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Monday, 6 June 2011

Henry Vaughan: The Night


Eclipse of the midnight sun, Sallatunturi, Finnish Lapland, c. 35 km. north of the Arctic Circle: photo by B. Art Braafhart, 2 June 2011

.........Dear night! this world's defeat;
The stop to busie fools; cares check and curb;
The day of Spirits; my souls calm retreat
..........Which none disturb!
....Christs progress, and his prayer time;
....The hours to which high Heaven doth chime.

.........God's silent, searching flight:
When my Lords head is fill'd with dew, and all
His locks are wet with the clear drops of night;
..........His still, soft call;
....His knocking time; The souls dumb watch,
....When Spirits their fair kindred catch.

.........Were all my loud, evil days
Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark Tent,
Whose peace but by some Angels wing or voice
..........Is seldom rent;
....Then I in Heaven all the long year
....Would keep, and never wander here.

.........But living where the sun
Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tyre
Themselves and others, I consent and run
..........To ev'ry myre,
....And by this worlds ill-guiding light,
....Erre more than I can do by night.

.........There is in God (some say)
A deep, but dazling darkness; As men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
..........See not all clear;
....O for that night! where I in him
....Might live invisible and dim.

Henry Vaughan (1621-1674): The Night (excerpt), from Silex Scintillans (II), 1655

Eclipse of the midnight sun, Sallatunturi, Finnish Lapland, c. 35 km. north of the Arctic Circle: photo by B. Art Braafhart, 2 June 2011

Eclipse of the midnight sun, Sallatunturi, Finnish Lapland, c. 35 km. north of the Arctic Circle: photo by B. Art Braafhart, 2 June 2011

Eclipse of the midnight sun, Sallatunturi, Finnish Lapland, c. 35 km. north of the Arctic Circle: photo by B. Art Braafhart, 2 June 2011




". . .living where the sun/ Doth all things wake. . ."

wonderful pictures in these two posts, to go with HV's great poems --


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, sparrow landing on redwood fence
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

called spatial construction,
subject sense of form

is given, picture “flatness,”
as glimpse of a world

sunlit grey white clouds on the horizon
shadowed canyon of ridge across channel

TC said...

Yes, still with us, through the storms, the near and distant deep "dazling" light and darkness, the abiding beauties, the sparrow on the redwood fence ("his still, soft call"), the eclipse of the midnight sun, the "glimpse[s] of a world", or should one say "of worlds"...?

(Steve, recalling your work on Campion -- my own honours dissertation of remote yesteryear, done under the critically unrelenting yet certainly also and at the same time far too kind scrutiny of G.B. Harrison, was on Vaughan.)

Birds just waking up here and piping good cheer into the black clouds and rushing traffic stream of morning.

Nora said...

It took me the longest time to realize that this Henry Vaughan was not the same Henry Vaughan that designed churches. Though I suppose each made churches in their own way.

TC said...


Vaughan's life is, as befits his love of mysteries, somewhat obscure. But he seems to have gone through his share of difficulties. The reflections in the poems are oblique, shadowy, bright and dark all at once. His family intended a career in law for him, but instead he took up medicine. He was caught up in the Civil Wars, but on the losing side, and that cost him his "living" in the Church. In fact his version of religion was anyway mystical and not really church-y. The true church of his poetry seems to have been the spiritual emanation of the lovely Welsh countryside in which he lived.

His chief influence was George Herbert, and he picked up a number of Herbert's complicated stanza-forms.

But he stands alone for a kind of clarity and simplicity of phrasing that pops through the verse design every now and then like the sun emerging from a sky as dark as the one that hangs above us at this moment.

So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted theams
And into glory peep

They are all gone into a world of light

Barry Taylor said...

Tom - Heart-stopping sequence of photos - cosmic out of place-ness, sun at the wrong time, moon in the wrong place - Donne would have had a field day. Tremendous.

TC said...

Thanks very much Barry.

You've put me in mind of Basil Willey talking about the special "mind" of the Seventeenth Century.

"It was one of the privileges of the Seventeenth Century to be able to believe, without any effort or striving, that 'truth' was not all of one order. It would be more accurate to say that this was unconsciously assumed, or felt, rather than consciously 'believed'. Thus however eager one might be for the old 'exantlation' of one kind of truth, the new kind, the old order of numinous truth was still secure in its inviolate separateness. The feeling that there was a divine meaning, or *otherness*, in the universe, as well as a mechanical order, was still natural and inevitable; it had not, as so often since, to be deliberately worked up or simulated."



How great to know this (your work on Vaughan) --"They are all gone into a world of light" . . . . (!)

Barry Taylor said...

Tom -

Absolutely - the two worlds Willey talks about - the divine and the mechanical - and with Donne, a third: the phenomenological world of the individual, with desire its first mover:

SINCE she must go, and I must mourn, come night,
Environ me with darkness, whilst I write ;
Shadow that hell unto me, which alone
I am to suffer when my love is gone.
Alas ! the darkest magic cannot do it,
Thou and great hell, to boot, are shadows to it.
Should Cynthia quit thee, Venus, and each star,
It would not form one thought dark as mine are.
I could lend them obscureness now, and say
Out of my self, there should be no more day.

Elegy XIII

Joe Safdie said...


Re. the Seventeenth Century, I've been pretty enthralled with Barbara Everett's essays Poets in Their TIme (which you recommended a month or so back in a discussion about Marvell), and there's one of her quotes that seems relevant (if not to Vaughn, a different kind of poet, than to the overall poetry of the time):

"“the reality that the 17th century has for us now is the creation of the greater writers of the time, those who were capable of translating events into
meditated and conscious experience”

Her essay on Marvell, as you'd said, is just a wonder:

“that tacit self-judgment and self-mockery which always destroys the garlands, opens up the galleries and dissolves the drop of dew, forbidding an over-valuing of what it has made”

How graceful is that . . . she's a wonderful writer. So thanks!