June 9, 2014

Poem: The World

Like a Great Ring of Pure and Endless Light

The World is by the Welch physician, author, and poet, Henry Vaughan (1621-1695). It was first published in his 1650 collection: Silex Scintillans (The Flaming Flint) and is included in the Poems for All Seasons Appendix of the Divine Office (1974).


THE WORLD by Henry Vaughan, 1650 (Public Domain)  

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
       Driv'n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov'd; in which the world
       And all her train were hurl's.
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 scatter'd lay, while he his eyes did pour
       Upon a flow'r.

The darksome statesman, hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog, mov'd there so slow,
       He did nor stay, nor go;
Condemning thoughts—like sad eclipses—scowl
       Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
       Pursued him with one shout.
Yet digg'd the mole, and lest his ways be found,
       Work'd under ground,
Where he did clutch his prey; but one did see
       That policy:
Churches and altars fed him; perjuries
       Were gnats and flies;
It rain'd about him blood and tears, but he
       Drank them as free.

The fearful miser on a heap of rust
Sate 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 hugg'd each one his pelf;
The downright epicure plac'd heav'n in sense,
       And scorn'd pretence;
While others, slipp'd into a wide excess
       Said little less;
The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,
       Who think them brave;
And poor, despisèd Truth sate counting by
       Their victory.

Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
And sing, and weep, soar'd 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 whisper'd thus,
“This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,
       But for His bride.”

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