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.)