Easter Sweetness in a Bitter Bowl
The liturgy for Easter, the most glorious feast of the Christian calendar, proclaims the fulfillment of Christ's mission on earth. It urges the faithful Christian who has taken up the cross to cast off his sorrow and share in the triumph of Christ. Although the feast inspires Herbert to attempt joyful lyrics that celebrate the Resurrection, he must struggle to overcome the abiding sorrow that frequently impairs his ability to sing. The first source of sorrow, inherent in the feast itself, proceeds from the proximity of Good Friday and Easter: Herbert understands that joy succeeds repentance, yet repentance lingers in a person like Herbert who accepts and regrets his responsibility for the crucifixion. The second source is personal: Herbert's suffering and self-doubts, not subject to liturgical seasons or ceremonies, often supersede the call to celebrate. The third source is artistic: Herbert sees the historic Jesus as the abiding presence in his life. Jesus is his audience and confidant; thus the majesty of the glorious, resurrected Lord may affect this intimacy and create a distance between the poet and his immediate audience. Herbert's aesthetic task, then, is to express his conflicting emotions with one human voice and to accommodate in his song both the sorrow he feels and the joy he anticipates.
The youthful Herbert, an academician who believes he can control his emotions, tries to force distinctions between religious joy and human sorrow. Because he does not trust in the harmony of dissonant feelings, he often finds himself alienated from his purpose—and himself. He tries to cajole or scold the self into embracing the “appropriate” response. Many of the lyrics in the Williams manuscript provide evidence of this strategy, where