At the time when English poetry, following the lead of John Dryden, was moving into a century of neoclassicism, Edward Taylor was writing verse in the Metaphysical mode of Donne, characterized by complex syntax, striking conceits, and intimate direct address: Most of Taylor’s poems are addressed to God. In addition to his Metaphysical style, of primary interest to today’s readers of Taylor’s poetry are his propensity to employ the meditative technique, his practice of coordinating private poetic meditation with public sermon, his perhaps unexpected but nevertheless felicitous use of classical allusions, and his attention to the function of the fancy or the imagination in the poetic process.
“Huswifery,” perhaps Taylor’s most famous poem, also displays one of his most eloquent conceits. As did most Puritans of his time, Taylor often found evidence of God’s providence in the quotidian. In “Huswifery,” he discovers God’s purpose for the poet’s public ministry in his wife’s spinning wheel, perdurable symbol of America’s pioneer struggle. The poem begins with this arresting plea, “Make me, O Lord, Thy spinning wheel complete.” The poet then develops this conceit in a logical fashion, first according to ingenious analogies drawn between the various components of the spinning wheel and second by focusing on the machine’s product, clothing. That which holds the fibers of wool to be spun, the...
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