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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Vaughan’s "The World" starts off with the narrator considering the world after witnessing the bright and glorious heights of Eternity. Looking upon the desires and concerns of ordinary men, the narrator is overwhelmingly dismissive of the passions that drive mortal actions in the land of the living.

For example, the lover in Vaughan’s poem is described as “doting,” complaining, and one whose “sour delights” are expressed almost too quixotically with his “lute” and “flights.” The statesman is hung with “weights and woe,” and his entire life appears to be marked by the gluttonous consumption provided to him by corrupt church and state officials. The narrator explains that the statesman works underground in order to “clutch his prey,” presumably the people who suffer under his illegitimate policy, and that he is supplicated through church altars and the perjuries of “gnats and flies.” Finally, there is the miser, who is so consumed with sitting upon his “heap of rust” that he lives his life in eternal fear of thieves and prodigious spending. He is not unique among men, as thousands of others live lives similarly marred by greed, consumption, and petty insignificance as does he.

The imagery of Eternity as a ring at the beginning of the poem ties in to the later illustration of it in the fourth and last stanza. The narrator notes that the great majority of people, whether they sing or weep or run or walk, try to soar upwards into the ring—that is, Eternity—but “would use no wing,” implying that the only true way for these people to attain salvation is to accept God, thus taking his wing. The general analysis to be gathered from Vaughan’s last stanza is that all the conventional forms of human wealth, whether one considers love, material prosperity, or power to be advantageous, is incomparable to the divine wealth afforded to the faithful by God. The narrator claims that these people, though they may live in material splendor, still reside in darkness, a darkness that encompasses their entire lives. By following God’s lead, one may find the sun and “be more bright than he.”

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