Henry Vaughan and Seventeenth-Century Mysticism <Articles>
This paper deals with the relationship between Vaughan’s mysticism and the religio-political situation in his time. He finds a spiritual groan in stones and a ‘busy commerce’ between creatures and God. Moreover, he regards stones as ‘my fellow-creatures’ and thinks that they will be delivered from bondage at the last judgement. Vaughan often tries to hear God’s voice. The poet complains that his conversation with God cannot be maintained because the doctrine of the Holy Bible has been perverted by the fallen ‘zeal’ of Puritans in the confusion of the Civil War. He tries to unite his voice and the voice of Nature, and to create a ‘Symphony of Nature’. This idea is based on Jacob Behmen’s theory that God’s voice or the Divine sound of Nature arises from all creatures in great joyfulness, and restores ‘a Joyful Harmony’, wherewith the Eternal Spirit plays, or melodizes. Hermetic theory of music also helps Vaughan to describe the voices of Nature. And Vaughan’s attempt to gain a single united voice, which is often manifested in his mystical expressions, is the way to obtain the holy voice of God.
Moreover, in Vaughan’s poems, Puritan zeal seems to be condemned as the excessive heat of fire, which destroys all things in the alchemical process. Thomas and Henry Vaughan describe a Puritan as an owl, a kind of false alchemist, who cannot distinguish between a generating, good heat and a devastating, bad one. In addition, the poet describes the Puritans’ ‘New light’ as merely a ‘guilded beam’ in the process of false alchemy. These alchemical expressions can be read as the poet’s attempt to resist the zeal of contemporary Puritans. Vaughan tries to transform the ‘hard, stubborn flints of this world’ to gold by God’s Alchemy.