The Night

Jesus and NicodemusThis is a poem from the earlier (1650) edition of Silex Scintillans. Like many of Vaughan's poems, it is a meditation on a Bible verse. This poem focuses on John 3:2, taken from the account of a night-time meeting between Jesus and a Jewish religious leader called Nicodemus. The poem is partly about Nicodemus and his search for enlightenment at night and partly about the night itself and its spiritual significance. It highlights the paradox paradox of the night being a time of spiritual light, sight and revelation.

More on light: see Big Ideas > Light; see also Big Ideas > Apocalypse, Revelation, the End Times, the Second Coming


The first part (the first four stanzas) centres on Nicodemus. The phrase ‘pure Virgin-shrine' evokes the figure of Jesus who was believed to have been carried within the womb of the Virgin Mary at the Incarnation (John 1:1-5; John 1:50-14), as a shrine was believed to contain the holy presence of a saint. The image is again one of light, as in Ascension - Hymn: we cannot bear to look directly at the sun, but we can view the moon.

In his discussion with Nicodemus in John 3:19-21, Jesus talks about spiritual darkness and blindness and later in the same Gospel, there is a longer discussion about light (John 9:35-41). The biblical imagery chimes in naturally with Vaughan's own preferred imagery. Malachi 4:2 is then quoted in terms of Christ being the fulfilment of the predicted messenger (Malachi 3:1). Christ is the ‘Sun', and Vaughan cannot resist the Sun/Son of God) play on words, also seen in Donne's Good Friday 1613. Riding Westward.

The reference in Stanza 3 to flower and ‘sacred leafs' may be a reference to the clover-leaf image that St Patrick used to illustrate the way in which the Trinity is by 百楽兎available through Creative Commonsbelieved to be three persons in one. Stanza 4 points out that the meeting was not held in some sacred space like the Temple. The ‘mercy-seat' was the holiest part of the Jewish Temple (Exodus 25:20 AV; Hebrews 9:5 AV). They met amid ‘trees and herbs', in nature itself, which for Vaughan becomes sacred just because of the presence of Christ, the Son of God.


The second section, consisting of the next four stanzas, is a meditation on night itself. The apostrophe to night in stanza 5 is quite Shakespearean in its language. ‘Christs progress' refers to Jesus spending time in prayer at night. The first edition of the poem quoted Mark 1:35 and Luke 21:37 to show this. In stanza 6, the night is Christ's ‘knocking time', which refers to Revelation 3:20 and the image of Christ knocking at the door of the human heart. Only in the silence of the night can this knocking be heard.

Vaughan's mystical tendencies can be seen in his references to ‘The day of Spirits', ‘When Spirits their fair kinred (kindred, relatives) catch' and ‘unhaunted'. This ties in with Ascension-Hymn, but perhaps owes more too Welsh popular beliefs than Christian theology.

Final prayer

Night is the natural time of meditation. The day (stanza 8) is just too busy. The Sun now is referred to as ‘this worlds ill-guiding light': we cannot see truly in the business of the day. The poem concludes with a final prayer in stanza 9. At the heart of God is ‘A deep but dazzling darkness'. This is not his perception (‘some say'); nevertheless it chimes in exactly with his imagery of light. This is the final oxymoron, enshrining the paradox that light can only be seen in darkness. The final plea for invisibility is the mystic's plea not to have to live in this world, but to be able to live in a purely spiritual world.

Investigating The Night
  • Read through Vaughan's The Night
    • Why is the night ‘this worlds defeat' and ‘Gods silent, searching flight'?
    • Can you explain the oxymoron of ‘dazzling darkness'?
  • Examine the stanza form
    • What can you say about how it works?
  • How do you welcome the night?
    • Have you ever received revelation then that you don't think you would have received during the day?
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