Analysis of Regeneration by Henry Vaughan
Regeneration is the opening poem in Vaughan’s volume of poems which appeared under the heading of Silex Scintillans. This poem contains a symbolic account of a brief journey which takes the poet to a mysterious place where the soil is virgin and this seems unfrequented, except by saints and Christ’s followers. Here he seems to perceive the Divine presence with Divine graces. There comes his revelation, his illumination of an unearthly abode, that is pure and free from all impurities and evils. His soul seems to rise above all earthly limitations- from all sins and temptations.
This very subject-matter of the poem is suggestive of a pilgrim’s progress from a mood of utter despondency to one of triumphant exhilaration. When the poet begins his walk, it is, no doubt, spring outside, but frost is within him, caused by his own sense of sinfulness. Towards the end of the poem, the poet becomes conscious of the Divine presence as well as Divine grace. So he prays for His blessing and for dying before his actual death. He may, thus, achieve a regeneration, a spiritual rebirth.
This concept of the Pilgrim’s Progress, inherent in the poem, strikes a two-fold assumption. First is the religious character of the poem. The other is its symbolic undertone. In fact, Vaughan’s poem is both religious and symbolic.
Regeneration, like Vaughan’s The Retreate and The World, is found to draw its theme and inspiration from religion, rather Christianity. It is related to the couple of the Biblical passages (King Solomon: 4 and The Gospel according to St John 3). The poem marks, as already asserted, a progress towards a new life in the world next, after a thorough cleansing of the soul. The thought here is all religious. The poet craves for his spiritual illumination through earthly trials and tribulations. There is his realization of the presence of God and he reposes his faith fully on Him. The poem ends on a note of spiritual optimism, dear to a true Christian:
“Lord, then said I, on me one breath,
And let me dye before my death.”
The poem traces rather the progress of a pilgrim through the rough and slippery earthly way to the shrine of Paradisal blessing and illumination. Again, the Pilgrim’s Progress is a belief which is not merely Christian, but carries within it a symbolic undertone. The Pilgrim is a true and ardent Christian, and his progress indicates the Christian revelation of a higher life, a regeneration beyond the bound of earthly life. His journey amid ‘steps’ and ‘falls’ bears out the doubts and distractions that confront and deter him in his course of Christian piety.
Moreover, the poem has a number of symbols, deepening its mystical note. In this connection, two chief symbols-water and wind-may be mentioned. Water is taken as a symbol of vitality and rejuvenation. Wind stands as a symbol for divine presence and omnipotence. Again, there is the mention of spring in a symbolic sense. There is external spring, all bright and lively. There is also the poet’s inner spring which is all lost in frost. These two aspects symbolize the contrast between appearance and reality, between the deceptive appearance and the grim reality.
One more symbolic aspect is evident in the poet’s reference to the two kinds of stones. One kind is light and round and the other, heavy and ill-shaped. One dances lightly, while the other thickens and settles heavily. They seem to represent two responses in human mind- joy, light and sportive, and sorrow, thick and static. The last, but not least, symbolic representation is the two groups of persons-one fast asleep and the other watching sunshine with open eyes. The former group represents those men who are indifferent and callous to everything around. The group indicates those persons who are acutely conscious of their environment. Symbolism, indeed, forms a key element in the poem, and is magnificently struck in the concluding portion:
“It whisper’ed; ‘Where I please”,
This is the symbolic presentation of the Biblical wind that blows where it likes, and evidently based upon Jesus’s saying
“The wind bloweth where it listeth.”
Finally, there is the technically fine artistry of the poem. The poem is deep and serious in thought. But it is equally rich and impressive in the poetical technique.
Vaughan’s poem is metaphysical, and contains characteristic metaphysical conceits, as in ‘frost within’, ‘surly winds’, ‘infants buds”, and sin like ‘clouds eclipsed my mind’. Again, there is a metaphysical conceits in the pair of scales, used to weigh the poet’s present pain against his pleasures and ease. The symbolic picture of the two kinds of stone is a conceit, just as the mysterious wind blowing all over is.
Vaughan’s metaphysical poem has also vivid though precise imagery to add to its technical quality. The poet’s journey through a rough and rocky way, his despondent, melancholy look, a fair, fresh field, a grove of stately height-all form the clear and concrete imagery of the poem. Vaughan’s eyes for natural beauty is patent all over the poem and specifically marked in the picture of the prodigal sun, shooting its golden rays, or of the azure sky, chequered with snowy fleeces.
The poem, Regeneration is written in a simple language, yet it abounds in felicitous words and phrase. There are a number of striking phrases which effectively convey the sense, such as: “and all the way primrosed, and hung with shade”, “and surly winds blasted my infant buds”; “meere stage, meere show”, “Stormed thus”. The intensity of feeling gives to the poem a lyrical quality which is enhanced by the musical effects, produced by the poet’s skilful rhyming and versification and by such rhetorical devices as alliteration as in the following “monstrous, mountained thing”: “rough-cast with rocks and snow”. “measure the melancholy sky”: “full east, a fair, fresh field” and, so on.