Henry Vaughan – “The World”, “They Are All Gone into the World of Light!”

“The World” starts with what I honestly believe to be the single best opening line in English poetry: “I saw the eternity the other night/Like a great ring of pure and endless light”  Around this great ring moves Time like the spheres in Ptolemaic model of the universe, and in the shadow cast by Time moves the world with all its vanities. The examples of these are: the lover with his lute gazing at a flower, the scheming politician , the miser guarding his money, the epicure concerned only with pleasure, other people preoccupied with obtaining and keeping trivial things. The speaker can see also other, more spiritual beings, who “sing and weep” and who soar effortlessly into the ring of light. He thinks those who choose to stay in the shadow are fools, but then a voice whispers in his ear that the ring prepared by the bridegroom is only for his bride, which refers to Vaughan’s Calvinist belief in the doctrine of predestination. The poem ends with a verbatim quote from 1 John 2: 16 – 17, about the vanity of this world.

“They Are All Gone into the World of Light!” is, similarly to “Silence and Stealth of Days!” a meditation about eternal life by the speaker who feels bereaved by all of his friends who died before him. Only his memory of them gives him comfort, like the last beams of sunlight on the top of the hill behind which the sun has already set.  From his perspective death seems desirable – he calls it “dear” and “beauteous”. Using an image borrowed from Herbert’s “Death”, he says that the dead are like the remnants of the eggshells in an empty nests – their souls, like birds, are gone, but like with birds, we don’t know in which forest they sing. But sometimes some rays of their glory make way into our minds and are reflected in our more transcendental thoughts. The poem ends with the speaker’s wish that God would either disperse these mists which obscure his mind or take him to heaven to reunite him with his friends.

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