The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The World” is a sixty-line poem in four fifteen-line stanzas in iambic pentameter, with a rhyme scheme aaa, bb, cc, dd, ee, ff, gg. The title is purposefully ambiguous and reflects the dual focus of the poem: the earthly world, the here and now; and the world to come, heaven and eternity. The four stanzas develop the idea that unless mortals shed their concern for the values of this world they are doomed. True value lies in belief in God and in the search for salvation.

In the first stanza, Henry Vaughan presents the powerful image of the ring of light, which embodies for him the idea of eternity and salvation. This image represents a transcendent state of enlightenment for humankind, a center of calm and peace. In contrast to this image, Vaughan projects the earthly world as a world in shadow, a Platonic world in which mortals grasp illusions, with reality forever beyond their reach. The figure of the lover is the vehicle for expressing this view. Surrounded by the attributes of earthly love—the lute and his fanciful and witty poems or lyrics—the lover is trapped in silly pursuits of vain and ephemeral pleasures. His attention is fixed on earthly rather than spiritual beauty.

In the second stanza, Vaughan turns to another facet of earthly existence, power and politics. He attacks the statesman for false goals and priorities, delivering his condemnation in images of...

(The entire section is 589 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Metaphors of light and dark dominate the poem and are the basis for its structure. To understand this metaphoric pattern, one should first consider the poem’s title. The meaning of the title is ambiguous: To what “world” does it refer? The reader learns quickly that the title refers to both the earthly and the heavenly worlds. More important, earth and heaven are not separate worlds but two dimensions of one world. The concept of “the world” combines earth and heaven in the same way that the person of Jesus combines human and divine. He is neither one nor the other, but both.

Light and dark are similarly two parts of one world. A condition of dark is necessary to the condition of light. Both worlds exist as contrast, but exist as yin and yang, two parts of a whole.

In the first stanza, the image of the ring of light is an encircling metaphor, both in its own dimension as circle or ring and as a frame for the poem. The image serves to establish the ultimate dimension toward which the entire poem moves and as the basis for development of the poem. Light is contrasted to darkness. The light is the light of heaven, the center of “calm” and peace. In contrast is the magnificent image of the “shadow” of time which covers the earth; this “shadow” is also “round.” In the light there is a state of calm, while in the dark everything is “hurl’d” and “driven.”

In the second stanza all that is not part of the...

(The entire section is 504 words.)