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The Monday Poem > "The Retreat" by Henry Vaughan (December 1, 2015)

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message 1: by Greg (last edited Dec 01, 2015 01:34PM) (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
THE RETREAT
by Henry Vaughan

Happy those early days! when I
Shined in my angel infancy.
Before I understood this place
Appointed for my second race,
Or taught my soul to fancy aught
But a white, celestial thought;
When yet I had not walked above
A mile or two from my first love,
And looking back, at that short space,
Could see a glimpse of His bright face;
When on some gilded cloud or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour,
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity;
Before I taught my tongue to wound
My conscience with a sinful sound,
Or had the black art to dispense
A several* sin to every sense,
But felt through all this fleshly dress
Bright shoots of everlastingness.
  O how I long to travel back,
And tread again that ancient track!
That I might once more reach that plain
Where first I left my glorious train,
From whence th' enlightened spirit sees
That shady city of palm trees.

But ah! my soul with too much stay*
Is drunk, and staggers in the way.
Some men a forward motion love;
But I by backward steps would move,
And when this dust falls to the urn,
In that state I came, return.

Footnotes from book:
*several = different
*stay = delay

(Written in 1650)


message 2: by Greg (last edited Dec 01, 2015 01:05PM) (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
A little late with my Monday Poem due to work chaos, but here it is! I was inspired by Laura's choice to choose another older religious poem. This is probably my favorite poem from the period with religious themes. It has always deeply touched me.

I think even those of different faiths or no faith at all could relate to it because it's full of feelings that are so deeply human .. for me, an almost unspeakably deep longing for lost childhood innocence, for simplicity. It brings tears to my eyes, not for any theological reason but because of the purity of feeling in it, the quiet regret.

It makes me think of the Psalm, "As the deer pants for streams of water ..." The thirst of the poem touches me.

I included the footnotes from my book to help with the obselete language usage. Even with that, it takes a little untangling, but for me, it's worth it. :)


message 3: by Leslie (last edited Dec 01, 2015 01:39PM) (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments I like the meter of this -- another poem that begs to be said aloud.

I will have to come back and revisit this but my first impression is that I particularly like the bit "Some men a forward motion love; /But I by backward steps would move," which goes so well with the earlier
"Before I taught my tongue to wound
My conscience with a sinful sound,
Or had the black art to dispense
A several sin to every sense,"


The desire to return to the innocence of childhood is so clearly portrayed!


message 4: by Greg (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
Leslie wrote: "I like the meter of this -- another poem that begs to be said aloud.

I will have to come back and revisit this but my first impression is that I particularly like the bit "Some men a forward motio..."


I completely agree Leslie!


message 5: by LauraT (last edited Dec 02, 2015 01:55AM) (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 13414 comments Mod
It reminded me of The Lamb and The Tyger by Blake - or better the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience.

Still, as when I've read this or similar poems - or esseys for all that - I can't say I miss my innocence years.
I've never wanted to "stay behind", when kid I wanted to grow up to "understand" and "know". Now that I know i'll never be able of knowing and understanding all, still I prefere myself now than at 10, or less.
Ok I'd like siome years less on my ID, some wrinkles less and some kilos less, but all the same I esteem experience more than innocence ...


message 6: by Greg (last edited Dec 02, 2015 04:28AM) (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
LauraT wrote: "It reminded me of The Lamb and The Tyger by Blake - or better the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience.

Still, as when I've read this or similar poems - or esseys for all that - I can't ..."


It reminds me very much of Blake's way of seeing things Laura, both in Songs of Innocence and of Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

And I think you're right - the idea that childhood or innocence are "better" is idealized. Innocence can be callous sometimes because it doesn't really understand how others feel - it's experience that deepens our empathy! Goodness knows children are not always kind!

I think experience purifies us as much as it soils us - it teaches us to control our actions and impulses in ways that are very good! A child president would NOT be a good thing! There is something to be said for the wisdom and restraint of age for sure.

At the same time, children aren't cynical in the way adults are, at least not at first. There's something especially horrible in the decisions adults can make to cause others harm in deliberate coolness of intellect, justifying horrors by cynical logic. At work recently, I was talking to a coworker about a situation in which people were being hurt, and she told me, "oh, they're used to it so it doesn't matter." Children lash out when they're afraid or frustrated or confused, but they at least don't usually justify themselves like that!

Also, I highly relate to "my soul with too much stay / Is drunk, and staggers in the way." Sometimes I get in the way of my better self with my self-consciousness and worldliness. And I can well understand the author's longing for unselfconscious rightness, for a sureness that one's feet are on the right path, for the feeling of easy communion the author describes in his own childhood.


message 7: by LauraT (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 13414 comments Mod
When people talk about children's innocence I alsways think of Lord of the Flies.
And yes, maybe children are not cynical. But they can be hard and bad or mean. I've seen it looking at my kids and their friends


message 8: by Greg (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
LauraT wrote: "When people talk about children's innocence I alsways think of Lord of the Flies.
And yes, maybe children are not cynical. But they can be hard and bad or mean. I've seen it looking at..."


Very true Laura! I love Lord of the Flies, and unfortunately, some of my childhood resembled that .. not quite so extreme of course but I definitely recognized the types. If the adults had disappeared from my junior high school, I do believe it would've been exactly like Lord of the Flies in 5 minutes. I would've feared for my life, no doubt. Children can be terrifying.


message 9: by LauraT (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 13414 comments Mod
Greg wrote: "LauraT wrote: "When people talk about children's innocence I alsways think of Lord of the Flies.
And yes, maybe children are not cynical. But they can be hard and bad or mean. I've see..."


I live very close to the high school where both my children study. Joking - but up to a certain point - I'm used to say that when I see the mass of them coming out of school - or entering it - I'm scared to death by them!
Definitly the "pulses" at that age needs some "external" control. The control of experience


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