There is no portrait of Metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan (1621-95), and little documentation of his life. However, at the tercentenary of his death his writing remains as influential as ever and the writer continues to fascinate.
Stevie Davies uses her skills as a novelist and critic to bring to life her now distant subject: ’I wanted to imagine him as a real and breathing person in a landscape both geographical and historical,’ she writes in her preface to this book. Through Vaughan’s writing and other sources she has produced a persuasive picture of a man beset by anxieties and challenges. The death of his twin brother Thomas, and the English Civil War were two crucial turning points.
His outgoing writer brother predeceased Henry by some thirty years, leaving him to search for a single identity, while the defeat of the Royalist party and the execution of Charles I left members of his class and political affiliation social and religious outcasts. Even the Restoration could not rescue the naturally introvert Vaughan. He had become a man who turned failure into glory and who was most himself alone, silent and outdoors. His writing was driven by nostalgia for his childhood and attempted to recapture the individual, society and mankind had lost, a loss manifested in man’s pollution of the environment.
Stevie Davies’s use of contemporary research on twinship, her knowledge of the seventeenth century (she has written extensively on Milton) and her novelist’s intuition, have resulted in an invaluable and accessible life of a writer whose poetry is still relevant today.