They Are All Gone into the World of Light!

by Henry Vaughan
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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.

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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.

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Themes