It was not until Vaughan's conversion and the writing of Silex Scintillans that he received significant acclaim. He was greatly indebted to George Herbert, who provided a model for Vaughan's newly founded spiritual life and literary career, in which he displayed "spiritual quickening and the gift of gracious feeling" derived from Herbert.
Archbishop Trench has proposed that "As a divine Vaughan may be inferior, but as a poet he is certainly superior". Critics praise Vaughan's use of literary elements. Vaughan's use of monosyllables, long-drawn alliterations and his ability to compel the reader place Vaughan as "more than the equal of George Herbert". Yet others say that the two are not even comparable, because Herbert is in fact the Master. While these critics admit that Henry Vaughan's use of words can be superior to Herbert's, they believe his poetry is, in fact, worse. Herbert's profundity as well as consistency are said to be the key to his superiority.
While the superiority or inferiority of Vaughan and Herbert is a question with no distinct answer, one cannot deny that Vaughan would have never written the way he did without Herbert's direction. The explicit spiritual influence of Herbert on Henry Vaughan is undeniable. The preface to Vaughan's Silex Scintillans does all but proclaim this influence. The prose of Vaughan exemplifies this as well. For instance, The Temple, by Herbert, is often seen as the inspiration and model on which Vaughan created his work. Silex Scintillans is most often classed with this collection of Herbert's. Silex Scintillans borrows the same themes, experience, and beliefs as The Temple. Herbert's influence is evident both in the shape and spirituality of Vaughan's poetry. For example, the opening to Vaughan's poem 'Unprofitableness':
- How rich, O Lord! How fresh thy visits are!
is reminiscent of Herbert's 'The Flower':
- How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
- Are thy returns! ev'n as the flowers in spring
Another work of Vaughan's that clearly parallels George Herbert is Mount of Olives, e.g., the passage, Let sensual natures judge as they please, but for my part, I shall hold it no paradoxe to affirme, there are no pleasures in the world. Some coloured griefes of blushing woes there are, which look as clear as if they were true complexions; but it is very sad and tyred truth, that they are but painted. This echoes Herbert's Rose:
- In this world of sugar's lies,
- And to use a larger measure
- Than my strict yet welcome size.
- First, there is no pleasure here:
- Coloure'd griefs indeed there are,
- Blushing woes that look as clear,
- As if they could beauty spare.
Critics have complained that Vaughan is enslaved to Herbert's works, using similar "little tricks" such as abrupt introductions and whimsical titles as a framework for his own work, and that he "failed to learn" from Herbert. Vaughan carried an inability to know his limits and focused more on the intensity of the poem, meanwhile losing the attention of his audience.
However, Alexander Grosart denies that Henry Vaughan was solely an imitator of George Herbert (Grosart, 3). There are moments in Vaughan's writings where the reader can identify Vaughan's true self, rather than an imitation of Herbert. In such passages Vaughan is seen to demonstrate naturalness, immediacy, and ability to relate the concrete through poetry. In some instances, Vaughan derives observations from Herbert's language that are distinctly his own. It is as if Vaughan takes proprietorship of some of Herbert's work, yet makes it completely unique to himself. Henry Vaughan takes another step away from George Herbert in the manner to which he presents his poetry to the reader. George Herbert in The Temple, which is most often the source of comparison between the two writers, lays down explicit instructions on the reading of his work. This contrasts with the attitude of Vaughan, who considered the experience of reading as the best guide to his meanings. He promoted no special method of reading his works .
In these times he shows himself different from any other poet. Much of his distinction derives from an apparent lack of sympathy with the world around him. His aloof appeal to his surroundings detaches him and encourages his love of nature and mysticism, which in turn influenced other later poets, Wordsworth among others. Vaughan's mind thinks in terms of a physical and spiritual world and the obscure relation between the two. Vaughan's mind often moved to original, unfamiliar, and remote places, and this reflected in his poetry. He was loyal to the themes of the Anglican Church and religious festivals, but found his true voice in the more mystical themes of eternity, communion with the dead, nature, and childhood.A poet of revelation who uses the Bible,Nature and his own experience to illustrate his vision of eternity. Vaughan's poetry has a particularly modern sound.
Alliteration (conspicuous in Welsh poetry)is more extensively used by Vaughan than most of his contemporaries writing English verse, noticeably in the opening to 'The Water-fall'.
Vaughan elaborated on personal loss in two well-known poems, "The World" and "They Are All Gone into the World of Light." Another poem, "The Retreat," combines the theme of loss with the corruption of childhood, which is yet another consistent theme of Vaughan's. Vaughan's new-found personal voice and persona are seen as the result of the death of a younger brother.
This is an example of an especially beautiful fragment of one of his poems entitled '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.
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