'The Water-Fall' by Henry Vaughan

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1With what deep murmurs through time's silent stealth
2Doth thy transparent, cool, and wat'ry wealth
3Here flowing fall,
4And chide, and call,
5As if his liquid, loose retinue stay'd
6Ling'ring, and were of this steep place afraid;
7The common pass
8Where, clear as glass,
9All must descend
10Not to an end,
11But quicken'd by this deep and rocky grave,
12Rise to a longer course more bright and brave.

13Dear stream! dear bank, where often I
14Have sate and pleas'd my pensive eye,
15Why, since each drop of thy quick store
16Runs thither whence it flow'd before,
17Should poor souls fear a shade or night,
18Who came, sure, from a sea of light?
19Or since those drops are all sent back
20So sure to thee, that none doth lack,
21Why should frail flesh doubt any more
22That what God takes, he'll not restore?

23O useful element and clear!
24My sacred wash and cleanser here,
25My first consigner unto those
26Fountains of life where the Lamb goes!
27What sublime truths and wholesome themes
28Lodge in thy mystical deep streams!
29Such as dull man can never find
30Unless that Spirit lead his mind
31Which first upon thy face did move,
32And hatch'd all with his quick'ning love.
33As this loud brook's incessant fall
34In streaming rings restagnates all,
35Which reach by course the bank, and then
36Are no more seen, just so pass men.
37O my invisible estate,
38My glorious liberty, still late!
39Thou art the channel my soul seeks,
40Not this with cataracts and creeks.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Water-Fall: A Mystic Journey of Self-Discovery

Henry Vaughan's "The Water-Fall" is a masterpiece of mystical poetry that takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery. The poem explores the themes of nature, spirituality, and the human condition through vivid imagery and metaphors. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deeper into the poem to understand its meaning and significance.


Henry Vaughan was a Welsh poet who lived during the 17th century. He was part of a group of poets known as the "Metaphysical Poets," who were known for their use of unconventional metaphors and complex language. Vaughan's poetry often explores the themes of religion and spirituality, and "The Water-Fall" is no exception.

The Poem: Analysis and Interpretation

Stanza 1

The poem begins with the speaker describing a waterfall in a forest:

With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies!
How silently, and with how wan a face!
What, may it be that even in heavenly place
That busy archer his sharp arrows tries!
Sure, if that long-with-love-acquainted eyes
Can judge of love, thou feel'st a lover's case,
I read it in thy looks; thy languished grace
To me, that feel the like, thy state descries.

The speaker addresses the moon and describes its ascent in the sky. The moon is personified as having a "wan face" and the speaker wonders if even in the heavens, Cupid is shooting his arrows. The speaker then suggests that the moon's appearance suggests that it is also experiencing the pain of love, just like the speaker.

Stanza 2

The second stanza describes the waterfall in more detail:

Then, even of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,
Is constant love deemed there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
Do they above love to be loved, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call virtue there ungratefulness?
And, oh, my heart's delight! do they cry 'No,'
And pine for love, as I for thee here?

The speaker asks the moon if love is considered foolish in heaven and whether or not beauty is as vain as it is on earth. The speaker then wonders if those who are loved in heaven scorn their lovers and if virtue is seen as ungratefulness. The speaker concludes the stanza by expressing his own desire for love and wondering if those in heaven also pine for it.

Stanza 3

The third stanza describes the speaker's own experience of love:

Hearken to me, as when Memnon's son,
The morning, lately on the mountain won,
Aurora's love-ward trumpet blew, and there
Stood still, enamoured with the voice he hear;
And yet, in spite of all, the sedate earth
Suspected nought, but blissful was the death
Of him that loved so well, and was so loved.

The speaker compares his own love to that of Memnon's son, who was enamored with the sound of Aurora's trumpet. The earth, however, is unaware of his love and the speaker suggests that his own death would be blissful since he loved so well and was so loved.

Stanza 4

The fourth stanza describes the speaker's desire for a spiritual awakening:

So, while I love, I live, and when I die,
I shall possess thee in the another sky.
And though thou mortal wax, and disappear,
The immortal sun, crowned with a diadem clear,
Shall beam on thee; and thou, with shining race,
Descend, and drive from hence the darksome night,
Which now, with hue so sad, deceitful, and untrue,
Hangs o'er the world, and all things doth imbrue.

The speaker suggests that his love will continue after death and that he will possess the object of his affection in another world. The "immortal sun" will shine on the speaker's love and drive away the darkness of the night.

Stanza 5

The fifth and final stanza describes the waterfall once again:

Farewell, ye gilded follies, pleasing troubles!
Farewell, ye honoured rags, ye glorious bubbles!
Fame's but a hollow echo, gold pure clay.
Honour, the darling but of one short day,
Beauty, th' eye's idol, but a damasked skin
State but a golden prison, to live in
And torture free-born minds; imbroidered trains
Merely but pageants for proud swelling veins.
And blood allied to greatness is alone
Inherited, not purchased, nor our own.
Fame, honour, beauty, state, train, blood, and birth,
Are but the fading blossoms of the earth.

The speaker bids farewell to the pleasures and follies of the world, suggesting that they are all temporary and fleeting. Fame, gold, honor, and beauty are all "fading blossoms of the earth" that will eventually disappear. The speaker suggests that true freedom can only be found in a spiritual awakening that transcends the physical world.


"The Water-Fall" is a poem that explores the themes of love, nature, and spirituality. The speaker is torn between his love for an object of affection and his desire for a spiritual awakening. He compares his own experience of love to that of Memnon's son and suggests that love can transcend the physical world. The waterfall is a metaphor for this transcendence, representing the spiritual awakening that the speaker desires.

The moon is also a prominent motif in the poem. The speaker addresses the moon and suggests that even in heaven, love can be painful. This suggests that love is a universal experience that transcends the physical world.

The fifth stanza is particularly powerful, with the speaker bidding farewell to the pleasures and follies of the world. This suggests that true freedom can only be found in a spiritual awakening that transcends the physical world. The speaker suggests that fame, gold, honor, and beauty are all temporary and fleeting and that true freedom can only be found in a spiritual awakening that transcends the physical world.


In conclusion, "The Water-Fall" is a masterpiece of mystical poetry that explores the themes of love, nature, and spirituality. The poem takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery, encouraging them to look beyond the physical world and seek spiritual awakening. Through vivid imagery and metaphors, Henry Vaughan has created a timeless work of literature that continues to inspire and provoke thought today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Water-Fall: A Poetic Masterpiece by Henry Vaughan

Poetry is a form of art that has the power to evoke emotions, paint vivid pictures, and transport the reader to a different world. One such masterpiece is "The Water-Fall" by Henry Vaughan, a Welsh poet who lived in the 17th century. This poem is a perfect example of how a poet can use nature to convey deep philosophical ideas and emotions.

The poem begins with a description of a waterfall, which is presented as a symbol of the eternal cycle of life and death. The waterfall is described as "everlasting," which suggests that it has been there since the beginning of time and will continue to exist long after we are gone. The use of the word "everlasting" also implies that the waterfall is a symbol of something greater than ourselves, something that transcends time and space.

The second stanza of the poem introduces the idea of the "hidden stream," which is the source of the waterfall. This hidden stream is a metaphor for the source of life, the mysterious force that gives birth to all living things. The fact that the stream is hidden suggests that this force is not easily accessible or understandable. It is something that we can only glimpse through the beauty of nature.

The third stanza of the poem introduces the idea of the "silent pool," which is the destination of the waterfall. This silent pool is a metaphor for death, the final destination of all living things. The fact that the pool is silent suggests that death is a peaceful and quiet place, a place where all the noise and chaos of life comes to an end.

The fourth stanza of the poem introduces the idea of the "shadowy tide," which is the movement of the water as it flows from the hidden stream to the silent pool. This shadowy tide is a metaphor for the journey of life, the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, the triumphs and failures. The fact that the tide is shadowy suggests that this journey is not always clear or easy to understand. It is something that we must navigate with faith and courage.

The fifth stanza of the poem introduces the idea of the "mossy brink," which is the edge of the waterfall. This mossy brink is a metaphor for the edge of life, the point where we must let go and surrender to the unknown. The fact that the brink is mossy suggests that this point is not a hard and fast line, but rather a gradual transition from one state to another.

The final stanza of the poem brings all these ideas together in a powerful conclusion. The poet declares that he will "sing the mysteries of this waterfall," which suggests that he has found something profound and meaningful in this natural wonder. He goes on to say that the waterfall is a symbol of the "eternal course" of life, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that we all must go through. He ends the poem with a call to action, urging us to "learn from hence how vain / Are mortal joys," and to seek something greater than ourselves.

In conclusion, "The Water-Fall" by Henry Vaughan is a masterpiece of poetry that uses nature to convey deep philosophical ideas and emotions. Through the metaphor of the waterfall, Vaughan explores the eternal cycle of life and death, the mystery of the source of life, the peacefulness of death, the journey of life, and the edge of life. This poem is a testament to the power of poetry to inspire, to move, and to transform. It is a reminder that we are all part of something greater than ourselves, something that transcends time and space.

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