Henry Vaughan - Secular Works

Secular Works

Vaughan took his literary inspiration from his native environment and chose the descriptive name "Silurist," derived from his homage to the Silures, the Celtic tribe of pre-Roman south Wales which strongly resisted the Romans. This name is a reflection of the deep love Vaughan felt towards the Welsh mountains of his home in what is now part of the Brecon Beacons National Park and the River Usk valley where he spent most of his early life and professional life.

By 1647 Henry Vaughan, with his wife and children, had chosen life in the country. This is the setting in which Vaughan wrote Olor Iscanus ("the Swan of Usk"). However, this collection was not published until 1651, more than three years after it was written. It is believed that there was great crisis in Vaughan's life between the authorship and publication of Olor Iscanus. During these years, his grandfather William Vaughan died and he was evicted from his living in Llansantffraed. Vaughan later decried the publication, having "long ago condemned these poems to obscurity".

Olor Iscanus is filled with odd words and similes that beg for attention despite its dark and morbid cognitive appeal. This work is founded on crises felt in Vaughan's homeland, Brecknockshire. During the Civil War there was never a major battle fought on the ground of Brecknockshire, but the effects of the war were deeply felt by Vaughan and his surrounding community. The Puritan Parliament visited misfortune on the community, ejecting many of their foes, the Anglicans and Royalists. This was an obvious source of misfortune for Vaughan, who also lost his home at that time.

There is a distinct difference between the atmosphere Vaughan attempts to convey in this work and in his most famous work, Silex Scintillans. Olor Iscanus is a direct representation of a specific period in Vaughan's life, which emphasizes other secular writers and provides allusions to debt and happy living. A fervent topic of Vaughan throughout these poems is the Civil War and reveals Vaughan's somewhat paradoxical thinking that, in the end, gives no clear conclusion to the question of his participation in the Civil War. Vaughan states his complete satisfaction of being clean on "innocent blood" but also provides what seem to be eyewitness accounts of battles and his own "soldiery". Although Vaughan is thought to have been a royalist, these poems express contempt for all current authority and a lack of zeal for the royalist cause. His poems generally reflect a sense of severe decline, which possibly means that Vaughan lamented the effects of the war on the monarchy and society. His short poem "The Timber", ostensibly about a dead tree, concludes "thy strange resentment after death / Means only those who broke - in life - thy peace."

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