Henry Vaughan - Nature poet and mystic

Henry Vaughan's early poetry

  • In 1646, Vaughan had a Latin translation published
  • In 1650, his first major volume of poetry, Silex Scintillans (The Fiery Flint or the Flashing Flint), was published
  • In 1651, Olor Iscanus (The Swan of Usk) followed. There were some prose translations mixed with the verse in this volume. Neither made a huge impact.

Henry Vaughan - A spiritual crisis

Shortly after this, Vaughan entered a spiritual crisis. He may been ill, the Royalist cause had been defeated, and his brother had been thrown out of his church. Vaughan began reading Herbert's poetry, and this seems to have had a great impact on him, leading to what we would call a conversion experience, a radical spiritual change. From then on, his poetry became markedly influenced by Herbert's and was almost entirely religious. He copied many of Herbert's poetic devices, often freely borrowing words and phrases.

Henry Vaughan and imagery from nature

It would, however, be a mistake to see Vaughan as merely imitating Herbert. He became a much more mystical poet than Herbert. This may have been connected with his Welsh background which led him to write about nature a great deal, and to draw his imagery from nature rather than from the intellectual concerns of the English poets. There are fewer conceits and much more nature symbolism or emblems. His method is more like that of the emblematic poets such as Francis Quarles or another mystic poet of the period, Thomas Traherne. Vaughan’s nature poetry is a far cry from the conventional pastoral poetry of the Elizabethans. He writes of the real countryside he would have seen every day.

Further publications by Henry Vaughan

  • In 1652 Vaughan published The Mount of Olives, or Solitary Devotions, his first volume of solely religious poems
  • In 1655 he published an enlarged edition of Silex Scintillans. The change was immediately obvious.

Both volumes became popular. Later volumes of poetry followed, but none managed to achieve the same recognition.

Henry Vaughan's death

Vaughan lived the rest of his life quietly at Newton. He died in 1695.