“He now seems to be firmly established as one of the finest of the pure lyric voices of the seventeenth century.” So writes French Fogle in his 1965 edition of The Complete Poetry of Henry Vaughan. But the literary world had been slow enough in its acclaim of the poet-doctor of South Wales, who like St. Luke was a Christian first and a physician second; for the critical attention given Vaughan over the past three decades has far exceeded that of the preceding three centuries. The first book-length biography of him did not appear until 1947. And though recent biographical findings have been extensive, the certain facts of the personal history of Henry Vaughan (1622–95) can still be told in fewer than three hundred words. His poetry must speak for itself, and this is as it should be.
Furthermore, the exhaustive studies that have been made on the major influences on his life and poetry—such as the Wales countryside, George Herbert, the Bible, and Platonism—leave the story incomplete, for they do not take into account the fact of Christian rebirth. Vaughan’s full allegiance to the one Source of man’s truth is reflected in these last lines from his poem “Peace”:
For none can thee secure
But One who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy Cure.
It appears constantly throughout his writing, as in “The Sap”:
To show by what strange love He had to our good
He gave his sacred blood.…
Such secret life, and virtue in it lies
It will exalt and rise
And actuate such spirits as are shed.…
Henry Vaughan’s song “The Night,” suggested by St. John’s words about Nicodemus, has been called one of the most exquisitely tender and sensitive of all religious poems. Speaking of the light seen by Nicodemus that “made him know his God by sight,” the poet continues: ...1
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