Seeing eternity

The World by Henry Vaughan

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,
          Driven 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 nor stay nor go ;
Comdemning 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 the 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, slipped into a wide excess,
          Said little less ;
The weaker sort, slight, trivial wares enslave,
          Who think them brave ;
And poor despisèd 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.
By pattern of association, recalling yesterday buying my second record (of Gregorian chant) with money given to me for my eighteenth birthday, I remembered that I had bought the 'Collected Poems' of Henry Vaughan. Looking at the very volume last night, I re-read his most famous poem - a Christian and Platonic meditation on the nature of the world both mystical and moral.
Vaughan is a fascinating example of a man en-visoned, heightened into poetry, who slowly loses his seeing; and, ironically, given the substance of this poem, finds himself lost in 'grots, and caves' immersed in family feuding and taking his neighbours to law! 
There is a beautiful, short book, by the literary scholar and novelist, Stevie Davis, on Henry Vaughan that illuminates the poetry on their own metaphysical terms (terms she does not necessarily share) and traces with intelligence and compassion Vaughan's closing of vision into all too human quarrelling.
It is an exemplary volume that carries you back to the poems with renewed engagement, illumined understanding and greater questioning.


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