Henry Vaughan – “Corruption”, “Unprofitableness”

“Corruption” is a description of Adam’s first years on earth after his banishment from Eden. He is not yet “all stone and earth” because he still retains some rays of his former glory. His life is hard, because “all was a thorn or weed” and he has only himself to blame, because he was the one who drew the curse upon the world. And even those weeds don’t live forever, but die soon. But he could still find solace in natural beauty around him, valleys or mountain tops which reminded him of Heaven. But even this beauty has almost disappeared by now, and the rainbow’s colours are pale. Man sits freezing and does not light a fire on purpose, to put himself out of his misery sooner. This striking, almost Beckettian image, could be inspired by the events of the Civil War, which ruined England and during which Vaughan lost his brother.  Only the last two lines provide a solace (well, a kind of…), because the general depravity of the world means that the Last Judgement is going to come soon and the speaker hears an angel calling “thrust in thy sickle”, which refers to the Book of Revelation.

In “Unprofitableness” the speaker compares himself to a plant in the lines echoing Herbert’s “The Flower” – he was tormented by the cold winds and rain, but now the spring of God’s grace is come and he can spring back to life. But still he is worried about the fact that he is just a weed and cannot produce any fruit to give back to God. No leaf of his could be used for a wreath for God and he can’t produce any sweet odor but “a stench or fog”.

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