Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poets: Analysis of HENRY VAUGHAN

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Henry Vaughan, born in 1621 in Breconshire, Wales, and died in 1695, is an English poet often associated with the Metaphysical school of poetry. Though not as well-known as some of his contemporaries like John Donne or George Herbert, Vaughan remains an important figure in the landscape of 17th-century English literature.

Literary Background and Early Influences:

Vaughan was educated at Jesus College, Oxford, and initially intended to study law. However, the English Civil War interfered with his studies, and he returned to Wales. He trained as a doctor, but his lifelong passion was poetry. He was profoundly influenced by the King James Bible, classical poets, and the English Metaphysical poets, notably George Herbert.

Poetic Schools and Movements:

Vaughan is often classified as a Metaphysical poet, a term coined by Samuel Johnson to describe a loose group of British lyric poets of the 17th century. Like other poets of this school, Vaughan is known for his elaborate metaphors, classical references, and deep spiritual themes.

Phases and Themes in Poetic Oeuvre:

*Early Phase: Vaughan's early work was secular, influenced by the classical tradition. His first published work, "Poems, with the Tenth Satire of Juvenal Englished," (1646) was not particularly well-received.

*Religious Turn: Vaughan’s mature period is marked by his deepening Christian faith and shift in focus from secular to spiritual themes in his poetry and his introduction to the work of George Herbert. His major collection, "Silex Scintillans" (1650; 1655), focuses on Christian themes of divine love, redemption, and mystical union with God.

*Nature and Mysticism: In works like "Olor Iscanus" (1651), Vaughan demonstrates a mystic’s vision of nature as a manifestation of the divine, a theme that would later influence the Romantic poets.

*Later Life: Vaughan wrote less in his later years, focusing on his medical practice and local community work. However, his influence as a religious poet continued to grow.


Vaughan’s work was mostly forgotten after his death but saw a revival in the 20th century, especially among scholars and poets interested in Christian mysticism and metaphysical poetry. His influence on the Romantic poets, particularly Wordsworth, has also been noted. Vaughan is now considered a major 17th-century religious poet, second only to George Herbert in the Metaphysical tradition.


In his lifetime, Vaughan was not widely honored or acclaimed. However, the renewed interest in his work in the 20th and 21st centuries has secured his place in the canon of English literature.


Henry Vaughan is an exemplary figure of the Metaphysical poetic tradition, notable for his ability to blend the secular with the spiritual, the classical with the Christian. He stands as a bridge between the spiritual inquiries of the 17th century and the Romantic ideals of the 18th and 19th centuries. Vaughan's contributions to English literature, particularly religious and mystical poetry, make him a significant, though sometimes overlooked, figure in the literary tradition. His work continues to be read and studied as an important facet of Metaphysical and 17th-century English poetry.

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