A Great Ring of Pure and Endless Light: Selected Poems

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Crescent Moon Publishing, 2008 - Poetry - 88 pages
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Henry Vaughan: A Great Ring of Pure and Endless Light: Selected Poems

A cluster of the very best of Henry Vaughan's Metaphysical poems, which are filled with a 'deep, but dazzling darkness'. Lesser known Vaughan works, including some love poems, are collected here beside the famous pieces such as 'The Morning Watch', 'The World' and 'The Night'.

Henry Vaughan is the Metaphysical poet from the Welsh borders (he was born at Newton-upon-Usk, Breconshire, in 1621). He went up to Oxford, studied law in London, wrote some astounding religious poetry, and died in 1695.

The dazzling night pervades Henry Vaughan's poetry. It is a cosmic night, a night of regeneration. Many of the Vaughan poems collected here pivot around an experience of the cosmic, religious night, from 'The World', with its famous, much-anthologized opening lines: 'I saw Eternity the other night ] Like a great Ring of pure and endless light'. It is a night of rebirth, the night as a dark womb, in which the world is reborn. Cosmic rebirth is one of the major themes in Vaughan's poetry, and especially in his collection or series of sacred poems, Silex Scintillans.

Henry Vaughan is one of the most radiant of British poets. Like other Metaphysical poets (poets such as George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell and John Donne), the deep darkness of the alchemical ferment in Vaughan's poetry is balanced by a radiance, a light shining out of the darkness. It is a divine light, as found in the Mystical Theology of the influential Christian writer, Dionysius the Areopagite. Dionysius' Neoplatonic visions of divinity and the celestial hierarchies of angels influenced Dante Alighieri, among many others poets.

Henry Vaughan's poetry moves from dark to light, with the seeds of one being always present in the other. His nights, for all their darkness, also grow light. Vaughan's poetry is about big themes, cosmic themes, religious themes, with titles such as 'The World', 'Regeneration', 'Peace', and 'The Retreat'. Vaughan is not shy of big themes, as some poets are. He dives right in. His openings are particular powerful, striking up a majestic tone immediately:

I saw Eternity the other night

Like a great Ring of pure and endless light... ('The World')

Happy those early days! when I Shined in my Angel-infancy. ('The Retreat')

'My soul, there is a country

Far beyond the stars... ('Peace')

They are all gone into the world of light!

And I alone sit ling'ring here... ("They are all gone")

Through that pure Virgin-shine,

That sacred veil drawn o'er the glorious noon... ('The Night')

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