Edward Taylor Essay - Critical Evaluation

Critical Evaluation

Lord, let thy Glorious Body send suchrayesInto my Soule, as ravish shall myheart,That Thoughts how thy Bright Gloryout shall blazeUpon my body, may such Rayes theedart.My Tunes shall dance then on theseRayes, and CaperUnto thy Praise: when Glory lightsmy Taper.—Meditation Seventy-Six, SecondSeries.

Edward Taylor, an orthodox Puritan minister, was New England Puritanism’s sweetest singer before the Lord, but for more than two hundred years after his death his poems were unknown since he did not allow their publication and directed that his heirs should not publish them. The 400-page manuscript containing his poetical works was presented to Yale University in 1883 by Henry Wyllys Taylor. Thomas H. Johnson, a specialist in American literature, discovered the poems and received permission from the university to publish them. THE POETICAL WORKS OF EDWARD TAYLOR, published in 1939, contains what Mr. Johnson regards as the best of Taylor’s poems.

The POETICAL WORKS contains a long verse sequence titled “God’s Determinations Touching His Elect,” a group of five occasional poems, and selected poems from two long series of “Sacramental Meditations.” “God’s Determinations” is largely in dialogue form; and the speakers—Mercy, Justice, Christ, Satan, the Soul, and a Saint—are reminiscent of characters in early English morality plays. The several poems in the sequence are written in a variety of stanzaic patterns; and the style (as in all of Taylor’s poems) is that of the seventeenth-century English metaphysical poets like John Donne and George Herbert. The lines abound in homely comparisons and metaphors drawn from New England life and in extravagant conceits which are a distinguishing mark of all metaphysical poetry.

This long work, which embodies a contest between Christ and Satan for mankind, is typically Puritan in thought in that it attempts to justify the Calvinistic doctrine of the Covenant. According to this doctrine, God made a covenant with Adam that he and his descendants would possess eternal happiness if they did not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. By disobeying, Adam and Eve lost their immunity to suffering and death. But through a new Covenant of Grace, God gave men another chance to save themselves from condemnation. If they would believe in Christ, who had willingly died for them, certain elect souls would be saved. They would not really earn this salvation through any good works they might do, but they would receive it out of God’s abounding grace. No one knew how many of these elect there were, but each believer in Christ might hope that he was included.

Though Calvinism, greatly modified, is still present in the doctrines of many of the Protestant churches of today, most modern readers find tedious the long discussions of grace, faith, redemption, and damnation which course through the poetry and prose of the New England Puritans. For this reason, much of “God’s Determinations” is of less interest than Taylor’s other poems, in which the poet’s lyricism and fanciful turns of thought are not subdued or distracted by theological argument.

There is nothing to distinguish many of Taylor’s lines in “God’s Determinations” from the writing of perhaps a dozen of his poetizing Puritan contemporaries in America and England. Mercy’s reply to Justice, for example, concerning the respective fates of the Devil’s disciples and of the...

(The entire section is 1606 words.)