Regeneration as a Metaphysical Poem
Although Henry Vaughan started his poetic career by writing amorous lyrics, he is noted mainly as the author of sacred verses, and not of secular ones. A deeply religious fervour, a profound contemplation of earthly life and life hereafter and a mystical visualization of Heaven and Nature and the relation between the two mark his major poetical creations.
Indeed, in the history of English literature, Vaughan is a formidable figure as a devotional poet of the seventeenth century. He has an honoured position in the small yet brilliant band of English religious poets, that includes, besides Vaughan himself, Donne, Herbert, Thompson and Hopkins.
In Vaughan is, indeed, found a grand religious poet. But he is, too, a metaphysical poet. His peculiar genius, as a religious poet, is indebted much to his metaphysical craft. In fact, the metaphysical genius is expressed equally in secular lyrics as well sacred. Apart from Milton and Thompson, metaphysical poets form the chief stream of religious poetry in English in the seventeenth century. Some of them, like Donne, Herbert and Vaughan himself, are actually memorable names in English poetry.
In metaphysical religious poetry, as in every species of religious verses, the poetic tone is based on faith in God, an ardent faith in His presence and graciousness, and in man’s after-life. Despite its technical singularity and stark precision, this faith is found to remain striking all through. In metaphysical religious poetry, there is no reservation about the existence of heaven or doubt about God’s gracious way to man. This faith is unqualified, profound. Vaughan’s Regeneration, along with his The Retreate and other religious poems, serves well to testify to this.
Regeneration, like Vaughan’s other religious poems, have its theme as well as inspiration from religion. The religious, rather Christian character of the poem, comes out particularly in its link to two Biblical passages from the Song of Solomon (Chapter 4) and the Gospel according to Saint John (Chapter 3). These passages echo the Christian concept of regeneration and the revelation of a true Christian spirit.
Regeneration marks a progress towards a new life-a life in the world next-after the thorough cleansing of the soul from all earthly impurities. Haunted with a sense of his own sinfulness, the poet remains in a depressed and dejected mood. He is a ‘ward’ of his own self, yet he remains still in bonds-the bonds of earthly sins and temptations. He perceives around him ‘high spring’, with ‘all the way primrosed’, yet is distressed in his inner self. He notes the advent of spring outside in the world of nature, but there is ‘frost within’ him. There is his bitter experience of the grim contrast between the seen and the unseen, between appearance and reality.
Yet, the poet advances. His soul proceeds from the earthly limitations of sins and temptations to a sort of spiritual illumination. Lost in self- disgust and despair, torn and tormented by his own sinfulness, the poet staggers on the hard and rocky path of life, but reaches ultimately, between steps and falls, the pinnacle-his spiritual destination. The poet’s soul, so long segregated from God under the burden of earthly sins, is now released from the bonds and roused to the spiritual revelation. By means of a pair of scales, found in the top, he has the realization that his pains and sufferings are much heavier than his joys and comforts. This is the moment when he seems to hear a divine command, and is ‘led to Full’ East to spy ‘a faire fresh field’, called ‘Jacobs Bed. This is a ‘virgin-soile’, unfrequented by and unknown to others, save ‘Prophets and friends of God’. This is where his soul. perceives the holy land of Jesus, beyond the bounds of the sinning world. The sensation is ecstatic, with the echoes from the Bible-
“The aire was all in spice And every bush
A garland wore………….”
The poet’s soul seems stirred by the rushing wind that is getting intenser and more powerful. The apprehension of the Divine presence is felt in this wind, the source of which is all unknown to him. The Divine Spirit descends on his soul, thoroughly cleansed of all earthly impurities. The poet’s spiritual enlightenment brings out of him an optimistic note in which his unequivocal faith in God and stark confidence in regeneration ring triumphantly-
“It whisper’d; where I please
Lord, then said I, On me one breath,
And let me dye before my death.”
This is all devotedly Christian, genuinely inspired with Christ’s message of regeneration and rehabilitation in eternal life beyond death.