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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Henry Vaughan: They are all gone into the world of light


They are all gone into the world of light!
And I alone sit lingring here;
Their very memory is fair and bright,
And my sad thoughts doth clear.

It glows and glitters in my cloudy brest,
Like stars upon some gloomy grove,
Or those faint beams in which this hill is drest,
After the Sun's remove.

I see them walking in an Air of glory,
Whose light doth trample on my days:
My days, which are at best but dull and hoary,
Mere glimmering and decays.

O holy hope! and high humility,
High as the Heavens above!
These are your walks, and you have shew'd them me
To kindle my cold love.

Dear, beauteous death! the Jewel of the just,
Shining no where, but in the dark;
What mysteries do lie beyond thy dust
Could man outlook that mark!

He that hath found some fledg'd bird's nest, may know
At first sight, if the bird be flown;
But what fair Well, or Grove he sings in now,
That is to him unknown.

And yet as Angels in some brighter dreams
Call to the soul, when man doth sleep:
So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted theams
And into glory peep.

If a star were confin'd into a Tomb,
Her captive flames must needs burn there;
But when the hand that lockt her up, gives room,
She'l shine through all the sphere.

O Father of eternal life, and all
Created glories under thee!
Resume thy spirit from this world of thrall
Into true liberty.

Either disperse these mists, which blot and fill
My perspective (still) as they pass,
Or else remove me hence unto that hill,
Where I shall need no glass.

File:Cloud in the  sunlight.jpg

And no one knows the wheres or whys: photo by Lucy in the Sky, 2010
Cloud illuminated by sunlight, Maldives: photo by Ibrahim Lujaz, 2006


Anonymous said...

"the Jewel of the just,
Shining no where, but in the dark;
What mysteries do lie beyond thy dust
Could man outlook that mark!"

A fascinating metaphor. Enthralling words, Tom.

TC said...

Many thanks indeed, Lucy. This "world of light" is yours as well as Henry Vaughan's.

This poem has been haunting my imagination for about a half century now, e'er since I wrote an undergraduate honours thesis on Vaughan under a grand scholar of 16th/17th c English poetry, G. B. Harrison.

For those who do not know him, Vaughan was a poet somewhat after the metaphysical strain of George Herbert, given to the chaste and private articulation of an inner sense of wonder. Perhaps unlike Herbert however Vaughan consistently drew his imagery of wonder from this world, both in his incidental use of natural imagery and in his committed exploration of the revelation of the mysteries of the divine in material creation.

As a loyal royalist and Anglican writing at the time of the triumph of the republican armies and the consequent forced imposition of the order of what he regarded as an alien church, Vaughan withdrew to rural seclusion in Wales, where much of his meditative and devotional poetry was writ. There is a serenity in it that is unique; also a singular spiritual energy that scintillates (his best work is to be found in his Silex Scintillans -- "the sparkling flint").

The posting of this poem was inspired in large part by my sense of a "correspondence" between Vaughan's "world of light" and the luminous photography of Lucy in the Sky.

Steady readers of this blog will already be aware of Lucy's work, shown here often and also always accessible at its source in her wonderful blog Locos por Naufragar (see Links).

Ocean is a recent homage on this blog to Lucy's poetic genius with both pictures and words.

And of late she has also generously contributed cover images to a set of "companion" volumes of my poems, Feeling for the Ground and Something in the Air.


Lucy & Tom, beautiful photo & poem. That first line of Vaughan's poem is always so amazing, and so to see it here with 'pictures' of such said light is a real pleasure. Two beautiful covers of those two books, too. . . .

Curtis Roberts said...

I loved this. Do you know whether it has ever been set to music?

TC said...


You might check out this.

(It's a setting of only the first five stanzas: to the "modern", i.e. nonreligious -- sensibility, perhaps the most palatable part of the poem. However, HV's sensibility was that of a somewhat mystical seventeenth century person. Bailing out on the poem four stanzas short of the ending would probably misrepresent that.)

Curtis Roberts said...

I will be checking it out through the good offices of my daughter Jane, who I've asked to play the piece for me on piano. Thank you so much. I shared the poem with Caroline today. It's haunting her imagination, as well as mine (as well as yours, although as you say, you have a head start on us). I think the main reason it connected so quickly with me, apart from the magnificence of Vaughan’s words and the subtlety of his sentiment, is that it immediately reminded me of my mother’s sudden passing several years ago and our confused state wondering what would be appropriate to read at her funeral. We found something (using the web) by the famous poet Anonymous that was very beautiful and quite fitting. Reading Vaughan the other day launched me to an entirely different sphere and made me wonder why he and this poem weren’t universally known and appreciated. The poem also reminded me of the hymns I loved to hear in New England churches as a blasé and indifferent teenager (hence the music question). It was better than all of them, but it still fit the tradition of terrific words that inspired composers to try to incorporate and accommodate bumpy lyrics into song because you couldn’t possibly get any better than those bumpy lyrics. Lucy In The Sky’s pictures are remarkable.

TC said...


I grow more and more impressed by the evident skills of your Janie.

Your remarks re. the appropriateness of considering this poem in the context of your mother's passing -- and of our common confusions and doubts and bewilderments in the aftermath of such deep experiences of loss -- have confirmed for me my sense that it was worth posting.

This sort of blogging can seem a very lonely thing at times, but then all it takes is a few words like these from a reader as sensitive and intelligent as you to make the whole crazy business feel (almost) worth the time and trouble.

So, again, sincere thanks.

(And yes, I too am transported by Lucy's photos into a "world of light"... though in the interest of credit where due I should add that the lower image on this post is the work of a different photographer.)

Curtis Roberts said...

Thank you for your (way too generous and kind) words. Like other readers of BTP, I'm deeply indebted to you for the time and trouble you take with it, and am also currently indebted to booksellers who are sending me John Clare, Charlotte Mew, etc., volumes in the mail. I love both photos, Lucy In The Sky's and Ibrahim Lujaz's, and the life and animation they project, which reminds me of my own principal deficiency as a photographer: I can make anything appear inanimate.