They Are All Gone into the World of Light!

by Henry Vaughan
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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.

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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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