Sunday Morning Poem: Henry Vaughan, “The Night”

I love this poem by the Welsh poet Henry Vaughan (1621-95), for its marvelous depiction of the mystical life. His phrase “dazzling darkness” owes to John of the Cross, the 16th-century Spanish mystic whose Dark Night of the Soul sets out an apophatic spirituality, and Vaughan, too, urges the night, both literal and metaphorical, as the place to find God (or, rather, to be found in God).


                   John 3.2

         Through that pure virgin shrine,
That sacred veil drawn o’er Thy glorious noon,
That men might look and live, as glowworms shine,
             And face the moon,
    Wise Nicodemus saw such light
    As made him know his God by night.

         Most blest believer he!
Who in that land of darkness and blind eyes
Thy long-expected healing wings could see,
             When Thou didst rise!
    And, what can never more be done,
    Did at midnight speak with the Sun!

         O who will tell me where
He found Thee at that dead and silent hour?
What hallowed solitary ground did bear
             So rare a flower,
    Within whose sacred leaves did lie
    The fulness of the Deity?

         No mercy-seat of gold,
No dead and dusty cherub, nor carved stone,
But His own living works did my Lord hold
             And lodge alone;
    Where trees and herbs did watch and peep
    And wonder, while the Jews did sleep.

         Dear night! this world’s defeat;
The stop to busy fools; care’s check and curb;
The day of spirits; my soul’s calm retreat
             Which none disturb!
    Christ’s progress, and His prayer time;
    The hours to which high heaven doth chime;

         God’s silent, searching flight;
When my Lord’s head is filled with dew, and all
His locks are wet with the clear drops of night;
             His still, soft call;
    His knocking time; the soul’s dumb watch,
    When spirits their fair kindred catch.

         Were all my loud, evil days
Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark tent,
Whose peace but by some angel’s wing or voice
             Is seldom rent,
    Then I in heaven all the long year
    Would keep, and never wander here.

         But living where the sun
Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tire
Themselves and others, I consent and run
             To every mire,
    And by this world’s ill-guiding light,
    Err more than I can do by night.

         There is in God, some say,
A deep but dazzling darkness, as men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
             See not all clear.
    O for that night! where I in Him
    Might live invisible and dim!

Comments

  1. I’m not sure I will ever comprehend the “I in Him” turn. I am fairly certain that it can only be expressed in poetry if at all.

  2. Perfect :)

  3. Christian: I think that it gets expressed every time we take the sacrament. We take the elements into us, and thereby enter Him.

  4. Thanks, Jason, for reminding me of this poem. It has again prompted meditation on John 15:4-5: “Abide in me, and I in you. …”

  5. Yes! Yes! Yes!

  6. This is really great, Jason. I wasn’t familiar with it. Thank you. And I totally agree on the sacrament.

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