The World

Henry Vaughan (1622-1695)

As a metaphysical poet, when he says “the world” Vaughan means P-A as he understood and experienced it.

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time, in hours, days,
Years,
Driv’n by the spheres,
Like a vast shadow moved, in which the
World
And all her train were hurled.
The doting lover in his quaintest strain
Did there complain;
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
Wit’s sour delights,
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of
Pleasure,
Yet his dear treasure,
All scattered lay, while he his eyes did pour
Upon a flower.

The darksome statesman, hung with weights
And woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog, moved there so
Slow,
He did not stay, nor go;
Condemning thoughts, like sad eclipses scowl
Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
Pursued him with one shout.
Yet digged the mole, and, lest his ways be
Found,
Worked under ground,
Where he did clutch his prey; but one did see
That policy;
Churches and altars fed him; perjuries
Were gnats and flies;
It rained about him blood and tears, but he
Drank them as free.

The fearful miser on a heap of rust
Sat pining all his life there, did scarce trust
His own hands with dust,
Yet would not place one piece above, but
Lives
In fear of thieves,
Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
And hugged each one his pelf; *
The downright epicure placed heaven in sense,
And scorned pretence;
While others, slipt into a wide excess,
Said little less;
The weaker sort, slight, trivial wares enslave,
Who think them brave;
And poor, despised Truth sat counting by
Their victory.

Yet some, who all this while did weep and
Sing,
And sing and weep, soared up into the ring;
But most would use no wing.
O fools, said I, thus to prefer dark night
Before true light!
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
Because it shows the way,
The way, which from this dead and dark
Abode
Leads up to God;
A way where you might tread the sun, and be
More bright than he!
But, as I did their madness so discuss,
One whispered thus:
“This ring the Bridegroom did for none
Provide,
But for his bride.”   

 *Late Middle English meaning “stolen property.”

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References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.

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