Henry Vaughan Analysis

Other literary forms

Henry Vaughan (vawn, also von), whose religious poetry reflects the influence of John Donne and George Herbert, published translations of several religious and medical treatises.


Henry Vaughan is usually grouped with the Metaphysical poets, anthologized particularly with Donne, Herbert, Richard Crashaw, and Andrew Marvell. While there is some justification for this association, in Vaughan’s instance it has resulted in a somewhat too narrow estimation of his work and its historical context. In the Metaphysical collections, to be sure, Vaughan has been represented by some of his best poems, such as “Regeneration,” “The World,” or “Affliction,” drawn from Silex Scintillans. These works, however, have often been grouped in contrast with the lyrics from Herbert’s The Temple (1633). Invariably Vaughan has been admired only as a lesser foil to his great predecessor; while admittedly Vaughan had his great moments, he lacked the sustained intensity of Herbert. Moreover, Vaughan’s gracious preface to the 1655 edition of Silex Scintillans shows much regard for the creator of The Temple. Given such authority, it is not surprising that Vaughan’s modern reputation, emerging in the Metaphysical revival of the twentieth century, has been overshadowed by the accomplishments of Herbert.

Fortunately, recent scholarship has begun to redress the imbalances concerning Vaughan with thorough study of his work and his milieu. By his own admission, Vaughan lived “when religious controversy had split the English people into factions: I lived among the furious conflicts of Church and State” (“Ad Posteros” in Olor Iscanus). His was the time that saw a people indict, condemn, and execute its monarch in the name of religious fervor and political expedience. His was the time that saw the final vestiges of ancient families’ power supplanted by parliamentary prerogatives of a potent middle class. Vaughan defined his place outside the struggle in order to take part in it as conservator of the Anglican-Royalist cause, a defender of the British Church in poetry and prose tied closely to the attitudes and values of pagan and Christian pastoral literature. Moreover, in his own Welsh countryside and lineage, Vaughan found the touchstone for his conservatorship, an analogue of the self-imposed exiles of early church fathers who took refuge from the conflicts and hazards of the world.


Davies, Stevie. Henry Vaughan. Chester Springs, Pa.: Dufour Editions, 1995. A concise historical narrative of the life and works of Vaughan. Includes an index and a bibliography.

Dickson, Donald R., and Holly Faith Nelson, eds. Of Paradise and Light: Essays on Henry Vaughan and John Milton in Honor of Alan Rudrum. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004. A collection of essays on Vaughan and Milton; topics include Silex Scintillans, nature, and religion.

Manning, John. The Swan of Usk: The Poetry of Henry Vaughan. Lampeter: Trivium, University of Wales, Lampeter, 2008. Part of the Tucker Lecture series, this work examines the poetry of Vaughan in detail.

Nelson, Holly Faith. “Historical Consciousness and the Politics of Translation in the Psalms of Henry Vaughan.” In John Donne and the Metaphysical Poets, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2010. Examines Vaughan’s psalms and treats Vaughan as a Metaphysical poet.

Post, Jonathan F. S. Henry Vaughan: The Unfolding Vision. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982. Post, who divides his emphasis between Vaughan’s secular and religious poems, declares the heart of his study is Silex Scintillans. Although he covers many of Vaughan’s poems, some—among them “The Night” and “Regeneration”—receive lengthy analysis. Contains a general index, as well as an index to Vaughan’s poems.

Shawcross, John T. “Kidnapping the Poets: The Romantics and Henry Vaughan.” In Milton, the Metaphysicals, and Romanticism, edited by Lisa Low and Anthony John Harding. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Looks at the influence of Vaughan and other Metaphysicals on Romanticism.

Sullivan, Ceri. The Rhetoric of the Conscience in Donne, Herbert, and Vaughan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Notes that these poets—Vaughan, John Donne, and George Herbert—see the conscience as only partly under their own control. Finds similarities in the ways these poets seek their authentic nature in relation to the divine.

Young, R. V. Doctrine and Devotion in Seventeenth-Century Poetry: Studies in Donne, Herbert, Crashaw, and Vaughan. Rochester, N.Y.: D. S. Brewer, 2000. Young provides a critical interpretation of English early modern and Christian poetry. Includes bibliographical references and index.