Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Henry Vaughn’s poem “The World” is written in iambic pentameter and indicts the subject of its title as a place full of false hopes of happiness.

Vaughn is often considered a metaphysical poet, and as such, his poems often address themes of faith, salvation, and spiritual enlightenment. “The World” is no exception, and it uses various examples of worldly pursuits that provide little happiness to the individuals who pursue them.

In stanza 1, the speaker begins with a description of “Eternity” as a gorgeous sight that fills the speaker with awe and wonder. Thus, the goal of a worldly existence should be to transcend into this higher plane of existence. Yet, the speaker quickly notices a man who is instead obsessed with his “treasure,” despite it only providing “silly shares of pleasure.” In other words, the speaker implies that material pleasures are ultimately unsatisfying, as the man cries while gazing upon nature (the "flow’r").

In the next stanza the speaker criticizes the pursuit of political power and earthly fame, both of which only cause “blood and tears.” When the speaker says these men drink this concoction “as free,” he is showing that politicians and pompous clergy feed on the suffering of others, making them evil and worthy of damnation.

In stanza 3, the speaker turns his attention to those who are obsessed with money, hoarding it for themselves. He suggests that greed causes unhappiness, saying it causes one to “[pine] all his life.” The speaker contrasts this with the hedonist, who gives and consumes freely in “excess.” The speaker likewise condemns this lifestyle.

In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker returns to the subject of Heaven. The speaker tries to minister to the various worldly types mentioned earlier in the poem, explaining that if they step into the “light,” they might “tread the sun.” Despite offering them a message of lasting fulfillment, the World, as it is represented by these individuals, does not seem to care. The final lines of the poem suggest that humanity, in general, willfully refuses to accept God’s salvation because of a belief in its own infallibility.

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