etaylor.htp
Frank Coffman
Professor of English and Journalism / Rock Valley College, Rockford, Illinois
M.A. English, M.S. Journalism: Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
work in progress toward the Ph.D. in English, Northern Illinois University
home e-mail: fcoffman@primenet.com OR college e-mail: faco3fc1@rvcux1.RVC.CC.IL.US
Copyright 1994 by Dean Franklin Coffman, Jr. / all rights reserved
Please request permission to republish in part or in whole from the author at the e-mail addresses referenced above.


"Give Place, Ye Angels Bright": Pride and Piety in the Preparatory Meditations of Edward Taylor

Thy Grace, my Lord, is such a glorious thing, It doth Confound me when I would it sing. --Edward Taylor, Preparatory Meditations I.32


Now the greater part of a century since the first publication of Edward Taylor's work, the consensus of critical opinion has come down in favor of his Puritan orthodoxy--however oddly expressed-- seeing his poetic achievement as bold, but not blasphemous. There remain, however, intriguing questions stemming from his purported injunction to his heirs against the publication of his work, from the poetry itself --especially seen in the Preparatory Meditations -- and from a lack of critical attention to the significance of the word "preparatory" in the writing of these poems. Through a scrutiny of the Preparatory Meditations (with emphasis on the First Series), it is possible to open an avenue of approach to Edward Taylor and his poetry not, to my knowledge, previously traveled. If we examine the implications of: 1) his desire to remain unpublished (clearly evident from his own restraint in life, if not established by the tradition of his injunction to his heirs), 2) the content and quality of his poetry, 3) the overlooked significance of the preparatory nature of these poems, we find an enigma: a man whose humanistic Pride in his powers and potential as a poet clashed with his orthodox Piety, forcing him to question his fitness as a minister of God. What is more, we find a poet of the first order, whose religious zeal was both the spur and the spoiler of his poetic achievement. One of the early subjects of critical debate was Taylor's reported injunction to his heirs against the publication of his work. Some early readings of his work earned such assessments as "unorthodox" and even "Anglo-Catholic." Willie Weathers suggests (after noting Hellenistic inspirations for much of Taylor's poetry) that a "pagan" and "fleshly" influence might explain such an injunction (25-6). While Francis Murphy questions the authority of Taylor's injunction against publication, showing that Taylor died intestate (393-4), wehave, on the other hand, no good reason to refute his family's received belief that he did not wish his work to be published. Certainly the fact that he published none of it during his lifetime lends support to this traditional perception. Johnston's suggestion that Taylor's "thorough-going" modesty was the reason for his injunction-- a suggestion supported by Shepherd, ("Injunction" 512)-- is countered by one of Taylor's contemporaries, Stephen Williams: ". . . old Mr. Taylor is very fond of his own thoughts" (Medlicott 272). Certainly, that Taylor either thought his work was--or might be perceived as--somehow unacceptable, unorthodox, or inferior, remains a possibility. Just as likely--especially so with the Preparatory Meditations--is the possibility that Taylor simply viewed them as private and personal, the "preparations" for his own mind and soul but not, of necessity, for others. Perhaps some lines from Meditation 21 of the First Series are significant:

Oh! Bright! Bright thing! I fain would something say: Lest Silence should indict me. Yet I feare To say a Syllable lest at thy day I be presented for my Tattling here. Course Phancy, Ragged Faculties, alas! And Blunted Tongue don't Suit: Sighs Soile the Glass. (I.21 emphasis added)1

But just as forcefully in the other direction (a juxtaposition ubiquitous in Taylor's verse), we find in the next stanza:

Yet shall my mouth stand ope, and Lips let run Out gliding Eloquence on each light thing? And shall I gag my mouth, and ty my Tongue, Then[ETX]ë such bright Glory glorifies within? That makes my Heart leape, dancing to my Lute? And shall my tell tale tongue become a Mute? (I.21)

We see a wavering here that is indicative of the dilemma underlying all of his poetry. Perhaps it was Taylor's fear of the eventual censure of his work by God in heaven and--perhaps what he thought the more likely--by his own flock and fellows below that kept him from publishing. On the other hand, we see the fierce urgency of his need to be a poet, a refusal to be "Mute"--even if the only audience for his work were to be himself, his heirs, and God. Whatever the case, some of his early critics have thought the injunction to have been the product of his own belief in theinferiority of his work. Several critics have agreed with that assessment. Michael Reed maintains that "Taylor's conceits are often too extreme, yoking together the divine and the mundane, even the coarse or crude, to produce an effect that, for the modern reader, often verges on the ludicrous" 2 (304 emphasis added). More accurately, I believe, Evan Prosser sees the overly confining standards imposed by Taylor's Puritanism as the "problem" with his poetry:   "The world of Edward Taylor's poetry is essentially a closed one, limited by the framework of Taylor's religious vision" (375). Most critics, however, have acclaimed Taylor's poetry. Albert Gelpi calls him, "the first major poet in America. . . . Read against the background of the Puritan notion of poetry and language, Edward Taylor's poems stand out in vivid relief, foreshadowing an indigenous American poetic tradition" (15). Gelpi also calls Taylor's way with words "the first distinctive poetic style in America" (22), praising Taylor's "rude eccentricity" and "primitive power" (24). Roy Harvey Pearce calls Taylor "incomparably the best of our colonial poets" (31). Austin [ETX]Warren sees him as a "Colonial Baroque," a man who "must be accounted not only the best American poet before Bryant but the latest of known poets writing in the baroque style" (355-360). This is especially true in Taylor's use of the conceit "without planned movement of parallelism or contrast; each is a disjunct comparison" (362 emphasis added) or a "constant metaphoric explosion" (364). While few of his poems display "whole virtue," Taylor "is rarely uninteresting" (370-1). Thomas Johnston sees him as an American "Emblematist," (186-98) while Norman Grabo maintains that Taylor transcends the emblem tradition because of his "joining the visual with other senses"--especially sound (158). There can be no doubt that Taylor's content, rich in conceits and analyzed metaphors, and the sound of his language, boldly uneven, accentually "packed," and schematically embellished are the factors setting him apart as unique for his age. Some critics find him cacophonous, agreeing with his own frequent admonition of his verse as a collection of "snick-snarls." But again, most praise his "radical experiments in language" and "blunter, more tough-grained effects" (Gelpi 22).   While some fault Taylor's great divergence from his iambic pentameter norm in the Meditations, a divergence that comes from frequent metrical inversions and the inclusion of hypermetrical accents, Norman Grabo sees this as a virtue of poetic compression and richness of content: "The verse is as cramped as his soul, and it is undoubtedly meant to be so" (Edward Taylor 145). Taylor's wide- ranging conceits have been seen by some (Reed, et al.) to be too divergent, but Grabo maintains that "What surprises the modernreaders of Taylor are not these tricks of sound, but the inharmonious harmony of his images" (Taylor 149, emphasis added) Some praise is high indeed, seeing Taylor as America's greatest poet before the nineteenth century, an innovator who creates "what may be a distinctly American genre: the open-ended poem written over years, perhaps even over a lifetime. . . . there is nothing like Taylor's Preparatory Meditations until Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Pound's Cantos and Williams' Paterson" (Gelpi 32). Warren maintains that Taylor, ". . . invokes as companions in one respect or another,-- Crashaw, Blake, Dickinson, Hopkins, Crane . . . " (370-1, emphasis added). The preponderance of critical opinion sees Taylor as the great American poet of his time, although many find faults with his jumbled images and rough rhymes and rhythms. Before establishing the thesis that Taylor was a genius subdued by his Puritan zeal, it is proper to establish that he was a poetic prodigy in the first place. Much of this work has been done by Peter Thorpe in his important essay, "Edward Taylor as Poet" (q.v.). Thorpe answers nicely the accusations against Taylor's sometimes wrenched syntax, fragmentary and[ETX]· elliptical sentences, and heavy use of both tropes and schemata. Thorpe maintains that most of these devices are "justified artistically," that Taylor "often inverts the normal word order to get a particular word into the rhyming position." (359). Thorpe adds "we ought to look for artistic reasons for his irregularities. Most of the time we will find good reasons" (362). According to Thorpe, Taylor's heavy use of alliteration is seen "as pure and simple phonetic pleasure" (362). This extreme and unabashed delight in the sounds of language is a thing that distinguishes Taylor from the rest of the Colonial Puritans. As will be noted below, there are interesting affinities between Taylor's verse and that of both the English Metaphysicals (some or all of which Taylor may have been familiar with) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (which, of course, he could not have been)--enough so that we might later speculate on what is a pattern of religiously inspired verse. A brief examination of Taylor's use of stylistic figures and schemes will show the versatility of his art and his love of language as a medium of sound as well as thought. Let us first review Taylor's stylistic sense before examining the more content-intensive matter of his metaphors and conceits. Some correctly see ploce and polyptoton as central figures in Taylor's verses (Manierre, Gelpi), but chiasmus and punning are frequently found as well--often a combination of schemes is encountered:This I can say, and can this say mentain, If thou withdrawst, my heart soon sinks in mee. Though oftentimes my Spirits dulled, grow, If so, I am, I am not always soe. (II.97)   [ploce, chiasmus]

But oh! Poore mee, thy sluggish Servant I More blockish than a block, as blockhead, stand. (I.24) [polyptoton]

A Dying Life, and Living Death by Sin ("The Effects of Mans Apostacy") polyptoton, chiasmus]

Who in my War do take delight, Fight not for prey, but Pray, and Fight ("Our insufficiency to Praise God suitably, for His Mercy") [ploce, pun, chiasmus]

Root up the rocks and rock the hills by th' roots ("The Preface") [chiasmus, ploce]

Begracde with Glory, gloried with Grace (I.31) [chiasmus]

But this is not the Worst: there's worse than this. (I.31) [chiasmus]

Taylor's use of alliteration is extensive enough to put off some critics, but, as the unifying sound device of archaic English (indeed of all Germanic) poetry, the notion that he "overuses" the device must be viewed with skepticism. He shows nothing of the sing-songy excesses of Swinburne. Taylor does, like Donne before him and like Hopkins, Housman, and Dylan Thomas after him, seem to see it as the most significant sonic scheme of poetic diction; although, as demonstrated below, he is also fond of and displays a familiar ease with the other major sound effects--assonance, consonance, and internal rhyme:

Like Dunghill Cocks over their Conquerd, Crow. (I.19) [alliteration -- with a nice use of the periodic verb for delayed effect]

It would but blot and blur yea jag, and jar (Prologue) [alliteration, consonance]

The Golden Dore of Glory is the Grave. (I.34) [alliteration, assonance, consonance, internal rhyme]Fain I would sing thy Praise, but feare I feign. My Sin doth keepe out of my heart thy Feare . . . (I.43) [alliteration, pun, internal rhyme]

Taylor is also fond of the use of paradox:

My Fireless Flame (I.1)

Lord make my heart thy bed, thy heart make mine. Thy Love bed in my heart, bed mine in thine. (I.35)

Soe High, not High enough, Soe Great; too small: Soe Deare, not Dear enough in my esteem. Soe Noble, yet So Base: too Low; too Tall: Thou Full, and Empty art: Nothing, yet ALL. (I.2)

And he uses other figures from the classical rhetorical/poetical tradition:

Or as the Sun within its Azure bowre That guilds its Chrystall Walls with golden rayes It from its bowl like body, light out poures Exiling darkness, making glorious dayes. (II.45) [Homeric simile]

He uses syntactic inversion to good effect, and he is unafraid of enjambment (a marked departure from the conservatism of the closed couplet tradition):

These treasures of thy Wisdom shine out bright In thee. My Candle with thy Flame, Lord, Light. (II.45)

He frequently matches sound to sense in powerful lines, lines which convey the essence of their message in music as well as meaning:

"Under thy Rod, my God, thy smarting Rod" (II.40) Here the heavy accents and internal rhyme reinforce the meaning of the line. He frequently uses what Thorpe calls the "packed line" (366):

Earth, Water, Fire, Winds, Herbs, Trees, Beasts, and Men, Angells, and Divells, Bliss, Blasts, advance one stem? (I.35)In what might be called his "lust" for language, Taylor can be justifiably included with such poets as Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas. His love of alliteration is better controlled than Swinburne's (which most agree tends to cloy) and the rival of Housman's. While he sometimes inverts syntax for a rhyme, most of his[ETX]fi syntactical inversions make more sense than those of Cummings and many other moderns. Perhaps it is the religious content and compunction of the poems which both echo the Metaphysicals and anticipate (remarkably--since there could have been no influence) Hopkins. A few examples are worthy of comparison.

I'm but a Flesh and Blood bag: Oh! do thou Sill, Plate, Ridge, Rib, and Rafter me with Grace. (I.30) [compare the cadences of Donne's "Batter my heart, three-personed God" especially the line "break, blow, burn, and make me new" or of Hopkins from "Felix Randal"-- ". . . when thou at the random, grim forge, powerful amidst peers/Didst fettle for the great gray drayhorse his bright and battering sandal."]

Then ope the sluce: let some thing spoute on me. (I.37 emphasis added) [ compare Hopkins #74 "Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain"]

Looke till thy Looks look wan, my Soule; here's ground The Worlds bright Eye's dash't out: Day-Light so brave Benighted; the sparkling sun, palde round With flouring Rayes, lies buri'de in its grave; The Candle of the World blown out, down fell Life knockd ahead by Death: Heaven by Hell. . . . . . Brave Pious Fraud; as if the Setting Sun: Dropt like a Ball of Fire in the Seas, And so went out. But to the East come, run: You'l meet the morn Shrinde with its flouring Rayes. (I.19 emphasis added) [compare to Hopkin's finish to "God's Grandeur"-- "And though the last lights off the black West went/Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--"]

Thy Shining Sun of Righteousness my kiss And broodled be under its Healing Wing. (II.67)[compare Hopkins's Holy Ghost which "over the bent world broods, with warm breast and with Ah! bright wings.]

Taylor's use of wrenched syntax (hyperbaton) was traditionally an accepted part of poetic license and is probably derived not only from plentiful examples in English, but also from the poetic traditions of classical Greek and Latin. As Todd Bender notes in his interesting study, Gerard[ETX][CURVE] Manley Hopkins: The Classical Background and Critical Reception of his Work (Chapter IV on "Non-logical Syntax: Latin and Greek Hyperbaton" is especially relevant), manipulation of syntax can serve a number of rhetorical (chiefly emphatic and comparative) purposes. For example, as Bender points out, we need look no further than the opening of The Iliad where the fronting of key words (only one of many devices of "non-logical syntax") causes the hyperbaton:

The wrath, sing goddess, of the son of Peleus, of Achilles,
Destructive, which many on-the-Greeks woes brought (98).

The question that those put off by Taylor's heavy, wrenched, highly alliterative lines have yet to answer is, simply, this: How can we admire the power of Donne's "break, blow, burn, and make me new"; how can we admire the wrenched rhymes and "sprung rhythm" of Hopkins and find fault with these same qualities in another. In structure and in substance, the Preparatory Meditations have inspired much critical comment--mostly favorable. Gelpi asserts, ". . . there will be nothing like Taylor's poems of Christian meditation in our poetry until the Quartets" (43). They exhibit what North calls a "regimen of self-examination" (11). Peter Thorpe notes the striking "atmosphere of force and excitement" (356) and the "powerful subtleties" (372) in the Preparatory Meditations. William Bottorff asserts that Taylor writes well and beautifully within the strict confines of his stave of six in iambic pentameter (17). It should also be noted that Taylor achieves great variety within this restrictive pattern by frequent use of slant rhyme and the taking of great liberties with metrics. Grabo sees the Meditations as a form of "secret prayer" with the tripartite structure of Question, Development of the Image(s) [which Grabo sees as not always--or even often--consistent], and the Prayer of both Praise and Petition (138). Of the first series of[ETX]F Preparatory Meditations, Michael Schuldiner notes especially "the levels of spiritual exhilaration andanxiety" and sees these poems as "as fine a record of an individual's spiritual vacillations over an extended period of time as any that exists in verse" (113). We might usefully compare these "spiritual vacillations" to those seen in both Donne's Holy Sonnets or Hopkins's "Terrible Sonnets." North's insights are helpful in gaining an understanding of a duality in the poems: "On one hand he scans the whole of the visible world for metaphors which are promises of salvation. On the other hand, he continually examines himself for the marks that will show his own promise as a soul that can answer the call of God" (5). Prosser too sees a duality, seeing "the constant juxtaposition of the two voices [saint and sinner] in the verse. . . . [as] the main source of dramatic tension" (387). Thorpe discerns a definite and consistent tripartite pattern in the Preparatory Mediations of the "low-spirited [often self-effacing] opening," the "high-spirited close ['the final stanza of petition']" with the "knotty parallels" between (369). The endings are typically "if-then" propositions, what Michael Reed calls the "hypothetical ending" (310). North too comments on the closing couplet of the ABABCC stanzas: "There is a mutuality, a balance, to the last two lines of nearly every Meditation. One line describes the donation of Christ, one Taylor's own donation of praise" (16). A good example of this combination of prayer and promise is the close of Meditation I.3:

Be thou Musician, Lord, Let me be made The well tun'de Instrument thou dost assume. And let thy Glory be my Musick plaide. Then let they Spirit keepe my[ETX]· Strings in tune, Whilst thou art here on Earth below with mee Till I sing Praise in Heaven above with thee.

No artist in any medium is uniformly great. What is remarkable-- especially in light of the present contention that his religious zeal confines his subjects, and that his ministerial training confines his form-- is that Taylor's poetry is consistently bold, fresh, and interesting. Most remarkable about Taylor's verse is his use of the conceit, which, for the present purpose and in agreement with general consensus, we shall define as "a metaphor presenting a startling divergence between tenor and vehicle, offering a comparison of things seemingly incomparable." Most early critics of Taylor saw these as metaphysical conceits in the spirit--and under the possible influence--of Donne, Crashaw, Herbert, and Vaughan. Taylor himselfsets forth his firm belief in the viability of metaphor to convey religious concepts, in the power of the vehicles of this world to convey tenors of the next:

Natural things are not unsuitable to illustrate supernaturals by. For Christ in his parables doth illustrate supernatural things by natural, and if it were not thus, we could arrive at no knowledge of supernatural things, for we are not able to see above naturals. . . . But Grace excels all Metaphors. ("Christ's Creation and the Dissatisfactions of Metaphor," quoted in Daly 162)

"For him . . . the world itself is a metaphor" (Daly 176). North maintains that Taylor sets forth a "dual metaphorical duty" for himself in his "Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper": first, the "discerning" of the body of Christ in the sacraments, and, second, the "examination of ones self." "These duties are best carried out in poetry because they are essentially metaphorical. It is in fact their metaphorical nature that is their chief glory for Taylor, since the metaphors he seeks are not simply vehicles carrying an adventitious spiritual tenor, but active promises, examples of God's bond in the physical world" (North 5). And Taylor had ample doctrinal justification from the writings of other Puritans:

"The world is a mappe and shaddow of the spiritual estate of the soules of men"(John Cotton)

". . . for the world, and the creatures therein are like a book wherein Gods wisdom is written, and there must we seek it out" (Alexander Richardson)

But, as Kathleen Blake points out, "For the Protestant . . . metaphor is not metamorphosis. He tends to insist on the integrity of each term and gap between them" (10). For Taylor, this gap is never completely bridged, but it is decidedly narrowed in many of the Meditations--accounting, perhaps, for the early notions among some critics of his unorthodoxy or even his "Anglo-Catholic" heresy. Prosser argues that "The universe of this poet is closed to searching after novel interpretations of reality" (375). But this is not the case. While many of Taylor's "interpretations" may be typological, emblematic, or orthodox, many others are as "novel" as anything the Metaphysicals have to offer. Kenneth Burke's clarification of thenature of the metaphorical search for "Truth" in his seminal essay "Four Master Tropes" is helpful here: Metaphor [perspective] is a device for seeing something in terms of something else. It brings out the thisness of a that, or the thatness of a this. . . . [it] tells us something about one character as considered from the point of view of another character. And to consider A from the point of view of B is, of course, to use B as a perspective upon A. It is customary to think that objective reality is dissolved by such relativity of terms as we get through the shifting of perspectives (the perception of one character in terms of many diverse characters). But on the contrary, it is by the approach through a variety of perspectives that we establish a character's reality. If we are in doubt as to what an[ETX]' object is, for instance, we deliberately try to consider it in as many different terms as its nature permits: lifting, smelling, tasting, tapping, holding in different lights, subjecting to different pressures, dividing, matching, contrasting, etc. Indeed, in keeping with the older theory of realism (what we might call "poetic realism") we could say that characters possess degrees of being in proportion to the variety of perspectives from which they can with justice be perceived (421-2)3. It is this "poetic realism," this attempt to close in on God, to view God and Man's relationship to God from many angles that is the real achievement of Taylor's poetry. Milton, while portraying Satan (even if highly imaginatively) is highly unlikely to err to his own damnation by a depiction of evil. But Milton offers no real glimpse of the Godhead and only a peripheral look at the soldier Christ. Taylor is daring to look at God himself from as many angles as his share of Jung's "collective unconscious," his received doctrine and typology, and--most importantly--his own God-given imagination will allow. As William Manierre states (seemingly without noting the audacity of such a realization for the Puritan poet), ". . . the role of poet as 'creator' is analogous to the role of God in the 'creation'--the imaginative ingenuity by means of which the poet discovers and suggests new perceptions and relationships parallels, at an infinitely subordinate level, the source of all ingenuity which is, of course, the mind of God" (298). That Taylor was aware of this potent creative power was a source of both his pride and his agony. He could not accept with humble and pious assurance what J.R.R. Tolkien was able to express in a poetic note to his friend, C.S. Lewis (before Lewis's conversion). Lewis had charged that fantasy and fairy stories were guilty of "breathing a lie through silver." Tolkien wrote:Dear Sir--Although now long estranged, Man is not wholly lowst, nor wholly changed. Dis-graced he may be, yet is not de-throned, and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned: Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light through whom is splintered from a single White to many hues, and endlessly combined in living shapes that move from mind to mind. Though all the crannies of the world we filled with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build Gods and their houses out of dark and light, and sowed the seed of dragons--'twas our right (used or misused). That right has not decayed: we make still be the law in which we're made. (74)

Thomas Johnston sees this in Taylor as well: "As a poet, Taylor conceives of himself as a maker, . . . although he deprecates himself as spiritually deprived, physically insignificant, intellectually empty, and artistically inadequate before God, he has a particular bond with God, the Maker, a bond which he often exploits in the meditations. The maker to Maker relationship is the basis of the poet's repeated supplication. . . " (195 emphasis added). For Edward Taylor, for any poet, words are deeds--the "works" of the poet. But a dilemma forces itself upon him: since words are the medium of both thought and expression of fallen humanity, how can they be fit for the glorification of God. As Prudence Steiner maintains, " Over and over Taylor is trying to come to terms with those problems of language that are also mysteries of theology. . . . 'In the beginning was the word.' John's simple declaration of a complicated mystery is complicated further by his later statement: 'And the word was made flesh'. . . " (238). Steiner asserts Taylor's "need to understand the mystery that animates language, to test [his] understanding of it, to respond to it as best [he] could" (243) as the prime motive of his work. In trying to interpret his position in this world as a person preparing for[ETX]Õ the next, Taylor makes use in his poetry of "truths": archetypal, doctrinal, and personal. The believer in archetypes will adhere to a notion that, to use T.S. Eliot's coinage, "objective correlatives" exist and may be employed by the artist. I would contend that Taylor makes use of what I shall call "subjective correlatives" [those associations created by and, perhaps, unique to the individual artist] and "interjective correlatives" [those associations which are the received symbols and emblems of society,culture, or religion] to represent both "idiotypes" [personal associative figures] and "ideotypes" [doctrinal associations like the cross, Constantine's sign of chi-rho , the fish as an acronymic sign for Christ, etc.] Thomas Werge sees the archetypal "Tree of Life" as an influence on Taylor's poetry. (199-202). Schuldiner sees the archetypal journey of the hero in the first 49 [mystical 7 times 7] meditations. [what Joseph Campbell has called "the Monomyth," see Hero With 1000 Faces] Karen Rowe coins the term "typological conceit," (138), and it is certainly true that Taylor makes use of typological comparisons, stating his overall approval of them in the first poem of the Second Series of Preparatory Meditations:

The glory of the world slickt up in types In all Choise things chosen to typify, His glory upon whom the worke doth light To thine's a Shaddow, or a butterfly. . . . The glory of all Types doth meet in thee. Thy glory doth their glory quite excell. (II.1)

But this seems to muddy the waters and ignores the fact that many of Taylor's poems have little or nothing to do with typology. And, as Gelpi rightly sees, tropes and types are quite different, the former being embellishments of style and the latter being essential substance of the writing (51). Thomas Johnston sees Taylor as the last "Emblematist," (it should be noted that all of Johnston's[ETX][CURVE] examples are from the Second Series). But Taylor's truest quest, the search for subjective correlatives, for his own inspired revelations leaves him "constrained everywhere to find an earthly counterpart--however poor and dim--of that which is ineffably holy. For him the problem is not one of demonstrating or dramatizing this equivalence, but of discovering it" (Pearce 32). And Gelpi asserts that "Taylor draws out the imaginative correlatives for his sense of things" (33, emphasis added). Surely the archetypal symbols of the tree, of water, of the serpent are at work in Taylor's mind and his poetry (archetypes/objective correlatives). Just as surely the typological, emblematic and received metaphors (ideotypes/interjective correlatives) are present (The Tree in Eden associated with the Cross, etc.). But in many cases Taylor goes beyond these to uniquely imagined correspondences (idiotypes/subjective correlatives) --the stuff of his most strikingconceits. Some of these are extended analogies as in the often anthologized "Huswifery." Others are bold juxtapositions of divergent views (as per Burke's "variety of perspectives"); this is especially well achieved in the ultimate poem (#49--the mystical [archetypal] seven times seven) of the First Series. Still others are audacious to the extreme, as in the famous canoe journey of the souls of the Elect down the saving bloodstream of Christ, or where Satan becomes a cook (I.31), or, yet again:

The Soule's the Womb. Christ is the Spermodote And Saving Grace the seed cast thereinto. . . (II.80)

Were Bradstreet was very careful "not to set forth myself, but the glory of God" (quoted in Gelpi 16), Taylor exuberance and love of language force him to waver between self-assertion and self- effacement. One of the recurring topoi in the Preparatory Meditations is Taylor's continual insistence on the inadequacy of his poetic voice:

My Phancys in a Maze, my thoughts agast, Words in and Extasy; my Telltale Tongue Is tonguetide, and my Lips are padlockt fast To see thy Kingly glory in to throng. I can, yet cannot tell this Glory just, In Silence bury't, must not, yet I must. (I.17) [Style: Note also the use of slant rhyme.]

My Lord I fain would Praise thee Well but finde Impossibilities blocke up my pass. My tongue Wants Words to tell my thoughts, my Minde Wants thoughts to Comprehend thy Worth, alas! Thy Glory far Surmounts my thoughts, my thoughts Surmount my Words: Hence little Praise is brought. (I.34)

Thy Grace, Dear Lord's my golden Wrack, I finde Screwing my Phancy into ragged Rhimes, Turning thy Praises in my feeble minde Until I come to strike them on my Chimes. . . . But plung'd I am, my minde is puzzled, When I would spin my Phancy thus unspun, In finest Twine of Praise I'm muzzled. My tazzled Thought twirled into Snick-Snarls run. . . (I.32)Yet I am Tongetide stupid, senseless stand, And Drier drain'd than is my pen I hand. (I.27)

One might object that these verses are merely the fulfillment of some conventional "inadequacy" or "modesty" topos, but there is a persistence and force of expression that leads me to see these as genuine and soul-felt lament. Yet there is a hopeful note that runs through most of the Preparatory Meditations. The hope persists in Taylor that, in doing the best that he can, he will have done enough:

Me pitty, parden mee and Lord accept My Penny Prize, and penny worth of Praise. Words and their Sense within thy bounds are kept And richer Fruits my Vintage cannot raise. I can no better bring, do what I can: Accept thereof . . . . (II.106)


May my Rough Voice, and my blunt Tongue, but spell My Tale (for tune they can't) perhaps there may Some Angell catch an end oft up, and tell In Heaven, when he doth return that way, He'l make thy Palace, Lord, all over sing With it in Songs, they Saint, and Angells sing. (I.23)

Yet spare mee, Lord, to use this hurden ware. I have no finer Stuff to use . . . . (II.43)

But seing Non-Sense very Pleasant is To Parents, flowing from the Lisping Child, I Conjure to thee, hoping thou in this Will finde some hearty Praise of mine Enfoild, . . . (I.34)

Beyond this, Taylor prays again and again that his language be exalted. He prays for the ability to write poetry perfected both by and for his purpose, but he is continually pressed to self-effacement:

Thy Crumb of Dust breaths two words from its breast, That thou wilt guide its pen to write aright To Prove thou art, and that thou art the best. . . (Prologue)Lord, dub my tongue with a new tier of words More comprehensive far than my dull speech, That I may dress thy excellency, Lord, In language welted with emphatic reach. (II.19)

I fain would praise thee, but want words to do't: And searching ore the realm of thoughts finde none Significant enough and therefore vote For a new set of Words and thoughts hereon And leap beyond the line such words to gain In other Realms, to praise thee: but in vain. (II.106 emphasis added)

I'm but a jumble of gross Elements A Snaile Horn where an Evill Spirit tents.

A Dirt ball dresst in milk white Lawn, and deckt In Tissue tagd with gold, or Ermins flush, That mocks the Starrs, and sets them in a fret To see themselves out shone thus. Oh they blush. (I.46)

But against this self-effacement and repeated denial of both his and his poetry's worthiness, are set interesting and perplexing assertions of Taylor's humanistic pride in his own power as a poet and his own heritage as one of the God's favorite creatures:

Shall I thy Vine branch be, yet grapes none beare? (I.37)

Is my Relation to thee but a boast? (I.37)

Nature's amaz'de, Oh monstrous thing Quoth shee, Not Love my life? What Violence doth split True Love, and Life, that they should sunder'd bee? (I.33)




Glory lin'de out a Paradise of Power Where e'ry seed a Royall Coach became For Life to ride in, to each shining Flower. And made mans Flower with glory all ore flame. . . (I.33[ETX]-)   Gods onely Son doth hug Humanity, Into his very person. By which Union His Humane Veans its golden gutters ly. And rather than my Soule should dy by thirst, These Golden Pipes, to give me drink, did burst. (I.10)

Thy joyes in mee will make my Pipes to play For joy thy Praise while teather'd to my clay. (I.48)

This theme of humanistic pride is never more clearly stated than in "The Experience," a poem we might view as the zenith of Taylor's hopefulness and the poem that attempts to capture the one conversion experience (so sought by the Puritan faithful) that he sets forth in verse:

I'le Claim my right: Give place, ye Angells Bright. Ye further from the Godhead stand than I. My Nature is your Lord; and doth Unite Better than Yours unto the Deity. Gods Throne is first and mine is next: to you Onely the place of Waiting-men is due. . . . . Flesh of my flesh, Bone of my Bone. There's run Thy Godhead, and my Manhood in thy Son. ("The Experience")

  [ETX]Â A significant poem is number 25 of the First Series. It begins much like Hopkins's "Terrible Sonnets":

Why should my Bells, which Chime thy Praise, when thou My Shew-Bread, on the Table wast, my King, Their Clappers, or their Bell-ropes want even now? But it continues into a discussion of art in general and Taylor's poetic achievement in particular:

When I behold some Curious Piece of Art, Or Pritty Bird, Flower, Star, or Shining Sun, Poure out o'reflowing Glory: oh! my Heart Achs seeing how my thoughts in Snick-Snarls run. While I instead of any, am all blot . . . . . Dost thou adorn some thus, and why not mee? Ile not believe it. Lord, thou art my Chiefe. Thou me Commandest to believe in thee. I'l not affront thee thus with Unbeliefe.



Lord, make my Soul Obedient: and when so, Thou saist Believe, make it reply, I do. (I.25 emphasis added)

By and large, critics have overlooked or undervalued the first word in the title of his Preparatory Meditations. Taylor's self-effacement is an act of purgation, an act of making him both a worthy participant in and worthy celebrant of the Lord's Supper. His harmonies (and disharmonies) are his hair shirt. A flagellant both in figure and in fact, he flails himself with his own lines of poetry. Taylor whips himself with his own words, yet they serve, ironically, as a double lash: they punish and they goad . He is always aware of the fact and afraid of the possibility that the mighty may fall and the apparent Elect be disenfranchised. But he cannot purge himself of the urge to sing, which brings with it the tendency to pride in his own singing. His great desire is that he be justified, but nearly as great is the desire that his poetry be justified. As Daly maintains:

While he remained on earth, then, Taylor's poetry was always in process, never completed. All poems were subject to unending revision, even after being copied out in fair copy. Lines from one poem could be expanded into another poem. And he could bring each flawed poem to a close only by asking God to grant him the grace to write a perfect poem, knowing full well that here on earth he could never be sure that that grace had been granted, never be sure of the metaphors he saw and wrote. (198, emphasis added) Turning to the notion of the limiting nature of Taylor's Puritan position and the common notions of art obtaining in his Puritan culture. "That culture, indeed cut Taylor down (or should one say, built Taylor up?) to its size. However adequate that culture might have been for major religious experience, it was yet inadequate for major poetry; for it allowed for little play of the individual will--in the last analysis, for little real human drama" (Pearce 43). Specifically, Pearce sees the obligatory endings of the Meditations as a spoiling influence, curtailing Taylor's invention: "What we see everywhere in Taylor's work is that the end of the poem inhibits the act of composition, and ultimately the act of the poem itself" (43). As Kenneth Murdock notes, the arts for most Puritans were thrust "into the realm of pastimes" (Murdock lxvii-lxviii). This self-effacement is such that, at times, Taylor questions his justification (proclaimed in "The Experience"). One gets the impression that Taylor believed he had "a heart set upon heaven," what Richard Baxter in "The Saints Everlasting Rest" calls "one of the most unquestionable evidences of thy sincerity."Taylor's seems to have been a soul waging a constant battle between Piety and Pride, between humanistic hubris and Puritan humility. He questions the truth of his justification in many verses:

Lord am I thine? art thou, Lord, mine? (I.35)

O stupid Heart! What strang-strange thing am I? (I.36)

Oh! that I ever felt what I profess. 'Twould make me then the happi'st man alive. (I.35)

Oh! What a thing is Man? Lord, who am I? (I.38)

Oh! woe is me! Was ever Heart like mine? A Sty of Filth, a Trough of Washing Swill A Dunghill Pit, a Puddle of mere Slime. A Nest of Vipers, Hive of Hornets; Stings. A Bag of Poyson, Civit-Box of Sins. (I.40)




Was ever Heart like mine? Pride, Passion, fell. Ath'ism, Blasphemy, pot pipe it, dance Play Barlybreaks, and at lost Couple in Hell. (I.40)

But am I thine? Oh! what strange thing's in mee? Enricht thus by thy Legacy? yet finde When one small Twig's broke off, the breach should bee Such an Enfeebling thing upon my minde. (I.36)

Nature's Corrupt, a nest of Passion, Pride, Lust, Worldliness, and such like bubs: I pray, But struggling finde, these bow my Heart aside. . . . They do inchant me from my Lord, I finde, The thoughts wereof proove Dagger in my minde. (I.43)

Meditation 37 of the first series is a key poem of questioning and a clear indication of a sometimes faltering faith and again of his assurance of his own worth as a poet and a being in God's image:

Shall I thy Vine brance be, yet grapes none beare? . . .Is my Relation to thee but a boast? . . . Am I thy Child, Son, Heir, thy Spouse, yet gain Not of the Rights that these Relations claim? . . . Then ope the sluice: let some thing spoute on me. Then I shall in a better temper bee. (I.37)


And Taylor is well aware of his humanism. As Reed observes, "[Taylor] runs the risk that his poetry will further ensnare him in the world. . . . Hence, Taylor always couches his pleas for saving grace in the hypothetical mode [if-then propositions]. . . . [which] serves to maintain Taylor in the narrow middle ground between pride and hypocrisy; it allows him to write poetry in the hope of inspirations by the grace of God" (311 emphasis added). Black sees Taylor's Preparatory Meditations as "the record on the literary level, of the increasing humanization which the original austerity of Puritan thought was everywhere undergoing" (181). Shuldiner agrees with Stanford that "the meditation was a means by which Taylor attempted to return to an earlier religious experience" and that "Taylor is seeking evidence of his election" (Shuldiner 113-14). As Reed points out, Baxter's notion of the "Soliloquy" is a good explanation--and one likely source--of Taylor's meditative structure: "Soliloquy is Preaching to ones self. Therefore the very same Method which a Minister should use in his Preaching to other, should a Christian use in speaking to himself" (quoted in Reed 306). At times, Taylor's verse indicates either an unorthodoxy or a conservative orthodoxy that had become, by his day, unorthodox. Some of his verses, for example seem to agree with the Catholic Covenant of Good Works or Deeds:

Then cloath therewith mine Understanding, Will, Affections, Judgment, Conscience, Memory; My Words and Actions, that their shine may fill My wayes with glory and thee glorify. ("Huswifery" emphasis added).

. . . I now will climb The stares up to thine Altar, and on't lay Myself, and services, even for its shrine. (I.11 emphasis added)

. . . . I fain would take, I thinke,Vengeance upon myselfe: But I Confess, I can't. Mine Eyes, Lord, shed no Tears but inke. My handy Works, are Words, and Wordiness. Earth's Toyes ware Knots of my Affections . . . . (I.24)

In his insistence that the communicant be a worthy (i.e. justified or at least congregationally accepted) member of the church, Taylor was acting the reactionary in a changing time. His argument with Stoddard [the famous "Stoddardian Controversy"] (as Grabo attests) was that the Lord's Supper was a "grace strengthening" rather than "grace begetting" sacrament, a thing to be reserved for those who were generally accepted to be worthy as likely members of the Elect. In some ways, his view of the importance and exclusiveness of the Lord's Supper seems to be unorthodox. As Blake points out, ". . . the Catholic tends toward a kind of transubstantiation in his metaphors as well as in his sacrament. By contrast, no matter how hard the Protestant strains to make this world touch the next, he tends to remain grounded in the physical and to see spiritual reality from this side of the metaphoric connection" (24). North sees Taylor's view of the sacrament as "a symmetrical act of dedication" (4). But Mindele Black sees many of Taylor's conceits "at a far remove from the conventional Puritan view of the sacraments as a seal, and running some risk of confusing the sign with the thing signified" (178). Black sees a kind of "aesthetic schizophrenia" in Taylor, with strict Calvinism juxtaposed against "ornate and sensuous metaphors" (180). In the final analysis, we may view Edward Taylor as a man who realized the Christian predicament of a religion which demands that we imitate a life beyond imitation and that we aspire to a perfection that is unattainable; that we must fight a long, twilight struggle in a war against Evil, a[ETX]ß war which we can never win, but which we must not lose. But Taylor never quite arrived at the two soothing assurances open to the Christian artist: first, that imitation is one of the sincerest forms of praise; second, that the only tools we can use are the ones at hand. He was restricted further by both the essential subject matter of his poetry and the object of his life. "By tracing [his 'mystical experience'], describing it, reacting to it, and praising it, Taylor limited his poetry; but he never relegated his verses to a minor activity. . . . From time to time his writing moved him to think himself soaring above the stars to stand at heaven's door" (Grabo 173 emphasis added). Hence, Taylor was a man, as evidenced by his poetic legacy, wavering between assurance and doubt, between   orthodoxy and humanistic audacity. We see him correctly as a poet of reactionary religion, liberal language, and anticipatory art. [ETX] He was the boldest and best of our early poets. He would have been bolder and better still if he had not been a poet sadly confined to and confounded by his religion. He was a man walking the razor edge between exultation over his largely achieved human potential and his art-checking belief in (and omnipresent consciousness of) the dangers inherent in the sin of Pride. He saw the act of poetry as a metaphor for creation. And it seems clear that he made the analogous extension, the short "leap" to the humanistic notion that we are--however imperfect--metaphors for God. It was a leap that both motivated and restrained him and his poetic achievement.

[SOH] Notes


1 In this and all subsequent references to poems from the Preparatory Meditations, the notations will abbreviate the First or Second series by a Roman numeral, separated by a period from the Arabic numeral that designates the particular number in the series.

2 But Reed misses the point here in two ways: first, that the conceit, by generally accepted definition IS precisely this "yoking" of the widely disparate; second, that, while Taylor may well indeed have though that his poetry might have had an unintended "effect" on his own audience [hence, perhaps, the reported request to his heirs not to publish his work], he certainly can have had no thought for "the modern reader."

3 Scientific truth, Burke argues, is concerned with process and causation. "The limits of science, qua science, do not go beyond the statement that , when certain conditions are met, certain new conditions may be expected to follow" (423). Poetic truth, on the other hand, which deals with "human relationships. . . . must be substantial, related by the copulative, the 'is' of being. . . . there can be no science of substance, except insofar as one is willing to call philosophy, metaphysics, or theology 'sciences'" (424 emphasis added). Burke further defines his other three master tropes, it becomes manifestly possible to see their relevance to an understanding of theological and metaphysical poetics. Metonymy (reduction), synecdoche (representation), and irony (dialectic) as Burke defines



them all offer us avenues of approach and understanding to this poetry.


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