Through that pure Virgin-shrine,
That sacred vail drawn o’er thy glorious noon
That men might look and live as Glo-worms shine,
And face the Moon:
Wise Nicodemus saw such light
As made him know his God by night.
Most blest believer he!
Who in that land of darkness and blinde eyes
Thy long expected healing wings could see,
When thou didst rise,
And what can never more be done,
Did at mid-night speak with the Sun!
O who will tell me, where
He found thee at that dead and silent hour!
What hallow’d solitary ground did bear
So rare a flower,
Within whose sacred leafs did lie
The fulness of the Deity.
No mercy-seat of gold,
No dead and dusty Cherub, nor carv’d stone,
But his own living works did my Lord hold
And lodge alone;
Where trees and herbs did watch and peep
And wonder, while the Jews did sleep.
Dear night! this worlds defeat;
The stop to busie fools; cares check and curb;
The day of Spirits; my souls calm retreat
Which none disturb!
Christs progress, and his prayer time;
The hours to which high Heaven doth chime.
Gods silent, searching flight:
When my Lords head is fill’d with dew, and all
His locks are wet with the clear drops of night;
His still, soft call;
His knocking time; The souls dumb watch,
When Spirits their fair kindred catch.
Were all my loud, evil days
Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark Tent,
Whose peace but by some Angels wing or voice
Is seldom rent;
Then I in Heaven all the long year
Would keep, and never wander here.
But living where the Sun
Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tyre
Themselves and others, I consent and run
To ev’ry myre,
And by this worlds ill-guiding light,
Erre more then I can do by night.
There is in God (some say)
A deep, but dazling darkness; As men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
See not all clear;
O for that night ! where I in him
Might live invisible and dim.
About this poem
Introduced by a variety of writers, artists and other guests, the Scottish Poetry Library’s classic poem selections are a reminder of wonderful poems to rediscover.
Andrew Philip on ‘The Night’:
I first came across Henry Vaughan’s meditation on light and darkness when Michael Symmons Roberts used “There is in God (some say) / A deep, but dazling darkness” as an epigraph for his second poetry collection, Raising Sparks. For ages, that was all I knew of the poem, but I couldn’t get it out my head, so I had to seek out the whole thing.
It’s a stunning piece of writing. You need to concentrate to follow its shifts, allusions and paradoxes but it is well worth the effort. The poem lends a hand with its gorgeous music. Nowhere is that music more evident than in the phrase “A deep, but dazling darkness”. The repeated “d” tolls like a bell calling Vaughan into the prayerful gloom, while the vowels and final consonants in the syllables “deep”, “daz-” and “dark-” move gradually further down and back into the mouth, as if pressing deeper into the night.
Scholars say that the poem came out of profound disappointment and loss, but we don’t need them to tell us that. Surely nobody can read “O for that night! where I in him / Might live invisible and dim” without sensing the pain behind it. It’s a sentiment anyone who has suffered a severe loss can relate to. Indeed, those lines are among the words that helped to sustain me through the darkness of grief after my newborn son died.
That, in the end, is the power of ‘The Night’, for all its intellectual prowess. Not only is it enigmatic, unexpected, unforgettable, haunting and beautiful; not only is it food for sustained and sustaining thought; it is a hand reaching out in the deepest darkness. It’s pretty much everything a poem should be.
Andrew Philip’s son and firstborn child, Aidan Michael Philip, died shortly after birth in 2005.
Read more about Andrew Philip