In the poem, The Retreat, the author expresses a longing for the angelic innocence he once had as a child before being corrupted by the harsh realities of the world. The variation of past and present has a significant impact on the evaluation he is making based upon his life. Wishing to return to a life of glory, but not having the courageous soul to embark on the journey because of the corrupt habits Vaughn has developed causes him a predicament. In the imagery and tone used in the poem, Vaughn expresses the mental settings that a place of purity and chaos can put one in.
The imagery used in this poem to describe the past and present is very black in white. He uses childhood and the afterlife waiting for him as white, positive, celestial ideals while his experiences throughout life and his adulthood and used as black, negative connotations. To describe his early years he uses the term “angel infancy” (line 2). The thought he perceived then were “white, celestial thought” (line 6); but as he grew older, he began teach “sin to every sense” (line 18).
With his words he “taught the tongue to wound” (line 15) and his conscience was changed into a “sinful sound” (line 16). He wishes to return to his previous state of innocence before he left his “glorious train, / From whence th’ enlightened spirit sees/ That shady city of palm trees” (lines 24-26). However, he has noticed the flaws in his ways, “my soul with too much too much stay/ Is drunk, and stagger in the way” (line 27-28) When his “dust falls to the urn” (line 31), he is confident that he will be returned to his original state, to an everlasting entity.
Along with imagery and tone, the structure of the poem also plays a vital role in showing the contrast between his current state of longing and his past state, which was full of experiencing glory. The Retreat is also set up as a two-stanza poem that allows the reader to clearly see the two distinct phases of the speaker’s life—both past and present. The first stanza of the poem speaks of the happier days in life, when he was bound in splendor in glory. On the other hand, “O, how I long to travel back” (line 21) is the desire expressed in the second stanza.
Through the second stanza, the speaker relays that his life has changed and how he wishes he could return to his former state of pleasure (line 21). Between the two stanzas, the first is longer than the other is. One could say that because death is such an unknown concept, he knows less to write about and inform any reader. The first stanza was longer because certain persons can develop thoughts about how to perceive existence before conception and becoming mortal. After death, there is no one to tell us what could come or how someone may feel since the individual who has passed has no way to inform others.
Written by Henry Vaughan, The Retreat tells of the longings experienced by a lost man who recollects former days of joy, yet cannot journey back to obtain such feelings. The poem clearly contains forms of imagery, tone, and a set structure to pinpoint specifically the former and present state of the speaker. Through these techniques, the reader can easily enter into the mindset of the speaker whose feelings of emptiness and distraught cause his yearning to enter back into heaven to be even stronger.