Henry Vaughan (1621 - 1695)


A ward, and still in bonds, one day
      I stole abroad;
It was high spring, and all the way
   Primrosed and hung with shade;
   Yet it was frost within,
      And surly winds
Blasted my infant buds, and sin
   Like clouds eclipsed my mind.

Stormed thus, I straight perceived my spring
      Mere stage and show,
My walk a monstrous, mountained thing,
   Roughcast with rocks and snow;
   And as a pilgrim's eye
      Far from relief,
Measures the melancholy sky,
   Then drops and rains for grief,

So sighed I upwards still; at last
      'Twixt steps and falls
I reached the pinnacle, where placed
   I found a pair of scales;
   I took them up and laid
      In th'one, late pains;
The other smoke and pleasures weighed,
   But proved the heavier grains.

With that some cried, "Away!" Straight I
      Obeyed, and led
Full east, a fair, fresh field could spy;
   Some called it Jacob's bed,
   A virgin soil which no
      Rude feet ere trod,
Where, since he stepped there, only go
   Prophets and friends of God.

Here I reposed; but scarce well set,
      A grove descried
Of stately height, whose branches met
   And mixed on every side;
   I entered, and once in,
      Amaz'd to see't,
Found all was changed, and a new spring
   Did all my senses greet.

The unthrift sun shot vital gold,
      A thousand pieces,
And heaven its azure did unfold,
   Checkered with snowy fleeces;
   The air was all in spice,
      And every bush
A garland wore; thus fed my eyes,
   But all the ear lay hush.

Only a little fountain lent
      Some use for ears,
And on the dumb shades language spent,
   The music of her tears;
   I drew her near, and found
      The cistern full
Of divers stones, some bright and round,
   Others ill-shaped and dull.

The first, pray mark, as quick as light
      Danced through the flood,
But the last, more heavy than the night,
   Nailed to the centre stood;
   I wondered much, but tired
      At last with thought,
My restless eye that still desired
   As strange an object brought:

It was a bank of flowers, where I descried,
      Though 'twas midday,
Some fast asleep, others broad-eyed
   And talking in the ray;
   Here musing long, I heard
      A rushing wind
Which still increased, but whence it stirred
   No where I could not find.

I turned me round, and to each shade
      Dispatched an eye
To see if any leaf had made
   Least motion or reply;
   But while I listening sought
      My mind to ease
By knowing where 'twas, or where not,
   It whispered, "Where I please."

"Lord," then said I, "on me one breath,
And let me die before my death!"

The Retreat

Happy those early days! when I
Shined in my angel infancy.
Before I understood this place
Appointed for my second race,
Or taught my soul to fancy aught
But a white celestial thought;
When yet I had not walked above
A mile or two from my first love,
And looking back, at that short space,
Could see some glimpse of His bright face;
When on some gilded cloud or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour,
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity;
Before I taught my tongue to wound
My conscience with a sinful sound,
Or had the black art to dispense
A several sin to every sense,
But felt through all this fleshly dress
Bright shoots of everlastingness.
     O, how I long to travel back,
And tread again that ancient track!
That I might once more reach that plain
Where first I left my glorious train,
From whence th'enlightened spirit sees
That shady city of palm trees.
But, ah! my soul with too much stay
Is drunk, and staggers in the way.
Some men a forward motion love;
But I by backward steps would move,
And when this dust falls to the urn,
In that state I came, return.

The World

I saw eternity the other night
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
   All calm as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time, in hours, days, years,
   Driven by the spheres,
Like a vast shadow moved, in which the world
   And all her train were hurled.
The doting lover in his quaintest strain
   Did there complain;
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
   Wit's sour delights,
With gloves and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
   Yet his dear treasure,
All scattered lay, while he his eyes did pour
   Upon a flower.

The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe
Like a thick midnight fog moved there so slow
   He did not stay or go;
Condemning thoughts, like sad eclipses, scowl
   Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
   Pursued him with one shout.
Yet digged the mole, and, lest his ways be found,
   Worked underground,
Where he did clutch his prey. But one did see
   That policy:
Churches and altars fed him; perjuries
   Were gnats and flies;
It rained about him blood and tears; but he
   Drank them as free.

The fearful miser on a heap of rust
Sat pining all his life there, did scarce trust
   His own hands with the dust;
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
   In fear of thieves.
Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
   And hugged each one his pelf:
The downright epicure placed heaven in a sense,
   And scorned pretense;
While others, slipped into a wide excess,
   Said little less;
The weaker sort, slight, trivial wares enslave,
   Who think them brave;
And poor despised Truth sat counting by
   Their victory.

Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
And sing and weep, soared up into the ring;
   But most would use no wing.
"O fools!" said I, "thus to prefer dark night
   Before true light!
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
   Because it shows the way,
The way which from this dead and dark abode
   Leads up to God,
A way where you might tread the sun and be
   More bright than he!"
But, as I did their madness so discuss,
   One whispered thus:
"This ring the bridegroom did for none provide,
   But for his bride."