Sunday, September 27, 2020

My soul, there is a country

“Peace” was written by Henry Vaughan (1621–1695). Henry Vaughan was a Welshman, born April 17, 1622, the son of Thomas Vaughan (d. 1658).[i] This Vaughan family was of Tretower Court, the parish of Llanfihangel Cwm-du, Brecknock. As a child, Vaughan was taught by a minister named Matthew Herbert. Except for his time studying in Oxford and London, Henry Vaughan resided “his entire adult life in Brecknockshire on the estate where he was born and which he inherited from his parents.” Henry Vaughan called himself a “Silurist,” signifying the heritage of natives of Brecknockshire in Wales. He also styled himself a convert of George Herbert, crediting his change of views to “the blessed man, Mr. George Herbert, whose holy life and verse gained many pious converts, of whom I am the least.” Vaughan was a poet, translator, studied law, and practiced medicine from in the 1650s until his death. “Peace” appeared in his Silex Scintillans – “The Glittering Flint,” first published in 1650 and enlarged in 1655. He published other works, including Thalia Rediviva in 1678.

Henry Vaughan married twice, first to Catherine Wise in 1646, and after her death in 1653, to her sister Elizabeth Wise (circa 1655). Henry and Catherine had four children (a son and three daughters). He died April 23, 1695, and was buried at St. Brides Churchyard in Llansantffraed, Powys, Wales.

1. My Soul, there is a country 
Afar beyond the stars, 
Where stands a winged sentry 
All skillful in the wars; 

2. There, above noise and danger 
Sweet Peace sits, crown’d with smiles, 
And One born in a manger 
Commands the beauteous files. 

3. He is thy gracious friend 
And (O my Soul awake!) 
Did in pure love descend, 
To die here for thy sake. 

4. If thou canst get but thither, 
There grows the flow’r of peace, 
The rose that cannot wither, 
Thy fortress, and thy ease. 

5. Leave then thy foolish ranges, 
For none can thee secure, 
But One, who never changes, 
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

The poem as transcribed above exhibits modernized spellings. It is a fitting tribute to the peace of God which passeth all understanding (Philippians 4:7). The author calls the reader away from earthly views and places to consider a country far from mortal sight, which by faith is seen. Vaughan’s vocabulary is simple, yet sufficient. Though not written as a hymn, the verse structure is generally 7s.6s., with an alternate rhyming pattern. The poem invites readers to sing it, and it has in fact been set to music. One pairing is with Christus Der Ist Mein Leben by Melchior Vulpius. Vulpius published this tune as a setting for the funeral hymn “Christus, der ist mein Leben” – “For Me to Live Is Jesus” – in Ein Schön Geistlich Gesangbuch (1609).

As descendants of Vaughans (Vaughns) of Wales, our family possibly has some kinship to this hymn writer.

[i] The Dictionary of Welsh Biography states that Thomas Vaughan “married the heiress of Newton in Llansantffraed.” In letters to John Aubrey, Vaughan reveals his mother’s name as Denise Morgan, and that he had a twin brother named Thomas. (Thomas, Jr. became a rector in the Church of England.) Most biographies give Vaughan’s birth year as 1621. However, his tombstone gives his age at time of death as 73 years old. If April 17 is the correct birthday for Henry Vaughan, and if he was 73 years old when he died, then 1622 is the correct birth year. However, Vaughan seems to give the year as 1621 in one of his letters to John Aubrey.

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