Poet's Pick April 8
Henry Vaughan: "Regeneration"
Selected by Bruce Bond
National Poetry Month 2013

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Bruce Bond's Poetry Month Pick, April 8, 2013

"Regeneration"
by Henry Vaughan (1621–1695)

A Ward, and still in bonds, one day
         I stole abroad;
It was high-spring, and all the way
    Primros’d and hung with shade;
    Yet, was it frost within,
         And surly winds
Blasted my infant buds, and sinne
    Like clouds ecclips’d my mind.

Storm’d thus; I straight perceiv’d my spring
         Meere stage, and show,
My walke a monstrous, mountain’d thing,
    Rough-cast with Rocks, and snow;
    And as a Pilgrims Wye,
         Far from reliefe,
Measures the melancholy skye,
    Then drops, and rains for grief,

So sigh’d I upwards still; at last
         ’Twixt steps, and falls
I reached the pinacle, where plac’d
    I found a paire of scales;
    I tooke them up and layd
         In th’ one, late paines;
The other smoake, and pleasures weigh’d,
    But prov’d the heavier graines.

With that, some cried, Away; straight I
         Obey’d, and led
Full East, a faire, fresh field could spy;
    Some call’d it, Jacob’s bed,
    A Virgin-soile, which no
         Rude feet ere trod,
Where (since he stept there,) only go
    Prophets, and friends of God.

Here, I repos’d; but scarse well set,
         A grove descried
Of stately height, whose branches met
    And mixt on every side;
    I entered, and once in
         (Amazed to see’t)
Found all was chang’d, and a new spring
    Did all my senses greet;

The unthrift sun shot vitall gold,
         A thousand peeces,
And heaven its azure did unfold,
    Checkur’d with snowy fleeces;
    The aire was all in spice
         And every bush
A garland wore; Thus fed my Eyes,
    But all the Eare lay hush.

Only a little Fountain lent
         Some use for Eares,
And on the dumbe shades language spent
    The music of her teares;
    I drew her near, and found
         The cistern full
Of divers stones, some bright and round,
    Others ill-shap’d, and dull.

The first (pray marke,) as quick as light
         Danc’d through the floud,
But, th’last, more heavy than the night
    Nail’d to the Center stood;
    I wondered much, but tyr’d
         At last with thought,
My restless Eye that still desir’d
    As strange an object brought.

It was a banke of flowers, where I descried
         (Though ’twas mid-day,)
Some fast asleepe, others broad-eyed
    And taking in the Ray;
    Here musing long, I heard
         A rushing wind
Which still increas’d, but whence it stirr’d
    No where I could not find;

I turn’d me round, and to each shade
         Dispatched an Eye,
To see, if any leafe had made
    Least motion, or Reply,
    But while I listening sought
         My mind to ease
By knowing where ’twas, or where not,
    It whispered, Where I please.

Lord, then said I, on me one breath,
And let me die before my death!

 

* Bruce Bond Comments:
Only the marvelous is beautiful.  So claimed André Breton, and I have often returned to that simple and striking perception, that declaration of sensibility, as one of his most incisive and useful, revolutionary even, the way it suggests the aesthetic requires a certain strangeness, a certain resistance to the conventions of literalism and non-contradiction.  The idea offers one among many challenges to the notion of form and rhetoric, let alone truth-telling, as sufficient in themselves to take us the distance, to lead us to the most memorable gardens.  Clearly the poem “Regeneration” by Henry Vaughan takes us on such a journey, in which the beauty of the form gives flesh to the iconography of spiritual regeneration, where the smoke of pleasure is heavier than the speaker’s pain.  While this condition echoes that of inner winter and the speaker’s sin; unlike the characteristic Herbert poem, Vaughan does not explain.  He suspends the sense of wonder, weds it to anguish and bewilderment, as he does later when he passes from fountain stones to flowers, leaving some margin to desire, attempting to read more deeply in the world mirror.  Regarding the poem’s form, while much has been made in recent times of the poem as a process as opposed to a thing, it seems to me that poetry’s most inclusive potential (and part of the enduring power of this poem) derives from both, from the animating tension between spontaneous liquidity and chiseled resilience, a sense of what that liquid is poured through.  Little is more fundamental to art than this, than the ongoing conversation between matter and spirit, body and breath.  And while this poem may argue for the possibility of turning from the sins of pleasure, it ends with a more complex and satisfying resonance, more unstable than its ostensible message.  The holy spirit testifies as a creature of pleasure, its joys infused with those of the senses, with the poem’s journey and means, both physical and spiritual, to make that journey live.


About Bruce Bond:
Bruce Bond is the author of nine published books of poetry, most recently Choir of the Wells (Etruscan, 2013), The Visible (LSU, 2012), Peal (Etruscan, 2009), and Blind Rain (LSU, 2008).  In addition he has two other books forthcoming: The Other Sky (poems in collaboration with the painter Aron Wiesenfled, intro by Stephen Dunn, Etruscan Press) and For the Lost Cathedral (LSU Press).  Presently he is a Regents Professor of English at the University of North Texas and Poetry Editor for American Literary Review.


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