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Short poem

Henry Vaughan (1622?-1695)

The World

              1I saw Eternity the other night,
              2Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
              3     All calm, as it was bright;
              4And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
              5     Driv'n by the spheres
              6Like a vast shadow mov'd; in which the world
              7     And all her train were hurl'd.
              8The doting lover in his quaintest strain
              9     Did there complain;
            10Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
            11     Wit's sour delights,
            12With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
            13     Yet his dear treasure
            14All scatter'd lay, while he his eyes did pour
            15     Upon a flow'r.

            16The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe,
            17Like a thick midnight-fog mov'd there so slow,
            18     He did not stay, nor go;
            19Condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl
            20     Upon his soul,
            21And clouds of crying witnesses without
            22     Pursued him with one shout.
            23Yet digg'd the mole, and lest his ways be found,
            24     Work'd under ground,
            25Where he did clutch his prey; but one did see
            26     That policy;
            27Churches and altars fed him; perjuries
            28     Were gnats and flies;
            29It rain'd about him blood and tears, but he
            30     Drank them as free.

            31The fearful miser on a heap of rust
            32Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust
            33     His own hands with the dust,
            34Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
            35     In fear of thieves;
            36Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
            37     And hugg'd each one his pelf;
            38The downright epicure plac'd heav'n in sense,
            39     And scorn'd pretence,
            40While others, slipp'd into a wide excess,
            41     Said little less;
            42The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,
            43     Who think them brave;
            44And poor despised Truth sate counting by
            45     Their victory.

            46Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
            47And sing, and weep, soar'd up into the ring;
            48     But most would use no wing.
            49O fools (said I) thus to prefer dark night
            50     Before true light,
            51To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
            52     Because it shews the way,
            53The way, which from this dead and dark abode
            54     Leads up to God,
            55A way where you might tread the sun, and be
            56     More bright than he.
            57But as I did their madness so discuss
            58     One whisper'd thus,
            59"This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,
            60     But for his bride."


5] Driv'n by the spheres: the ever revolving spheres of Ptolemaic astronomy.

8] quaintest: most ingenious.

12] knots: love-knots.

35] Matthew 6:19-20.

38] sense: sensual pleasures.

44] counting by: observing.

60] his bride: the church; see Revelation 21:2-9. At the end of the poem Vaughan prints I John 2:16-17.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Henry Vaughan, Silex Scintillans (1650). Scolar Press, 1970. PR 3669 R2 1680AC ROBA.
First publication date: 1650
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 3RP 1.366-68.
Recent editing: 2:2002/6/7

Rhyme: aaabbccddeeffgg

Other poems by Henry Vaughan