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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"The World" by Henry Vaughan is a poem that describes the world as he views it, apparently watching from high above and seeing humanity played out below him. Let's take a look at a few of the quotes from the poem to explore its meaning.

I saw eternity the other night, like a great ring of pure and endless light

The opening line of the poem sets the scene for what Vaughan will be discussing. He claims to have seen eternity, looped around him and full of light. It is a beautiful panorama that he experiences, but the rest of his vision will not be quite as delightful. The ring that wraps up eternity is gleaming and golden, full of beauty and light. The rest of the world that he observes in it, however, is not quite as lustrous.

The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe, like a thick midnight-fog mov'd there so slow

The second stanza begins with some pieces of his vision of Earth, including sorrowful politicians, among many other images of darkness and despair. This stands in stark contrast to the beginning imagery of the illuminated circle of eternity. He sees dark and shadowy figures going about their lives, doing things desperately and darkly at times, yet the final stanza gives some hope. While there are many other dark characters at work on Earth, some are lifting their voices in songs of hope towards Heaven and lifting prayers to God.

This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide, but for his Bride.

The final line, spoken from a third party, is the key to the entire poem. Vaughan is observing disparate views of the world, most of them dark and disheartening, but some of them—like the people lifting their voices to God and the preacher who, for all his faults, is still trying to praise God—are hopeful. This, the poet reasons, is the eternity that Christ has promised as a ring for his Bride, the Church. It is not perfect; it is marred by sin but striving for holiness, and in that way, it is bright, shining, and a fitting gift for a Bride.

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