Henry Vaughan's The Retreate
In the poem The Retreate Henry Vaughan deals with the loss of the heavenly glory experienced during the childhood and expresses a fanciful desire to get back that original stage. The theme, on the surface level, appears very simple; but going into the deeper the reader will find that the poem is founded on the diverse European idealistic, psychological, religious/mystical and philosophical doctrines in the western culture. On the socio-cultural level, the poem can be interpreted as a reflection of the urge for liberating the human psyche from the torments and tyrannies of civilization, an urge which, it must be said, has been expressed by Vaughan in the purest, distilled and highly cultivated form of thought. On the psychological level, the desire to go back to a happy childhood can be interpreted, Freud said, as an escape from the hard realities of life in the defence mechanism of regression, as a daydream, the root cause of which can be traced in the agoraphobia of a person, which constantly goads him/her to seek refuge in the mother’s womb. On the philosophical level, what Vaughan’s says in the poem, tallies with Plato’s theory of anamnesis and transmigration of the soul. But above all, the purpose of the poet here is didactic, and he has given to the poem a deep religious meaning and fervour by drawing upon the inherent Christian doctrines and symbols. The poem begins with the characteristic lament for the lost childhood days, “Happy those early days! When I Shin’d in my Angell-infancy.” The word “angel-infancy” refers to that period of life, which is marked of innocence and ignorance. If we think of this from a secular perspective, this period of life is seen to have a special attraction for all the human beings. So the poetic property has not been reduced in its secular appeal. But Vaughan is here thinking in terms of mystical Christian theology, in which the child occupies a significant place, on the one hand, symbolising...
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