|Henry Vaughan (1621 − April 23, 1695) was a Welsh author, physician and metaphysical poet. Originally his poetry was quite secular, but inspired by fellow metaphysical poet, George Herbert he became more interested in religious themes.
Henry Vaughan was born in 1622 in Breconshire, Wales to Thomas Vaughan and Denise Morgan. Entering Oxford University in 1638 where he studied with his twin brother Thomas followed his Welsh childhood. In 1640 he left Oxford to study law in London for two years. It was also in London that he started his poetic apprenticeship at the Inns of Court. In 1642 he returned back to Breconshire at the onset of a Civil War. It is here that he served as secretary to the Circuit Chief Justice of the Great Sessions until 1645. At that time he joined the company of soldiers who fought for King Charles’s cause with Sir Herbert Price at Chester. By 1646 it is assumed he married Catherine Wise with whom he was to have a son and three daughters.
Before 1650 Vaughan’s poetry was mostly secular but in the period of 1650 and the years spanning there after his poetry turned toward spiritual issues and he became known as a mystical writer. The mysticism and Neoplatonism of Vaughn’s best known collection of poems, Silex Scintillans or The Fiery Flint link him to the metaphysical tradition of Donne, Herbert, and Crashaw, yet his verse continued to reflect his fondness for the wit and spareness of Jonson. The poems contained within this work express his anger and disappointment at the outcome of the Civil War. For example, within the poem In Prayer in Time of Persecution Vaughan rails against the Puritans for confiscating the woods of his family’s estate. Sometime after 1650 in addition to writing and translating works on the subject he practiced as a physician.
The following year (1651) Olor Iscanus or The Swan of Usk was published which was a collection of secular poetry with four prose translations. This piece was so named because of the River Usk, which flows near his hometown. Even though it was a secular work it did contain “rhapsodic passages about natural beauty”. In 1655 Silex Scintillans was reprinted with a second additional part. In this section he talks of an illness he had suffered which appears to have been spiritual and may have even been the cause of his conversion experience. In this preface he also contributes his spiritual awakening to the poems of George Herbert. It is definitely apparent that Vaughan’s inspired religious poetry is very reminiscent of Herbert’s The Temple.
He died on April 23, 1695, and was buried in Llansantffraed churchyard.
Source: Wilkes University
Henry Vaughan Poems
- Luminarium – Henry Vaughan – An excellent resource on the life and works of Henry Vaughan