When I was twelve, my English teacher told my parents that I was quite naive in my reading of the class poetry assignments. I knew why she said that. We had been reading Henry Vaughn, who seemed almost jealous of his dead friends because they were closer to knowing God than was he; because for them the veil was lifted, and they saw no longer as through a glass darkly, but had met God face to face.
My English teacher thought this was bunk. I asked (naively), “But what if he’s right?”
The stage was set for a term of relentless but polite antagonism between the secular and sophisticated understanding which my teacher brought to the metaphysical poetry we studied, and the obstinately religious pre-teen sympathies with which this student read the work.
I remembered all this when I began reading for this Sunday’s lessons. Paul says,
So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord – for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord … (2 Corinthians 5: 6-8)
Yes, yes, says Paul, the ideal is to be with Jesus, unconstrained, ascended as he is, seeing God face to face from our place at the foot of the heavenly throne. But, he goes on to say, “whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
Paul did not mean for us to long for death. He meant us to long for heaven – to be with God – wherever we found ourselves. Henry Vaughn did not long to die: he longed to see God more clearly, more closely, more completely, and he took comfort amid the loss of his friends in believing that they knew joys that he still longed for.
Naive? Perhaps. But Paul goes on to say, “if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.” A little bit of poetic flight of fancy, a little naive bliss, a little romantic longing might have its place in our devotions after all. If we are beside ourselves, it is for God. And few are wholly in their right mind when writing poetry!
Beyond the Veil
They are all gone into the world of light!
And I alone sit ling’ring here;
Their very memory is fair and bright,
And my sad thoughts doth clear.
It glows and glitters in my cloudy breast,
Like stars upon some gloomy grove,
Or those faint beam in which this hill is drest
After the sun’s remove.
I see them walking in an air of glory,
Whose light doth trample on my days:
My days, which are at best but dull and hoary,
Mere glimmering and decays.
O holy Hope! and high Humility,
High as the heavens above!
These are your walks, and you have show’d them me,
To kindle my cold love.
Dear, beauteous Death! the jewel of the Just,
Shining nowhere, but in the dark;
What mysteries do lie beyond thy dust,
Could man outlook that mark!
He that hath found some fledg’d bird’s nest may know,
At first sight, if the bird be flown;
But what fair well or grove he sings in now,
That is to him unknown.
And yet as Angels in some brighter dreams
Call to the soul, when man doth sleep:
So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted themes,
And into glory peep.
If a star were confin’d into a tomb,
Her captive flames must needs burn there;
But when the hand that lock’d her up gives room,
She’ll shine through all the sphere.
O Father of eternal life, and all
Created glories under Thee!
Resume Thy spirit from this world of thrall
Into true liberty.
Either disperse these mists, which blot and fill
My perspective still as they pass:
Or remove me hence unto that hill,
Where I shall need no glass.
Henry Vaughn, via PoemHunter.com