A mystical nature poem
This is an excellent example of Vaughan's mystical nature poetry. At times, it sounds almost as if it had been written by a Romantic poet, but in its development, it becomes more like an emblem poem, where Vaughan finds symbolic biblical meaning in the details of the waterfall.
The rhythm of falling water
It consists of three stanzas of unequal length, the last two stanzas being iambic tetrameter couplets, the form used at times by a number of metaphysical poets, such as Crashaw and Marvell. The first stanza, however, is quite remarkable, in that its rhythms imitate the movement of a waterfall. The short lines represent the drop of the water, when the water can seem almost suspended in space. The Victorian poet Alfred Tennyson achieves a similar effect in his poem The Lotus-Eaters.
The symbolic meaning is suggested in this first stanza:
All must descend
Not to an end
Suggesting its application to human life, which does not end at death. Rather, the rush of the waterfall ‘quickens' the water. Here, Vaughan employs a pun, using it in a way no longer current. The alternative meaning of ‘quick' in the seventeenth century was ‘alive'. So the water actually makes us alive and
Rise to a longer course more bright and brave
If we have already read other Vaughan poems, we will know he means the life of the soul after death. Another Christian poet, like George Herbert, might have talked of a physical resurrection, but Vaughan is rather more Platonic, and sees the soul separating from the body, any sort of body, at death.
Water used as a symbol
This hints that maybe the water itself is used symbolically. After all, water is associated in Christian theology with baptism, which is a sign of Regeneration, the title of another of Vaughan's poems. So the ‘grave' could be a metonymy for death or for baptism.
More on baptism: see Jordan I by George Herbert
Clearly, however, this is a specific waterfall in a particular place, so, whatever the symbolism; Vaughan actually enjoyed it as a real natural object. He addresses it directly in the second stanza: ‘where oft I have sate'. He thinks emblematically of the drops of water as human souls. Just as there is a cycle of water eventually returning the drops to the stream, so there is a cycle of the soul. It starts from ‘a sea of light', that is, heaven. Surely then it will return again: ‘Why should frail flesh doubt any more?'
The second stanza sees the water as cleansing from sin and spiritual blindness. Vaughan refers to Revelation 7:17, where Christ is the Lamb, and the water points to the Holy Spirit, who is presented as the essential guide to truth: ‘Unless that Spirit leads his minde' (echoing 1 Corinthians 2:10-14). This is the same Spirit that ‘hatch'd all' at the Creation (Genesis 1:2).
However the poet notes that at the base of the waterfall, the water ‘In streaming rings restagnates all' as it ripples out to the banks and loses all momentum. His final prayer, then, is to be washed along by God's ‘Channel', so that he himself does not fall victim to stagnation.
Investigating The Water-fall
- Read through Vaughan's The Water-fall
- Compare this poem with his The Retreate.
- What similarities in thought do you notice?
- What differences do you see in the way it is expressed?
- What is ‘My glorious liberty'?
- How might he stagnate?
- Can you unpack the symbolic meaning of the last few lines?
- Have you noticed any other emblems or symbolic meanings?
- Can you identify with seeing meanings in everyday objects or features of nature?
- What strikes you most in the poem?
(see Themes and significant ideas > The Transience of Life).
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. 2Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3saying, Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads. 4And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 512,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 612,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 712,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 812,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed. 9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying, Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen. 13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come? 14I said to him, Sir, you know. And he said to me, These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
1And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. 2And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, 3Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. 4And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. 5Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. 6Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. 7Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. 8Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand. 9After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. 13And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 6Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written, What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him - 10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
1And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. 2For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. 4And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. 6Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 7But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. 6And God said, Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. 7And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. 9And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear. And it was so. 10God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11And God said, Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth. And it was so. 12The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. 14And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth. And it was so. 16And God made the two great lights - the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night - and the stars. 17And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. 20And God said, Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens. 21So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth. 23And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. 24And God said, Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds - livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds. And it was so. 25And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 26Then God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28And God blessed them. And God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth. 29And God said, Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food. And it was so. 31And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 4And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. 5And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. 6And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. 8And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. 9And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. 10And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. 11And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. 12And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 13And the evening and the morning were the third day. 14And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: 15And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. 16And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. 17And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. 19And the evening and the morning were the fourth day. 20And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. 21And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 22And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. 23And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. 24And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. 25And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 26And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 28And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. 29And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. 31And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Used for the seeking of direct spiritual encounter with God, usually through a life of self-denial and contemplation.
In English Literature, it denotes a period between 1785-1830, when the previous classical or enlightenment traditions and values were overthrown, and a freer, more individual mode of writing emerged.
A particular form of symbolic imagery, where a picture is followed by a text to explain its hidden meaning.
In literature, something that is chosen to take on a particular meaning by the writer, e.g. clouds as symbols of mutability.
Relating to, or contained in, the Bible. The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament.
The technical name for a verse, or a regular repeating unit of so many lines in a poem. Poetry can be stanzaic or non-stanzaic.
A term used of speech rhythms in blank verse; an iambic rhythm is an unstressed, or weak, beat followed by a stressed, or strong, beat. It is a rising metre.
A line of verse consisting of four metrical feet (in modern verse) or eight feet (in classical verse).
A rhyming 2-line unit of verse.
1. A branch of philosophy
2. The Metaphysical Poets were a group of seventeenth century English poets who used philosophical ideas extensively in their imagery and especially in conceits.
The musical effect of the repetition of stresses or beats, and the speed or tempo at which these may be read.
1. Belonging to the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). 2. Resembling attitudes or behaviour considered characteristic of the time of Victoria and seen as over-strict, prudish, old-fashioned.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1809 – 1892, a British poet.
A play on the meaning of words, often for comic effect.
The spirit which gives life to a human being; the part which lives on after death; a person's inner being (personality, intellect, emotions and will) which distinguishes them from animals.
Name originally given to disciples of Jesus by outsiders and gradually adopted by the Early Church.
Literally, rising to life again. In the Bible it is specifically applied to Jesus Christ's coming to life after his crucifixion; and from thence, to the hope of all believers that after death, they will be raised to a new life in heaven.
1. Relating to Plato or his philosophy.
2. Describing a relationship which is affectionate but not sexual.
The study of God.
The immersion in or pouring over of water, in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to signify the washing away of away of sin. Baptism in Christian churches marks the acceptance of the baptised child or adult into the church.
Figure of speech, wherein a certain quality of a thing or a person is used to represent it entirely
In many religions, the place where God dwells, and to which believers aspire after their death. Sometimes known as Paradise.
Title (eventually used as name) given to Jesus, refering to an anointed person set apart for a special task such as a king.
The third person of the Trinity (God in three persons). Came upon the disciples at Pentecost after Jesus had ascended in to heaven.
The Bible describes God as the unique supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe.