chapter  7
Arenas of retreat: blood, bread, and poetry in Henry
Blood, bread, and poetry in Henry Vaughan
Pages 20

Vaughan, “White Sunday” The subtitle to this chapter is adapted from the title of an essay by the American feminist poet, Adrienne Rich. In the essay, Rich remarks how, as a student in her early twenties, she was led to believe that poetry was “the expression of a higher world view, what the critic Edward Said has termed ‘a quasi-religious wonder,’ instead of a human sign to be understood in secular and social terms.”1 My starting place is to remark that whatever conditions underlie Rich’s sense of the opposition between poetry as transcendental expression versus poetry as a sign system to be understood in secular and social terms, the dialectic is misleading, although in interesting ways, when applied to a pre-Romantic (who is sometimes thought to be a proto-Romantic) like Vaughan, despite the fact that he is almost always remembered as the signal instance of a seventeenth-century poet who became memorable once he became a poet of transcendence: “Lord, then said I, on me one breath,/And let me dye before my death.”2