In order to justify Henry Vaughan as a metaphysical poet, we must first know what metaphysical poetry means. The term “Metaphysical” applies to the poetry of John Donne and his followers. Any poet who was prone to ‘personal intellectual complexity and concentration‘ was known as a metaphysical poet.
However, ironically, these poets did not know that they were particular kinds of poets. Long after they had been dead, Dr. Samuel Johnson used the term in his book, “Life of Cowley,” in 1779. He perhaps borrowed the term from John Dryden, who wrote about John Donne that he affected “metaphysics not only in his satires but also in his amorous verses.”
Metaphysical Poetry Is An Unconventional Style of Poetry
Metaphysical poetry represents a sharp break from the conventional poetry of the Elizabethan period. Most of the Elizabethan verses are decorative and flowery in their quality. But metaphysical poetry has been differentiated from the other kinds by its peculiar “Conceits,” later known as “Metaphysical Conceits.”
It is characterized by its conciseness, intellectual reasoning, and fondness for conceits. It is distinct by its learned imagery, argumentative quality, and a peculiar blend of passion and thought. Colloquial style and abrupt but dramatic opening are also considered its elements.
Vaughan’s poems possess several of the qualities enumerated above. Still, his poetry does not contain the sharp metaphysical qualities of John Donne or Andrew Marvell.
The Reflective And Philosophical Tones in Vaughan’s Poems
The tone of Vaughan’s poems is, in an essential sense, reflective and philosophical. The subject matters of his poems are, to a great extent, metaphysical. The poem’s theme, Regeneration, has abruptly been taken from a passage in the Song of Solomon to be found in the Bible.
The word Regeneration implies a change from despondency to joy. Using several symbols, the poet explains how a sinful man reaches the ultimate goal, which is the achievement of God’s blessings.
In the poem Shower, he expresses the belief that repentance over one’s sins is necessary to obtain God’s grace and only love can “unlock the way” to heaven. The poem Retreat expresses Vaughan’s mystical belief that the child comes into this world from heaven and can retain heavenly memories till he grows up.
The poem Peace gives us the idea that there is a country far beyond the stars where smiling peace dwells. The poem The World presents us with a metaphysical theme of the contrast between eternity and this world governed by the concept of time. Eternity is that everlasting world of spirit that is beyond the reach of most of the men who spend their time in the pursuit of temporal joys.
Vaughan’s Metaphysical Poetry Comprised Religious And Intellectual Remarks
The blending of emotion and thought is one of the essential marks of metaphysical poetry, and in Vaughan, there is a fine blend of deep religious emotion with intellectual thinking.
In the poem Regeneration, we find an orderly and logical development that gives the poem an intellectual character. Through well-defined stages, the poet searches for his regeneration in the conclusion of this poem.
The religious emotion lies in the poet’s description of his closeness to heaven during the time of “angel – infancy.” Similarly, Vaughan has fused a deep religious emotion with the logical development of the theme in the poem, The World.
Vaughan Used Metaphysical Conceits Abundantly in His Poetry
Ingenious and far-fetched conceits, termed metaphysical conceits occur in abundance in the poetry of Vaughan. These conceits strike us by their ingenuity and by their justness. In the poem Regeneration, the poet speaks of frost lying in the heart obstructing the new birth. These are indeed winds blasting his infant binds and the sin-like clouds eclipsing his mind on his way to regeneration.
Moreover, a metaphysical conceit in the poet’s picture is visible, finding and picking up the pair of scales from the top of the hill and then weighing his recent sorrows against his pleasures. The metaphors used in the following lines of the poem The Retreat exemplify metaphysical conceits.
But, ah! my soul with too much stay
Is drunk, and staggers in the way.The Retreat, Henry Vaughan
The images of Eternity and Time are themselves metaphysical conceits in the poem The World because of their ingenuity and fanciful quality. In short, Vaughan’s poems abound with such other metaphysical conceits.
Concentration And Conciseness Are Vital Characteristics of Vaughan’s Poetry
The poems of Vaughan fall into two characteristics: concentration and conciseness. The short poem The Retreat is the best example of this quality. Every line of this poem is meaningful.
In the poem, The World, the various lusts of this world are described in a terse style. Like other metaphysical poets, Vaughan has started his poems abruptly and colloquially. An example of the abrupt and personal opening is evident in Shower,
‘IT was so; I saw thy birth.Shower, Henry Vaughan
Unlike other metaphysical poets like John Donne and Herbert, Vaughan has infused his poems with the love of Nature.
Besides, there is a strong note of mysticism in Vaughan’s poetry. He has rightly said that he prays not in a church but the open air.
Vaughan’s poetry is abundant in supernatural elements besides other elements.