Happy those early days! when I
Shin’d in my angel-infancy.
Before I understood this place
Appoint’d 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 gild’d cloud or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour,
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shodows of eternity;
Before I taught my tongue to wound
My conscience with a sinful sound,
Or had the black art to dispence
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’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.
– – – written by Henry Vaughan
Poem Analysis :
Henry Vaughan was a Welsh poet who wrote in the latter half of the 17th century. He experienced a conversion to Christianity later in life, and much of his work is marked by this.
“The Retreat” is based on the belief that we exist as souls in heaven before we are born on Earth. Those who follow this belief also believe that babies are inherently sin-free, as they have just come from heaven. Throughout the poem, the speaker references this “angel-infancy” when life was perfect and filled with the presence of God, his “first love.” He longs to return to this idyllic existence before he became marked by sin, “Before I taught my tongue to wound/My conscience with a sinful sound.”
In this poem, Henry Vaughan is bemoaning his sins and wishing that he could go back to a purer state, one where his soul was free from sin. In the poem, he talks about how, before this life, his soul was pure and sinless. He contrasts that pure state with his state on earth where he has a different kind of sin for every sense in his body. He closes by saying that he hopes that there will not be much more of a delay before he can return to this sinless state of being.