Nox Oculis

Henry Vaughan (1622-1695)

Mystique et poète métaphysique anglais.

Né à Newton Saint Briget, il fit des études universitaires de droit à Oxford et à Londres, et étudia également la médecine, qu'il exerça quelque temps, de même qu'il traduisit et écrivit des ouvrages dans ce domaine. En 1642, lorsque la guerre civile éclata en Angleterre, il s'installa dans le Breconshire. L'œuvre de Vaughan comprend deux grands cycles. Avant 1650, il composa une poésie essentiellement profane, tout en s'attachant à la traduction d'Ovide et d'autres écrivains anciens, tandis qu'après 1650 il se tourna vers le mysticisme et aborda dans ses poèmes des sujets spirituels. De tous ses ouvrages, dont plusieurs portent des titres latins bien qu'ils aient été rédigés en langue anglaise, le plus important reste un recueil de poèmes religieux intitulé Silex Scintillans (Étincelles tirées du silex, 1650 et 1655). Cet ouvrage fut suivi d'Olor Iscanus (le Cygne de la rivière Usk, 1651), recueil d'écrits profanes cette fois, dont des passages entiers chantent la beauté de la nature. Quant à Thalia rediviva (1678), il regroupe des poèmes lyriques, tant profanes que sacrés.

Vaughan acquit surtout sa renommée grâce à son don visionnaire et à la manière, pleine d'imagination, de fraîcheur et d'intelligence, qu'il avait de traiter les images et les sujets religieux traditionnels. Il se plaisait à louer le passé sans sombrer dans le passéisme, car il célèbrait aussi une nature bien vivante, dans des poèmes qui témoignaient autant de sa joie de vivre que de sa piété. Ses écrits ont sans doute influencé ceux de William Wordsworth, car les deux poètes chantent pareillement la nature, à laquelle ils vouent un même et grand respect.

The Star

    Whatever 'tis, whose beauty here below
    Attracts thee thus and makes thee stream and flow,
    And wind and curl, and wink and smile,
    Shifting thy gate and guile ;

    Though thy close commerce nought at all imbars
    My present search, for eagles eye not stars,
    And still the lesser by the best
    And highest good is blest ;

    Yet, seeing all things that subsist and be,
    Have their commissions from divinity,
    And teach us duty, I will see
    What man may learn from thee.

    First, I am sure, the subject so respected
    Is well dispos'd, for bodies once infected,
    Deprav'd, or dead, can have with thee
    No hold, nor sympathy.

    Next, there's in it a restless, pure desire
    And longing for thy bright and vital fire,
    Desire that never will be quench'd,
    Nor can be writh'd, nor wrench'd.

    These are the magnets which so strongly move
    And work all night upon thy light and love,
    As beauteous shapes, we know not why,
    Command and guide the eye.

    For where desire, celestial, pure desire
    Hath taken root, and grows, and doth not tire,
    There God a commerce states, and sheds
    His secret on their heads.

    This is the heart he craves, and who so will
    But give it him, and grudge not, he shall feel
    That God is true, as herbs unseen
    Put on their youth and green.

    Henry Vaughan, Silex Scintillans (1650)

The World

    I saw Eternity the other night,
    Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
    All calm, as it was bright ;
    And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
    Driv'n by the spheres
    Like a vast shadow mov'd ; in which the world
    And all her train were hurl'd.
    The doting lover in his quaintest strain
    Did there complain ;
    Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
    Wit's sour delights,
    With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
    Yet his dear treasure
    All scatter'd lay, while he his eyes did pour
    Upon a flow'r.

    The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe,
    Like a thick midnight-fog mov'd there so slow,
    He did not stay, nor go ;
    Condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl
    Upon his soul,
    And clouds of crying witnesses without
    Pursued him with one shout.
    Yet digg'd the mole, and lest his ways be found,
    Work'd under ground,
    Where he did clutch his prey; but one did see
    That policy ;
    Churches and altars fed him; perjuries
    Were gnats and flies ;
    It rain'd about him blood and tears, but he
    Drank them as free.

    The fearful miser on a heap of rust
    Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust
    His own hands with the dust,
    Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
    In fear of thieves ;
    Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
    And hugg'd each one his pelf ;
    The downright epicure plac'd heav'n in sense,
    And scorn'd pretence,
    While others, slipp'd into a wide excess,
    Said little less ;
    The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,
    Who think them brave ;
    And poor despised Truth sate counting by
    Their victory.

    Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
    And sing, and weep, soar'd up into the ring ;
    But most would use no wing.
    O fools (said I) thus to prefer dark night
    Before true light,
    To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
    Because it shews the way,
    The way, which from this dead and dark abode
    Leads up to God,
    A way where you might tread the sun, and be
    More bright than he.
    But as I did their madness so discuss
    One whisper'd thus,
    "This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,
    But for his bride."

    Henry Vaughan, Silex Scintillans (1650)

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