Imagery, prosody, and meaning in Henry Vaughan's Silex scintillans

Betts, Robert Alwin (1968) Imagery, prosody, and meaning in Henry Vaughan's Silex scintillans. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Henry Vaughan's Silex scintillans (1650 and 1655), a collection of 129 devotional poems, is essentially an imaginative account of the poet's spiritual regeneration. Vaughan lived at a time when traditions were threatened by the rising tides of rationalism and materialism; an authoritarian and hierarchical pattern of life was shattered by the tumultuous Civil War in the 1640's. Inspired by the example and guided by the poetry of George Herbert, Vaughan abandoned secular verse and chose to counter the multiplicity and confusion of an increasingly godless age with the unity and order of his own private world of religious poetry, a world fully imbued with the divine presence. Although the influence of Herbert's The Temple may explain much about Vaughan's predilection for certain formal characteristics and something of his partiality for homely imagery and highly Biblical English, it is in the very finest achievements in Silex scintillans--such as "The Morning-watch", "The Night", and "Unprofitablenes"--that Vaughan stands most firmly upon his own considerable poetic abilities. -- Vaughan's personal afflictions and the collective misfortunes of the unsettled times moved him to action only after his sensitivity was sharpened by the dawn of religious consciousness. The extreme tension between the worlds of matter and of the spirit, revealed to Vaughan by his new awareness, provides not only a fruitful subject but also appears in the contrasting nature of the symbolism of light and darkness, which in almost every poem modifies the imagery. Vaughan's important images are taken from external nature and are in themselves constant throughout Silex scintillans. But because a poem is a composition of images which stand as a manifestation of the poet's subjective impressions of reality as perceived as a particular time, the metaphorical implications of Vaughan's images grow proportionately to his developing attitudes. -- A study of the relationship of imagery, prosody, and meaning in Silex scintillans suggests that Vaughan's collection has perhaps a more subtle but certainly no less valid unity than that in The Temple. As a work entire and sufficient in itself, Silex scintillans owes its continuity to a configuration of images ordered about the central metaphors of the divine spark, the spiritual pilgrimage, and the ultimate union with God who is Light. A careful consideration of representative pieces in parts I and II (originally published, respectively, in 1650 and 1655) indicates that the greatest of Vaughan's poetic achievements, when he attains it, is the felicitous articulation of sound and meaning which produces a whole so very much more grand in the experience of it than the sum of contributive elements seem to warrant. part I is the product of an immutable faith in battle with a recalcitrant will; in Part II, Vaughan's state of mind is such that there is no doubt that the conflict is finished and that the city of palms is in sight.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7086
Item ID: 7086
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 114-115.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1968
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Vaughan, Henry, 1621-1695--Silex scintillans

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