Restless soul

‘Man' here stands for humankind. This poem is strongly influenced by George Herbert's The Pulley. Both seek to explain the restlessness experienced by human beings. For Herbert, it is because God has created this longing to prevent us becoming too content with life here and now. For Vaughan, the restlessness remains something of a mystery, only to be explained (as in his The Retreate) by the belief that the human soul does not belong here in the material world, but longs to return to heaven, whence it came: ‘He knows he hath a home, but scarce knows where'.

Birds and bees

The poet situates humankind in the ‘chain of being'. The first two stanzas compare human beings to the rest of creation, which seems to have its own instinctive rhythms. He cites birds, bees, and flowers quoting the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25-30 about the way birds are fed and flowers clothed by God in beauty which surpasses the riches of King Solomon. Their beauty comes out of a natural harmony.

No rest

The final two stanzas focus on man's state: he is rootless, anxious, frivolous (‘hath either toyes'), and ‘Irregular', that is, lacking harmony and rhythm in life. Even stones have a sense of home (‘By some hid sense their maker gave'), which may be a reference to compasses and magnets which were often called ‘loadstones'. The final image is of a shuttle and loom,Shuttle and loom, photo by Lorio available through Creative Commons moving back and forth, back and forth. The image is a classical one, in which the Fates are seen as weaving human lives. Vaughan takes it over for Christianity: God ‘order'd motion, but ordain'd no rest'. He like Herbert, recalls the words of St Augustine, a fifth century Christian theologian, that man is restless until he finds his rest in God.

Investigating Man
  • Read through Vaughan's Man
    • Would you agree with Vaughan that humans are typically restless?
    • Does the poem leave any hope that peace is possible?
  • Compare this poem with The Retreate
    • Where does the emphasis differ?
  • Look at the stanza structure and rhyme scheme
    • Are they suited to convey the sense?

(see Themes and significant ideas > Being Human).

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