Last Updated September 6, 2023.
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.
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.
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.