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Eleanor’s story: The Retreat by Henry Vaughan Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Posted by carryapoem in Stories.
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This poem has meant a lot to me since school days.  So many of us would never have dared to read (let alone love) poetry without the intervention of an inspired teacher.  I was lucky to encounter someone who knew how to turn teenagers on to the Metaphysical Poets.  This is my favourite — even more so now, forty years later, when I can relate directly to regret about miss-spent adulthood, and really value the innocence of childhood.  It doesn’t matter at all that the religious message is lost on me these days: the essential call to goodness and simplicity is just as relevant to a non-believer.  It’s the energy of the poem that captures me: the effortless tripping of the words, and the final message of hope, with a vision of a goal worth striving for — even if it’s a goal I may never reach.

The Retreat
by Henry Vaughan

HAPPY those early days, when I
Shin’d in my angel-infancy !
Before I understood this place
Appointed for my second race,
Or taught my soul to fancy ought
But a white, celestial thought ;
When yet I had not walk’d 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 flow’r,
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 sev’ral sin to ev’ry 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’ enlighten’d 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.

Eleanor Updale is a writer. You can read more about her on her website.