The Retreat by Henry Vaughan
About the Poet
Henry Vaughan was born in Brecknockshire, Wales. He received his early education in Wales and in 1638 matriculated at Jesus College, Oxford. He left Oxford without taking the degree and started studying law in London. He fought Civil war and served on the Royalist side in South Wales.
Summary Of The Retreat by Henry Vaughan
The poet remembers his childhood which was a happy time, marked of innocence and ignorance. In his childhood, he was not far from God and used to shine like an angel. The was the time when he knew only purity of heaven and was away from the crooked ways of life.
In his childhood, he used to see the reflection of God in beautiful things of the world like cloud or flower.
Man is close to God in childhood but as he grows up he moves away from God due to materialism.
In this stanza, the poet remembers innocent days of his childhood which was free from wicked nature and unaware of any sinful word which would hurt others’ conscience. He used to feel the bright rays of eternity through his body.
The poet wishes to go back to his early childhood and experience those happy days once again. He wants to enjoy the golden memories of that period from where he had seen heaven from close quarters.
The poet due to his long stay in this materialistic world cannot go back to the heavenly days of his childhood. He says that people wish to move forward, he wishes to go back but he cannot do so. After his death, he wishes that his soul should return to heaven in the same glorious state from where it came.
Important Questions and Answers
1. Identify an example of half-rhyme in this poem.
Answers may vary. Examples: “I” and “eternity,” “spy” and “eternity,” “wound” and “sound,” and “love” and “move.”
2. How are the ideas in Henry Vaughan’s introduction reflected in this particular poem?
Answers may vary. Example: In the introduction to Henry Vaughan’s work, the reader is told that his verses contained alchemical themes. One facet of alchemy was the desire to discover a means to indefinitely prolonging life. In this poem, Vaughan reflects on his youth, and by the end, reveals he wishes he had stayed forever young and wishes to be that way again.
3. In your own words, explain the first stanza of this poem. What does Vaughan miss? How does he believe he has changed? Use quotes from the poem to support your translation.
Ans. In the first stanza, Vaughan writes that he misses the days of
“angel-infancy.” When he was a child, he could gaze at a flower or cloud for an hour and see in them “shadows of eternity.” He feels he has changed because now he knows how to hurt people (“taught my tongue to wound”) and has sinful thoughts (“conscience with a sinful sound”).
4. In the last stanza, how does Vaughan see himself as different from other men?
Ans. Vaughan writes that while most men wish to move forward in time, perhaps working toward success, love, and rewards, he wishes to move backwards. He wishes that once he dies, he will become as pure as he was when he was born: “And when this dust falls to the urn/In that state I came, return.”
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