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Please explain the poem "The Retreat."

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saso15 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 25, 2010 at 6:19 AM via web

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Please explain the poem "The Retreat."

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kmcappello | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted January 25, 2010 at 6:34 AM (Answer #1)

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Henry Vaughan was a Welsh poet who wrote in the latter half of the 17th century.  He experienced a conversion to Christianity later in life, and much of his work is marked by this.

"The Retreat" is based on the belief that we exist as souls in heaven before we are born on Earth.  Those who follow this belief also believe that babies are inherently sin-free, as they have just come from heaven.  Throughout the poem, the speaker references this "angel-infancy" when life was perfect and filled with the presence of God, his "first love."  He longs to return to this idyllic existence before he became marked by sin, "Before I taught my tongue to wound/My conscience with a sinful sound."

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 25, 2010 at 6:35 AM (Answer #2)

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In this poem, Henry Vaughan is bemoaning his sins and wishing that he could go back to a purer state, one where his soul was free from sin.

In the poem, he talks about how, before this life, his soul was pure and sinless.  (This comes from a belief of some Christians that souls have such an existence before being born in bodies on this earth.)    He contrasts that pure state with his state on earth where he has a different kind of sin for every sense in his body.

He closes by saying that he hopes that there will not be much more of a delay before he can return to this sinless state of being.

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