They Are All Gone into the World of Light!

by Henry Vaughan
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Last Updated on July 14, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 490

The Speaker

The main character in “They Are All Gone into the World of Light!” is the speaker, who seems to mourn for those they have loved and lost to death. Because they have lost so many to death—“the world of light”—they are now “alone” and “ling’ring,” haunted by the memories of the dead. They compare these memories to the “faint beams . . . After the sun’s remove.” In other words, these memories fade as the rays of the sun fade after it has set over the horizon. The speaker already lingers, figuratively, in the semidarkness of twilight, but they anticipate the complete darkness to come.

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In the second half of the poem, the speaker speculates as to the nature of the afterlife. They use the analogy of a bird that has flown its nest and say that while one may know “at first sight” that the bird has left the nest, one may not know “what fair well or grove [the bird] sings in now.” The speaker then compares the human spirit to the light of a star, which if contained would be “captive” but if given space to shine would “shine through all the sphere.” This analogy provides an interesting insight into the character of the speaker. They seem to have a degree of optimism about the existence and goodness of the afterlife and also about the enduring power of the human spirit. Contrasted with their earlier despair, however, this suggests that the optimism may be fragile, and, like the setting sun referenced earlier, waning.

The Dead

The dead qualify as important characters in the poem. The speaker describes them as if they have gone to a better place, a “world of light,” as opposed to the world of darkness in which the speaker has been left behind. They imagine the dead “walking in an air of glory, / Whose light doth trample on my days.” In other words, the light that, as the speaker imagines, surrounds the dead emphasizes and exacerbates, by contrast, the darkness and despair of their own life. The dead, as characters, are inextricably linked to the character of the speaker. The latter is defined by the former.

Minor Characters

There are various minor characters who also play significant roles in the poem. In the fifth stanza, for example, death is personified as “beauteous Death.” This personification indicates the importance of death in the speaker’s life and also suggests that death, like a person, is a conscious, active participant in life. The word “beauteous” also implies that the speaker regards death as a release from life, to be welcomed and embraced.

In the final stanza, the speaker prays to God (“O Father of eternal life”), asking to be released from “this world of thrall” and into the “true liberty” of death. God thus becomes a character in the poem, significant in that he helps us to fully understand the speaker’s desperation.

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