Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Fragments of Men, Rags of Anatomy" -Poetry of Henry Vaughan

Helmet from English Civil War
Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday has been a day of creeping dread, impatient expectation, and grasping at Hope. As Christ's body lie in the tomb and we believers, the Church, the Body of Christ, lie with Him. His Spirit yet lived and he journeyed in Spirit to proclaim liberty to the captive and set the prisoners free.

Death, war, pain, suffering; these are all things of this world. We share in them.

For this Saturday between Death and Life, I chose a poem of Cousin Henry Vaughan who as a doctor in the loyal Royalist forces of the English Civil War knew death, dismemberment, and suffering. It is a 17th Century Anti-War Poem.

Yet he knew that Easter comes on the morrow.

The Charnel-House
Bless me! what damps are here! how stiff an air!Kelder of mists, a second fiat's care,Front'spiece o' th' grave and darkness, a displayOf ruin'd man, and the disease of day,Lean, bloodless shamble, where I can descryFragments of men, rags of anatomy,Corruption's wardrobe, the transplantive bedOf mankind, and th' exchequer of the dead!How thou arrests my sense! how with the sightMy winter'd blood grows stiff to all delight!Torpedo to the eye! whose least glance canFreeze our wild lusts, and rescue headlong man.Eloquent silence! able to immureAn atheist's thoughts, and blast an epicure.Were I a Lucian, Nature in this dressWould make me wish a Saviour, and confess.Where are you, shoreless thoughts, vast tenter'd hope,Ambitious dreams, aims of an endless scope,Whose stretch'd excess runs on a string too high,And on the rack of self-extension die?Chameleons of state, air-monging band,Whose breath—like gunpowder—blows up a land,
Come see your dissolution, and weighWhat a loath'd nothing you shall be one day.As th' elements by circulation passFrom one to th' other, and that which first wasIs so again, so 'tis with you; the graveAnd Nature but complot; what the one gaveThe other takes; think, then, that in this bedThere sleep the relics of as proud a head,As stern and subtle as your own, that hathPerform'd, or forc'd as much, whose tempest-wrathHath levell'd kings with slaves, and wisely thenCalm these high furies, and descend to men.Thus Cyrus tam'd the Macedon; a tombCheck'd him, who thought the world too straight a room.Have I obey'd the powers of face,A beauty able to undo the raceOf easy man? I look but here, and straightI am inform'd, the lovely counterfeitWas but a smoother clay. That famish'd slaveBeggar'd by wealth, who starves that he may save,Brings hither but his sheet; nay, th' ostrich-manThat feeds on steel and bullet, he that canOutswear his lordship, and reply as toughTo a kind word, as if his tongue were buff,Is chap-fall'n here: worms without wit or fearDefy him now; Death hath disarm'd the bear.Thus could I run o'er all the piteous scoreOf erring men, and having done, meet more,
Their shuffled wills, abortive, vain intents,Fantastic humours, perilous ascents,False, empty honours, traitorous delights,And whatsoe'er a blind conceit invites;But these and more which the weak vermins swell,Are couch'd in this accumulative cell,Which I could scatter; but the grudging sunCalls home his beams, and warns me to be gone;Day leaves me in a double night, and IMust bid farewell to my sad library.Yet with these notes—Henceforth with thought of theeI'll season all succeeding jollity,Yet damn not mirth, nor think too much is fit;Excess hath no religion, nor wit;But should wild blood swell to a lawless strain,One check from thee shall channel it again.
Henry Vaughan, Silurist (from Olor Iscanus [The Swan of Usk], 1651)

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