They are all Gone into the World of Light

Henry Vaughan

‘They are all Gone into the World of Light’ by Henry Vaughan describes a speaker’s longing to understand what death is and where his loved ones have gone. 


Henry Vaughan

Henry Vaughan was a Welsh poet and physician.

He is best remembered for his religious poetry, such as Silex Scintillans, published in 1650.

‘They are all Gone into the World of Light’ by Henry Vaughan is a ten stanza poem which is made up of sets of four lines, or quatrains. Vaughan has chosen to utilize a simple rhyme scheme of abab throughout the entirety of the piece, alternating it as he saw fit. A reader should also note the metrical pattern used in the lines. While most of the lines conform to iambic pentameter, there are moments in which the number of iambs decreases and the lines are written in iambic trimeter. 

Iambic pentameter is characterized by lines that are made up of a set of five beats, or iambs. The first syllable is unstressed and the second stressed. Iambic trimeter on the other hand is made up of three iambic beats rather than five. 

They are all Gone into the World of Light by Henry Vaughan


Summary of They are all Gone into the World of Light

They are all Gone into the World of Light’ by Henry Vaughan describes a speaker’s longing to understand what death is and where his loved ones have gone. 

The poem begins with the speaker lamenting the fact that he is alone in his life. The only comfort he is able to take is that which exists in the memories of those he lost. They come alive for him and help him through the dull days of his life. 

He continues on to profess his wonder over what death is. He does not understand the afterlife and wishes that he could see into other realms. This need is so strong that he asks death itself to come and take him. The glimpses he has seen within his dreams satisfy him no longer. He needs to see through the “dust” which obscures his perspective. 


Analysis of They are all Gone into the World of Light

Stanza One

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. 

In the first stanza of ‘They are all Gone into the World of Light’, the speaker begins by lamenting the loss of those he used to know. They are described as having gone, “int the world of light!” This is a clear reference to Heaven, a topic that is controversial within the speaker’s mind. It is not just the deaths of those he loved which bothers him, but the fact that he has yet to join them. He now sits alone, “ling’ring,” seemingly without purpose.

The speaker feels a deep contrast between the memory of those he lost and the thoughts which currently occupy his mind. The events on which he reminisces are “fair and bright.” They are able to “clear” the “sad” images which made up his present reality. 


Stanza Two 

It glows and glitters in my cloudy breast, 

Like stars upon some gloomy grove, 

Or those faint beams in which this hill is drest, 

After the sun’s remove. 

In the second quatrain, the speaker goes on to discuss the impact these memories have on him. They are so strong that they become more than simple thoughts. They are images and visions made incarnate which follow him through the day. They are “glow[ing]” with light and “glitter[ing]” within his “cloudy” or depressed, “breast.” 

The speaker compares the happy thoughts of better times to the stars which light up a “gloomy grove” within a forest. They are also adjacent to moments in which light manages to push through clouds, even after the sun has disappeared. 


Stanza Three

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. 

The memories he is obsessed with are becoming more and more real to him. They come out of his mind and he sees them “walking in an air of glory.” Their presence is so strong, and almost divine, that they “trample” his days. They are worth much more to him than the sad experiences he is currently living. 

In the second half of the stanza, he speaks of his days as being “at best…dull.” They feel as if they are close to “decay.” 


Stanza Four 

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. 

In the fourth stanza, the narrative takes a turn, and the speaker addresses “Hope,” “Humility” and God. He knows that God is responsible for allowing these visions to be possible. They have come and successfully “kindle[d]” the “love” which was growing cold inside the speaker’s chest. He simultaneously mourns for those he lost and appreciates the impact of their memory. 

God is responsible for the “walks” which the visions take. The speaker does not so much thank God for sending them to him but acknowledges where they come from. 


Stanza Five

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! 

The fifth stanza of ‘They are all Gone into the World of Light’ is characterized by the speaker’s address to “Death.” He describes death as being something glorious in the distance that shines out of “nowhere.” There is an element of the end of all things which appeals to the speaker. It is a mystery he is very entranced by. 

In the second half of the stanza, he wonders what “mysteries do lie beyond” the dust which obscures the afterlife. He laments the fact that man cannot “outlook,” or look beyond the obscuring dust.


Stanza Six 

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. 

The speaker goes on to utilize a metaphor to describe the nature of death and man’s inability to see it. He compares the search for an answer to death to looking into a “bird’s nest” and seeing that the “bird be flown.” 

One will immediately know there is no bird, but that does not answer the real question of where the bird has gone, “That is to him unknown.” The conditions of the afterlife are haunting the speaker. He longs to be among those he remembers so fondly and this has given death an allure it would not normally have. 


Stanza Seven 

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. 

The speaker continues to describe the way that death and the afterlife, in general, are calling to him. Although it is impossible for a human being to know what death is, there are moments in which one might get a glimpse of the divine. These come when “man doth sleep” and the “angels” come to him in “some brighter dreams.” 

The angels bring to man some “strange thoughts” which are able to “transcend” the normality of everyday existence. They push one into a realm that exists beyond the “wonted” or habitual, “themes” of life. 


Stanza Eight

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. 

In the eighth stanza, the speaker goes on to use another metaphor to describe the hand of God and how it allows one to flourish or die. He speaks of a “star” which has been confined to a “tomb.” If “she” is given room to burn and thrive she will “shine through all the sphere.” There will be no real “tomb” in which she is encased. 


Stanza Nine

O Father of eternal life, and all 

Created glories under thee! 

Resume thy spirit from this world of thrall 

Into true liberty. 

The poem begins its conclusion in the ninth quatrain. It is here the speaker addresses God once more. He asks that God allow him, and those like him, to experience true liberty in the world. He is like the “star” which has been confined to the tomb. He needs room to breathe and thrive. The speaker feels trapped by the life he has been living and is looking for more in the divine. 


Stanza Ten 

Either disperse these mists, which blot and fill 

My perspective still as they pass, 

Or else remove me hence unto that hill, 

Where I shall need no glass.

In the final lines of ‘They are all Gone into the World of Light’, the speaker concludes his lamentation by asking that God either clear up the mist which keeps humankind from understanding death or take him into the afterlife. He is tired of wondering what is on the other side and desires a different “perspective.” If this cannot be done, the speaker asks that he be “remove[d]” from life and placed onto the “hill,” or within death, where he “shall need no glass.” 

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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