‘Peace’ is a religious poem written by Welsh metaphysical poet, Henry Vaughan who wrote primarily in the 1640s and 1650s. His religious poetry has become quite well-known since then, especially for his volume Silex Scintillans, published in 1650. He was a deeply faithful man and combined his love for the Christian religion with his poetic skill in order to pen some very popular religious verse.
Summary of Peace
Throughout this poem, the speaker describes the nature of Heaven. It is a place without danger or sadness, filled only with the peace and happiness of God. There, humanity will find God, the angels, and Christ who commands them. In the final lines of the poem, the speaker asks his soul to refrain from focusing on anything that doesn’t contribute to his faithful worship of God and his path to Heaven.
Themes in Peace
The themes of ‘Peace’ are quite clear from the first lines of the poem. The poet is interested in peace, religion, and salvation. All of these are wrapped together in his depiction and understanding of heaven. He focuses the poem on the world of Heaven that is waiting for humanity after they die. It is something, along with God and Christ, that gives him hope and provides his life with meaning. He directs his words to his soul, hoping to faithfully reinvigorate himself in his love for God and realign his direction in life.
Structure and Form
‘Peace’ by Henry Vaughan is a twenty-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text although in some printings it may appear in five sets of four lines, known as quatrains. Vaughan chose to give this poem a very consistent and structured rhyme scheme. It follows a pattern of ABAB CDCD, changing end sounds throughout the poem. The meter is also very consistent with the odd-numbered lines containing seven syllables and the even-numbered with six. The placement of the stresses shift.
Vaughan makes use of several literary devices in ‘Peace’. These include but are not limited to examples of alliteration, apostrophe, and enjambment. The first of these, alliteration, is seen through the repetition of words that start with the same consonant sound. For example, “stands,” “sentry,” and “skillful” in lines three and four as well as “born” and “beauteous” in lines seven and eight.
Enjambment is another formal device that is seen when the poet inserts line breaks before a phrase feels properly or naturally concluded. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as that between lines seven and eight. There is a good example of an apostrophe in this poem when the speaker addresses “My Soul” in the first lines of the poem. He is talking to something that cannot hear or understand him.
Analysis of Peace
My Soul, there is a country
Afar beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars;
There, above noise and danger
Sweet Peace sits, crown’d with smiles,
And One born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.
In the first part of ‘Peace’, the speaker begins by addressing his “Soul”. He is talking to himself, the deepest parts of himself that need to be reminded of the word of God and what is waiting for him after death. This is a technique known as an apostrophe. It is concerned with statements or entire poems that are addressed to someone or something that either cannot or does not hear what the speaker is saying.
He tells his soul that “beyond the stars” there is a “winged sentry”. This is a reference to an angel, specifically one guarding the gates of Heaven. It is “skillful in the wars”. This likely refers back to the Biblical account of the war between Heaven and Hell. This place above earth is removed from all the troubles that humankind involves itself with. There is no “noise and danger.” Instead, “Sweet Peace,” meaning God, sits and is filled with smiles. It is a place filled only with happiness and peace, angels, and the good-hearted people of the world whose souls have been elevated. The seventh and eighth lines of the poem refer to Christ as “One born in a manger”. He commands “the beauteous files” of angels that can be found in Heaven.
He is thy gracious friend
And (O my Soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend,
To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flow’r of peace,
The rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges,
For none can thee secure,
But One, who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.
The speaker reminds the reader that he is addressing his own soul in the ninth line when he uses “thy”. Christ is a friend to his soul and he asks that it “awake” from its spiritual slumber and accepts the love of God. He goes on to remind himself that Christ came to earth in order to do penance for the sins of humankind. He “Did in pure love descend / To die here for thy sake”. Readers should take note of the use of alliteration in these lines with “thy,” “thou,” and “thither” which helps to establish a rhythm.
In heaven, the speaker says the flower of peace is growing. It is a “rose that cannot wither”. This is an allusion to the salvation that awaits humankind beyond the veil of death. There, beauty, love, and happiness live eternally. The rose might also symbolize the Virgin Mary in this context.
The speaker asks his soul directly to “leave thy foolish ranges” and devote all energies towards God. Its only in the last line that “God” is mentioned by name. This is a powerful and direct conclusion to this religious poem that helps drive home the very clear main point—that only God can bring salvation, love, and peace to one’s soul and it is for him that all things must be done.
Readers might also be interested in exploring more of Henry Vaughan’s poetry with poems such as ‘The World’ and ‘They are all Gone into the World of Light’. The latter is a beautiful poem about the mysteries of death and a speaker’s desire to uncover more about those who have passed away. The former, ‘The World’ is another religious poem in which the poet chastises those who take earthly pleasures and forget about their possibly heavenly futures. Related poems by other poets include ‘God’s Grandeur’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins and ‘Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness’ by John Donne.