English, Department of


Date of this Version

Winter 1961


Comparative Literature 13:1 (Winter 1961), pp. 26-32


Published by Duke University Press on behalf of the University of Oregon.


Vaughan's The World ends with an epigraph from I John 2:16-17 which appears to say little about the work which it is supposed to illuminate: "All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the Eys, and the pride of life, is not of the father but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lusts thereof, but he that doth the will of God abideth for ever."'

Though the poem begins and ends with its brilliant perceptions of the sweep of eternity, its middle section seems to bog down in a random listing of sinners which is founded on no philosophic or literary principle. One does not know what the lover, the statesman, the miser, and the group of epicures and prodigals have in common, aside from sin; and one is not quite sure why one should think of just these sinners when one is viewing eternity. It is as if the poet, having lost his visionary powers, could only turn to the leaden talents of the versifier and the preacher.

If the poem is to be worth its reputation, it must have more to it than a half-dozen fine lines; it must be all of a piece, including the epigraph and the middle section. Even at first sight, the epigraph does appear to have some bearing on the poem, for both, in a sense, speak of two worlds: the epigraph mentions the perishing temporal world and the eternal world where the faithful abide forever; the poem gives us these in the form of the world of darkness and the world of "pure and endless light." Both speak of two loves appropriate to these two worlds. ...

Properly the explanation of meaning in Renaissance emblematic poetry must explore neither the surface nor the depths exclusively, neither the pattern nor the varying symbols of that pattern, but the interaction between these two where the poem's meaning is at once ancient and new, simple and complex.