Is Henry Vaughan's "The World" a religious poem?

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Henry Vaughan's "The World" is a religious poem in that it deals with the uncomfortable fact that so many people value the things of this earth more than they value God. In doing so, they are concentrating on what is fleeting rather than what is eternal.

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In Henry Vaughan's "The World," the speaker's ability to see Eternity immediately alerts us to his heightened spiritual sensibilities. Here is a man with his gaze firmly fixed on what truly matters. Not for him are the things of this world, such as the good food and drink that delight "The downright epicure." Nor, unlike "the fearful miser," is he obsessed with hoarding money for fear that thieves might come along and steal it.

Just about everyone in this world strives for happiness, but not everyone goes about obtaining it in the right way. True happiness comes from embracing God, whose help is essential for the individual soul to soar "up into the ring" of Eternity.

And yet so many people, preoccupied as they are with the things of this world, don't realize this. They are fools who prefer "dark night" to "true light." This light, however, is essential for revealing the way that "Leads up to God." But then that is precisely why so many people choose to avoid this path, because it would lead them away from their shallow, materialistic lives. Temporality, not Eternity, is what matters to them.

It is, in the opinion of the speaker, a kind of "madness," which at no point in the poem does he seem to understand. For he has beheld a glimpse of Eternity, perhaps as a result of some religious conversion, and cannot see why anyone else would not want to enjoy a similar experience themselves.

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How does "The World" reflect the nature of Vaughan as a religious poet?

The first key to understanding Vaughan as a religious poet is to place him in context. He was a loyal member of the Church of England, believing in the importance of the Book of Common Prayer and the traditional liturgy as paths towards salvation, in a period during which bother were proscribed by Cromwell. Thus the poem "The World" works on two levels, the first contrasting salvation with damnation and the second contrasting true religion, which had been forced underground, with the dark abode, as it were, of England under Cromwell.

The poem contrasts worldly wealth and endeavors, associated with darkness, earth, and caves, with the light of Heaven. The narrator of the poem asks why people continue to live in the darkness of damnation when they could live in the light of God. The people who do not take up this offer respond by suggesting that Christ the Bridegroom only offers salvation to his Bride, an ending that has a double meaning.

First, it repudiates the doctrine of limited atonement (that Christ only died for the Elect), that was favored by the Puritans but not by mainstream Anglicans. Second, the Church of England, like the Roman Catholic Church, sometimes used the metaphor of the Church as the Bride of Christ; thus for the narrator of the poem, the path to salvation is through the true Church and not the Puritan mode of worship.

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