They Are All Gone into the World of Light! Themes

Henry Vaughan

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 462 words.)

Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

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.