes / and shall return to dust.” This acknowledgment of our mortality is always linked with repentance and conversion of life. Remembering that we are dust, we remember also that we are more than dust: in the words of Pope Francis, “we are dust loved by God…. We are a dust that is precious, destined for eternal life. We are the dust of the earth, upon which God has poured out his heaven, the dust that contains his dreams. We are God’s hope, his treasure and his glory.”
Lent is about repentance and conversion—it is a season for turning back towards God, not because we are afraid of God, but because we hear God calling, “child.” It’s about renewing our faith, not in a “what,” but in a “who.” God is calling us, not to answer every one of our questions, but to invite us into relationship.



Return to St. James Cathedral Parish Website

804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303