They Are All Gone into the World of Light!

by Henry Vaughan
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Analysis

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Last Updated on July 14, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 682

In “They Are All Gone into the World of Light!,” Henry Vaughan uses haunting language and a mournful tone to convey a sense of profound loss.

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The poem follows a rhyme pattern of abab that repeats in each stanza, with some slant rhymes along the way, such as “grove/remove.” Most stanzas begin with a line of iambic pentameter, though the first line is written in trochaic pentameter. This difference in cadence draws auditory attention to this line, as it is the most shocking of the poem: “They are all gone into the world of light.” The modifier “all” reinforces the extreme loss of the speaker, who places these people in a “world of light,” implying that the speaker’s own world is left dark without them. This is the foundation upon which the rest of the poem rests.

The second line of each stanza is typically written in iambic tetrameter, but this isn’t completely predictable. In stanza 5, the second line reads, “Shining nowhere, but in the dark.” The divergence from the expected meter here once again spotlights the images of light and darkness that are contrasted in the poem. The third line of each stanza returns to iambic pentameter, and the fourth line is written in iambic trimeter.

This almost haphazard sense of meter contributes to the speaker’s sense of the unpredictability of life. The speaker sits utterly alone, having felt the pain of one loss after another until their loved ones are “all gone.” The unexpected meter carries the sense of unexpected loss, while the steady rhyme pattern keeps the reader plodding through the speaker’s grief, just as the speaker keeps trudging up the hill with only memories to provide the light that “trample[s] on [their] days.”

The harsh alliteration of g in describing images of light (glows, glitters, glimmering) highlights the dual nature of the memories the speaker carries. They both hold a sense of brightness and cause him a harsh pain. The speaker also describes Death (personified) as a “jewel of the just,” using alliteration to focus on how Death is a valued “jewel” for those who have died. (This is also a possible allusion to Zechariah 9:16: “And the LORD their God will save them in that day As the flock of His people; For they are as the stones of a crown, Sparkling in His land.”) This alliteration also draws attention to the idea that such jewels only shine due to the darkness of death.

Two metaphors convey the speaker’s despair. The first uses the image of an empty nest:

He that hath found some fledg’d bird’s nest, may know

At first sight, if the bird be flown;

But what fair well or grove he sings in now,

That is to him unknown.

The empty nest of the bird is much like the empty home (and even life) of the speaker. The metaphorical birds have all flown, and the speaker can no longer hear their sweet songs. The speaker cannot ascertain their whereabouts in a tangible way. Another metaphor directs the reader to a sense of submission in life to God’s will:
If a star were confin’d into a tomb,

This metaphorical allusion refers to Christ, who, according to scripture, was sealed in a tomb and guarded yet rose from the dead. His light proved too much to be contained, and it now “shine[s] through all the sphere” of the earth. This metaphor transitions the speaker into the final two stanzas, where they address God directly: “O Father of eternal life.” They beg God to either provide some relief from their despair, providing touching imagery in another metaphor as “mists, which blot and fill / My perspective still as they pass,” or to take them also into death so that they can join those whom they have lost. They leave the decision with God.

The poem conveys a haunting sense of despair that is delivered through numerous poetic devices. Images of light and darkness illustrate the contrasting emotions inherent in remembrances of those whom the speaker has lost.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 512

“They Are All Gone into the World of Light!” (the poem is known by its first line), consisting of ten rhymed (abab) stanzas, is at once a lyrical expression of faith and an elegy for friends who have passed away. A meditation on death, it juxtaposes the world of light that follows death with the world of darkness that is the fate of the living. It culminates with a two-stanza prayer in which the speaker requests that God renew the fallen world and either give him spiritual insight here or take him to heaven, where there are no impediments to vision.

In the first four stanzas, the speaker establishes and develops a contrast between the fortunate dead who live in a world of light and his own unfortunate life in a world of darkness, a contrast at odds with the reader’s usual associations of life with light and darkness with death. The speaker, however, looks beyond death, merely a transitory stage in this poem, to life after death. Despite the imagery of darkness, bondage, and blindness, the poem reflects the speaker’s faith—there is no real tension, no uncertainty, no doubt. Even though he has “sad thoughts,” the speaker’s thoughts do “clear”; the memory of the departed “glows and glitters in my cloudy brest,” lending some light or “beams” to his obscured vision. The dead walk “in an air of glory,” but his “days” (his life, the times, the temporal) are “dull,” “Meer glimering and decays,” reflecting the nature of the fallen world.

In the second four stanzas the speaker addresses “Dear, beauteous death” as a “jewel” that shines, extending beyond the “dust” traditionally associated with death. The “dust” becomes the “mark,” the border beyond which lie mysteries that could be apprehended if man had more than “first sight,” or physical vision concerning natural phenomena. The speaker contrasts the bird-watcher’s knowledge “if the bird be flown” with his ignorance about the current whereabouts of the “flown” bird. Although the fallen of humanity may not apprehend glory directly, there are “strange thoughts” that do “transcend” physical sight and provide limited access (“peep”) to spiritual truth. This section concludes with such a “strange thought,” the image of a confined star being released from a “Tomb” to “shine through all the sphære.”

This liberating image leads directly to the concluding two-stanza prayer to the “Father of eternal life,” a description that applies directly to the life after death “they” all enjoy. The speaker asks God likewise to restore this “world of thrall,” a world of sin, to the “true liberty” of the world before the lapse. This request is reiterated in the last stanza, in which God is urged to disperse the “mists” from his perspective, or “remove me hence unto that hill,/ Where I shall need no glass,” a spiritual elevation after which the speaker will need no mechanical aids for his imperfect sight. This “removal” clearly is the culmination of an event alluded to in the first stanza, in which the speaker sits “lingring here” behind his friends.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 493

Although Henry Vaughan wrote some secular verse, he is known primarily as a religious poet indebted to Metaphysical writers, notably George Herbert, whose The Temple (1633), a collection of religious verse, served as a model for Vaughan’s Silex Scintillans (Parts I and II, 1650, 1655). Vaughan was influenced by the hermetic philosophy of his twin brother Thomas, by the Welsh countryside in which he spent most of his life, and by Christian theology as revealed in the Bible and in the writings of the church fathers. All are reflected in “They Are All Gone into the World of Light!”

The metaphors and imagery of the poem derive from Christian doctrine, primarily from the resurrection story. The eighth stanza, which precedes and leads to the concluding prayer, provides an analogy to Christ’s death and resurrection: A “star” is confined, appropriately, to a tomb but is released by “the hand that lockt her up,” surely the hand of the “Father of eternal life.” After release, the star will “shine through all the sphære.” The “star,” moreover, is to be seen in juxtaposition to the earthly “Sun” which leaves its “faint beams” on “this hill,” itself juxtaposed with “that hill” at the end of the poem. Since the reference to the “Sun” would have suggested the “Son,” Christ, to his seventeenth century readers, Vaughan thereby prepares his readers for the Son’s coming, which follows the “Sun’s remove” in the second stanza.

Vaughan’s use of juxtaposition extends to the stanza involving the bird-watcher, who may detect if the “fledg’d bird” has left the nest. This knowledge, which depends on the physical senses, cannot detect where that bird sings. Implicit is the idea not only that there is another, transcendent vision unavailable to man, but that the spiritual vision is associated with God, who notices even the flight of the sparrow. Another related association involves the bird/nest analogy with the flight of the soul from the body at death. This analogy encapsulates the theme and subject of the poem. Seen from the perspective of resurrection, even the paradoxical reference to “high humility” contains a double meaning. The oxymoron suggests that the dead, having been humbled by death, are now raised in the world of light; it also calls to mind Christ, the servant/King who resolves all paradoxes.

What light “glows and glitters”—Vaughan often uses alliteration to slow the pace and call attention to words—is associated with the star, the spiritual Son who is also light. The fallen world is transfigured by Christ, who can partially dispel the “mists” and clouds of the temporal world, making some light and insight available through His sacrifice. That sacrifice destroys death’s power—as John Donne wrote, “Death, where is thy sting?” From Vaughan’s point of view, death legitimately can be termed the “Jewel of the Just,” because the faithful, “just” Christian looks to death as a reward, bringing eternal life and light.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 184

Sources for Further Study

Clements, Arthur L. The Poetry of Contemplation: John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, and the Modern Period. New York: State University of New York Press, 1990. This book attempts distinctions between the terms “mysticism,” “meditative,” and “contemplative.” Clements addresses their blurring definitions and makes the point that Vaughan’s varied philosophical interests and his Gnostic leanings always appeared in the context of orthodox Christian mysticism.

Hutchinson, F. E. Henry Vaughan: A Life and Interpretation. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger, 2005. This biography also deals with the philosophical sources of Vaughan’s mysticism as well as his unification, in the sense of creating correspondences, between the heavenly and terrestrial. Hutchinson notes that Vaughan, unlike the poet Herbert, sees animals and other parts of creation as worshiping God in their blind obedience.

Skulsky, Harold. “The Fellowship of Mystery: Emergence and Exploratory Metaphor in Vaughan.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, no. 27 (1987): 89-107. This article asserts that Vaughan’s emergent metaphors (a metaphor that develops as a result of something else) express Gnostic Christian longings through use of allusion and utterance, the establishment of an intimate, conversational tone.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 462

Vaughan’s use of juxtaposition, within lines or stanzas, is particularly appropriate since he is concerned with the gulf between “they” and “I,” a separation established in the first two lines of the poem: “They are all gone” parallels “And I alone sit lingring here.” “Lingring” itself suggests that his proper place is not “here” on “this hill,” but “there” on “that hill.” By the end of the poem the speaker, through a series of associated opposites, overcomes any trepidation he may have felt and looks forward to his “removal” from this earth.

The speaker’s contrast between two kinds of vision, a common Renaissance notion, clearly establishes the superiority of the spiritual realm over its physical counterpart. Even with the light derived from Christ’s sacrifice, the speaker cannot see clearly those sights that are most meaningful to him. Like the bird-watcher, the speaker has visual access to the natural world and can apprehend and draw conclusions from physical data; he can see not only “the hill,” but also his “dull days.” Those days are not literally “dull,” nor is his “brest” literally “cloudy”—these are insights expressed metaphorically about his condition. The “mists” and “clouds” are common metaphors for sadness and grief, but the speaker’s feelings about his dead friends transcend graveside gloom. The “clouds” and “mists” are impediments to spiritual vision—he is “blind” to the “mysteries” which the dead can “see.”

In this “world of thrall,” the speaker’s vision is limited to an awareness of his condition and of the state of the fallen world; even “here” some “strange thoughts” or perceptions allow a “peep” into glory. The speaker can transcend ordinary themes or concerns, but will be able to “see” glory directly only after death. When he requests, “Resume thy spirit from this world of thrall/ Into true liberty,” the speaker refers to his own spirit being “resumed” or renewed much as the speaker in John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet XIV” requests that he be made “new” and states, “Except You enthrall me, never shall be free.” One of Donne’s “meditations” on death contains a biblical quotation that informs Vaughan’s treatment of vision in this poem: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (Corinthians 13:12).

Since the first alternative of the last stanza, the dispersal of “mists,” seems as unlikely as the face-to-face vision, the speaker’s only recourse is the reiteration of “Resume thy spirit”: “remove me hence unto that hill.” God’s intervention is required since the speaker cannot, even with mechanical aids like a “glass,” himself attain the vision he seeks. The “removal hence” is to the “world of light.”

Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 143

The primary poem’s Christian theme surrounds Vaughan’s struggle to understand the human-God relationship. The poet begins in a state of sorrow, frustration, and even anger at his state of being “alone” but over the course of the poem comes to understand, accept, and yearn for the union with God that will lift him out of a world of sin and reunite him with the Creator. Death, which stands at the center of this transformation, is transformed from a state to be feared to a doorway to salvation.

Vaughan’s work has a freshness that prefigures the Romantics and strikes a chord in modern readers because of its simplicity, striking imagery, and honest recognition of complication. It therefore continues to resonate with readers, particularly Christians, who can recognize in the poet some of the struggles and doubts they face in daily life.

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