Imagery and symbolism in Regeneration

Usually in metaphysical poetry the imagery is the centre of any analysis of the poetry. This is true here but a big difference is the fact that the imagery is being used as a source of symbols rather than as a conceit.

Landscapes and a journey

As we have seen, the source of the imagery is from Nature. It works in an interesting way. For example, in stanza 2, the poet speaks of ‘my spring'. No one can own spring, but figuratively we can talk of our inner weather and our inner seasons. Vaughan has internalised the images. Yet our inner journey produces a landscape which any ‘Pilgrims Eye' will see: there is a degree of universality to it. This parallels the real world: when people hike up a mountain, it is the same mountain for everyone, yet each person will experience it and internalise their memories of it uniquely. It remains a natural process, even if it is being given supernatural meaning as well. This is akin to the idea of the correspondence of microcosm and macrocosm seen in Donne.

A Pilgrim's Eye

Vaughan uses the ‘Pilgrims Eye' as a simile. He seems to be saying: ‘It was like being a pilgrim caught in some featureless place, far from anywhere, looking into this blank sky…' Ironically of course, the poet is a pilgrim, making his spiritual journey: that is the central image of the poem. This provides insight into a mystical use of language in which the categories of the natural, the literal, the figurative and supernatural lose their sharp boundaries and begin to merge into one another. There are moments in Wordsworth's poetry when the same thing happens. With Wordsworth it is a kind of ‘nature mysticism'; with Vaughan, it is still strongly Christian.

God's generosity

Beyond this, there are some metaphors that stand out without having symbolic meaning loaded on to them, such as

The unthrift Sunne shot vital gold
A thousand pieces

This is a very effective description of sunlight. ‘Unthrift' means ‘generous', and stands in contrast to the ‘surly winds' of the poet's own inner weather. It points to God's generosity and grace.

Investigating Regeneration
  • What images stand out for you in Regeneration?
    • Are they ‘symbolic' or just descriptive?
  • How does Vaughan appeal to our senses in this poem as well as to our mind?
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