Edward Taylor c. 1642-1729
American poet, sermon writer, and diarist.
Virtually unknown as a poet in his own time, Taylor was rediscovered in the twentieth century and is today considered one of the most important poets of colonial America. His verse is primarily contained in two books: Gods Determinations Touching His Elect (1682) and Preparatory Meditations (1682-1726).
There is little reliable information available on Taylor's life before he arrived in America. He was born into a fairly prosperous farm family around 1642, possibly in Sketchley, Leicestershire, England. Taylor's mother died in 1657 and his father a year later. The boy apparently attended a school run by a nonconformist teacher, but little else is known of his education; there is no evidence to support the frequently repeated contention that he attended Cambridge University. Taylor worked as a schoolteacher during the reign of Oliver Cromwell when dissenters enjoyed religious freedom; however, after the Restoration he refused to sign the 1662 Act of Uniformity and was denied further employment. In 1668, unable to worship according to the dictates of his conscience, Taylor left England for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Following seventy days at sea, he landed in Boston and shortly thereafter entered Harvard College, where for the next three years he studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew, logic, and rhetoric. After receiving his degree in 1671, Taylor accepted a position at a church in the small farming community of Westfield, Massachusetts, one hundred miles from Boston. In 1674 he married Elizabeth Fitch, the daughter of a minister, and the couple had eight children, with only three surviving infancy. The struggling frontier community of Westfield endured many physical hardships and a hostile relationship with the local Indians, particularly during the years 1675-76, the time of King Philip's War. When peace returned, Taylor assumed his church duties in earnest; he was ordained in 1679 and began preaching to his congregation. Since colonial America had few formally trained physicians, the role was often filled by ministers and other public officials, particularly in outlying areas. Thus, in addition to his farming and ministerial duties, Taylor also served as the only physician to the Westfield community. In 1689 Taylor's wife Elizabeth died; three years later he married Ruth Wyllys, of Hartford, with whom he had six more children. In failing health in his last years, Taylor continued to write elegies and religious verse until the very end. He died on June 24, 1729, and is buried in Westfield, Massachusetts.
Taylor's earliest poetry, written while he was still in England, reflects his Puritan beliefs as well as his animosity towards the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. The poem “The Lay-Mans Lamentation” more specifically took up the cause of dissenting ministers persecuted by the Restoration's Act of Uniformity. During this period Taylor also composed a letter for his brother Joseph in acrostic verse, a form that fascinated him throughout his career. While at Harvard, Taylor wrote a number of elegies and in his first year at Westfield he produced a double acrostic elegy to Charles Chauncy. Once his church in Westfield was established, Taylor began writing Gods Determinations, aimed at convincing all individuals in the small community to become full-fledged members of the church. The work was not published during Taylor's lifetime. From 1682 to 1726 he composed Preparatory Meditations, consisting of more than two hundred individual poems. The work is considered his masterpiece. In the early part of the eighteenth century Taylor composed a lengthy verse detailing the suffering of Christian martyrs throughout church history. The work was untitled and remained unpublished until 1962, when it appeared under the title A Transcript of Edward Taylor's Metrical History of Christianity. Two collections of Taylor's poetic works were also published in the twentieth century: The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor (1939) and The Poems of Edward Taylor (1960).
In addition to his verse, a large number of Taylor's sermons survive and have been published in two collections: Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper (1693-94) and Christographia (1701-03). Taylor's diary, covering the hardships of his voyage from England to America, his college years at Harvard, and the early years of the Wakefield settlement, was not published until 1964.
For nearly two hundred years after his death, Taylor was known to historians only as a preacher at a remote outpost in western Massachusetts. The location of his parish on what was then the frontier contributed to his obscurity until the 1930s, when his work was discovered and published by Thomas H. Johnson. According to critic Karl Keller, Taylor was “the first frontier poet of early America” and his work is of historical value primarily because it sheds light on the aesthetics associated with early Puritanism. Taylor's work embodies the classic Puritan dilemma—that the devout individual's desire to glorify God is severely hampered by awareness of his unworthiness to perform such a task. Jerome D. DeNuccio believes that for Taylor, this translates to a linguistic problem, which he tries to solve in “Preparatory Meditation 1.22.” In this poem, according to DeNuccio, Taylor employed the rhetorical strategy of ascending from a sense of human limitation to a glimpse of possible salvation, resulting in a meditation that seems to manage “the anxieties and self-doubts generated by the paradox of man's obligation to praise an unpraisable God.” Another problem for devout Puritans of Taylor's time was reconciling the growing body of scientific information with religious teachings. Catherine Rainwater reports that Taylor displayed an interest in new developments in science and medicine while at Harvard and exhibited a progressive attitude toward change. “Apparently, the new scientific data posed no significant threat to Taylor, as it did to many others, for Taylor was always able, eventually, to accommodate the new information to Puritan theology.” This view is contrary to Jeff Jeske's findings regarding Taylor's use of nature imagery. While the Puritan community in general was gradually accepting a more empirical attitude toward nature, Taylor appeared to be heading in the opposite direction. According to Jeske, “where Puritanism becomes more accepting of the natural world and more liberal in its use of nature imagery, Taylor becomes seemingly more detached and distrustful: witness his increasing preference for ‘nature’ images drawn directly from Scripture.”
Critics have also disagreed on the intended audience for Gods Determinations, with J. Daniel Patterson arguing that the minister was not addressing only the “half-way” members of the congregation, but rather all members of the religious community. If the work were not aimed at two different readerships, contends Patterson, much of the text would appear redundant—an unlikely scenario given the care and control Taylor exhibits in his writing. Thomas M. Davis believes that Taylor's improving skill as a poet is demonstrated by differences between the first poems of Gods Determinations and the work's final verses. Davis contends the text was composed over approximately three years, from 1679 to 1681-82, and considers the work as a whole uneven: “The generally high quality of the verse and techniques is often undercut by quite pedestrian lines that are flat and dull and by a shaky development of individual sections of the poem.” The final verses, though, are “highly successful and sophisticated,” Davis maintains, suggesting that the poet had finally “found his stride” towards the end of the composition period. Some critics have noted similarities between Taylor's verse and drama. William J. Scheick suggests that “Taylor's use of dramatic monologue appropriates a Renaissance dramatic convention despite expressed Puritan antipathy for the theater.” Lincoln Konkle goes even further in claiming that Gods Determinations could be considered a verse drama, rather than lyric poetry, since the majority of its 2,132 lines consists of dialogue, monologue, or the narrator's exposition of events. Most scholars, however, have disagreed with attempts to reclassify the work, suggesting that it could not be performed as a play for a number of reasons, among them the importance of the individual poems' titles.
Taylor's language is often considered simple and his imagery plain and very much grounded in the real world. Some scholars, though, believe that his use of language is quite elegant and complex. Raymond E. Craig maintains that “the intertextual and intratextual play within his poetry results from a sophisticated understanding of language that he brings to the making of new poems.” Several critics have also commented on Taylor's wit, suggesting that his sense of humor refutes the common perception about the Puritans' melancholy dispositions. Carol M. Bensick reports that Gods Determinations “goes beyond merely showing that Puritanism didn't approve, let alone mandate, gloom. It shows us … that gloom is actually a Puritan dysfunction.” John Gatta, too, notes that Taylor's poetry, compared to the work of many of his New England contemporaries, “emerges as unusual if not unique in the manner and extent to which it exploits comic principles.”
Gods Determinations Touching His Elect: And the Elects Combat in Their Conversion, and Coming Up to God in Christ: Together with the Comfortable Effects Thereof 1682
Preparatory Meditations before My Approach to the Lords Supper. Chiefly upon the Doctrin Preached upon the Day of Administration 1682-1726
The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor 1939
The Poems of Edward Taylor 1960
A Transcript of Edward Taylor's Metrical History of Christianity 1962
Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper (sermons) 1693-94
Christographia, or a Discourse Touching Christs Person, Natures, the Personall Union of the Natures, Qualifications, and Operations Opened, Confirmed, and Practically Improoved in Severall Sermons Delivered upon Certain Sacrament Dayes unto the Church and People of God in Westfield (sermons) 1701-03
The Diary of Edward Taylor: An Atlantic Voyage, Life at Harvard College, and Settlement at Westfield, 1668-1672 (diary) 1964
SOURCE: Keller, Karl. “Edward Taylor, The Acting Poet.” In Puritan Poets and Poetics: Seventeenth-Century American Poetry in Theory and Practice, edited by Peter White, pp. 185-97. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1985.
[In the following essay, Keller explores the persona Taylor assumed in his poetry in order to demonstrate his humility and sense of unworthiness.]
The Connecticut River Valley poet Edward Taylor (1642-1729) had to be invented. There was no way of knowing that someone remotely that good would have lived at that remote time and in that remote place. We could not have guessed him from those who settled in the generation...
(The entire section is 6795 words.)
SOURCE: Patterson, J. Daniel. “Gods Determinations: The Occasion, the Audience, and Taylor's Hope for New England.” Early American Literature 22, no. 1 (spring 1987): 63-81.
[In the following essay, Patterson studies the intended audiences for the poem Gods Determinations, contending that Taylor was addressing two distinct groups within his New England congregation.]
Edward Taylor composed Gods Determinations at a time of crisis in New England Congregationalism. The “Half-Way” Synod of 1662 had tried to resolve the problem of declining memberships by extending baptism and church discipline to all the children of the Covenant, specifically...
(The entire section is 8375 words.)
SOURCE: DeNuccio, Jerome D. “Linguistic Dilemma in Edward Taylor's ‘Meditation 1.22.’” English Language Notes 26, no. 3 (March 1989): 19-24.
[In the following essay, DeNuccio discusses Taylor's strategy for dealing with the inadequacy of language in praising God. The poet, explains DeNuccio, emphasized the process of writing laudatory verse over the necessarily unworthy final product.]
The devout Puritan faced a particularly thorny problem. He recognized the incomparable majesty of God and recognized that his duty as a temporal creature lay in testifying to that majesty. Indeed, every aspect of his life, all his thoughts and activities, were to be structured...
(The entire section is 2116 words.)
SOURCE: Gatta, John. “Pills to Purge New England Melancholy.” In Gracious Laughter: The Meditative Wit of Edward Taylor, pp. 33-62. Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1989.
[In the following excerpt, Gatta explores Taylor's use of wit as an ameliorative against the well-documented melancholic temperament of the New England Puritans.]
THE DIAGNOSIS OF PURITAN SORROW
If Taylor's rhetorical invocation of delight to draw the heart toward salvation is well rooted in theology, clearly it is no less grounded in spiritual psychology. And as we examine more closely this psychological matrix of the poet's comic aesthetic, we confront the...
(The entire section is 11873 words.)
SOURCE: Konkle, Lincoln. “Puritan Epic Theatre: A Brechtian Reading of Edward Taylor's Gods Determinations.” Communications 19, no. 2 (November 1990): 58-71.
[In the following essay, Konkle suggests that Gods Determinations could be classified as a verse drama rather than as poetry.]
Fifty years after the publication of The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor, there is still much to be said about Gods Determinations Touching His Elect: AND The Elects Combat In Their Conversion, AND Coming Up to God In Christ: TOGETHER WITH The Comfortable Effects Thereof (hereafter, Gods Determinations) regarding its generic classification, the...
(The entire section is 7329 words.)
SOURCE: Rainwater, Catherine. “‘This Brazen Serpent Is a Doctors Shop’: Edward Taylor's Medical Vision.” In American Literature and Science, edited by Robert J. Scholnick, pp. 18-38. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1992.
[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1991, Rainwater explores Taylor's dual role as religious poet and physician, tracing his attempts to reconcile emerging scientific developments with Puritan theology.]
“A physitian cureth not only the body but the mind in some manner,” writes Nicholas Culpeper in 1654; his statement reflects the neo-Platonic and alchemical assumptions underlying Renaissance medical...
(The entire section is 8021 words.)
SOURCE: Adams, Percy G. “Edward Taylor's Love Affair with Sounding Language.” In Order in Variety: Essays and Poems in Honor of Donald E. Stanford, edited by R. W. Crump, pp. 12-31. Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 1991.
[In the following excerpt, Adams discusses Taylor's use of alliteration and consonance in his verse.]
Much has been written about Edward Taylor's curious and fascinatingly attractive mind, his similarities to George Herbert, his poetic kinship with Emily Dickinson, his typology, his passionate love of Christ, his Meditations—so many of which were inspired by the sensual Canticles, his homely and even shocking metaphors, his...
(The entire section is 6872 words.)
SOURCE: Schweitzer, Ivy. “Semiotics of the Sacrament in Edward Taylor's Preparatory Meditations.” In Praise Disjoined: Changing Patterns of Salvation in 17th-Century English Literature, William P. Shaw, pp. 237-57. New York: Peter Lang, 1991.
[In the following essay, Schweitzer explains Taylor's attempts, in his poetry, to bridge the gap between the natural and the supernatural, and the material and the metaphorical.]
1:6 ANOTHER MEDITATION AT THE SAME TIME.
Am I thy Gold? Or Purse, Lord, for thy Wealth; Whether in mine, or mint refinde for thee? Ime counted so, but count me o're thyselfe, Lest gold washt face, and...
(The entire section is 6256 words.)
SOURCE: Davis, Thomas M. “The Emergence of a Poet.” In A Reading of Edward Taylor, pp. 20-47. Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 1992.
[In the following excerpt, Davis traces Taylor's early career as a poet, maintaining that the years 1679-82 were a period of increasing mastery of poetic technique for Taylor.]
The years from 1679 to 1682 are a defining period in Edward Taylor's life, at least for the two major concerns of this time: his recent ordination and his increasing abilities as a poet. These years were exceptionally full and perhaps for the first time in his life he came to know who he was and what he was about. We do not know—apart from what is...
(The entire section is 12730 words.)
SOURCE: Bensick, Carol M. “Preaching to the Choir: Some Achievements and Shortcomings of Taylor's God's Determinations.” Early American Literature 28, no. 2 (1993): 133-47.
[In the following essay, Bensick contends that Gods Determinations should be appreciated for its historical importance rather than for its aesthetic value.]
It is no longer necessary to argue for a dimension of joy, even fun, to Puritan spirituality. Though various forms of evidence—the Puritans' century-long mania for acrostics, the various kinds of play exhibited by their almanacs, to say nothing of the dry jokes in Of Plymouth Plantation or the sprightliness of...
(The entire section is 6587 words.)
SOURCE: Hammond, Jeffrey A. “Discovery and Reaction—before 1960.” In Edward Taylor: Fifty Years of Scholarship and Criticism, pp. 1-21. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1993.
[In the following excerpt, Hammond provides an overview of the twentieth-century discovery and publication of Taylor's poetry and the immediate critical reaction it inspired.]
“It appears that the poems are of a nature unlike anything yet encountered in colonial American verse, and they warrant the belief that in Edward Taylor, Puritan America fostered unawares a poet of real, not merely historic, importance; one whose fertility in image-making, tenderness, rapture, and delicacy, as well as...
(The entire section is 9489 words.)
SOURCE: Jeske, Jeff. “Edward Taylor and the Traditions of Puritan Nature Philosophy.” In The Tayloring Shop: Essays on the Poetry of Edward Taylor in Honor of Thomas M. and Virginia L. Davis, edited by Michael Schuldiner, pp. 27-67. Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 1997.
[In the following excerpt, Jeske examines Taylor's perception of the changing concept of nature in seventeenth-century American thought.]
In A Reading of Edward Taylor, Thomas M. Davis notes that he is “primarily interested in the way the poetry—and the poet—changes and develops over the more than half-century when he wrote” (13). Such an interest is not misplaced. As...
(The entire section is 16824 words.)
SOURCE: Craig, Raymond A. “The ‘Peculiar Elegance’ of Edward Taylor's Poetics.” In The Tayloring Shop: Essays on the Poetry of Edward Taylor in Honor of Thomas M. and Virginia L. Davis, edited by Michael Schuldiner, pp. 68-101. Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 1997.
[In the following excerpt, Craig praises Taylor's sophisticated style and his ability to employ biblical allusions in the service of his personal poetic vision.]
Coll. III Let the word of God dwell plenteously in you, in all wisdome, teaching and exhorting one another in Psalmes, Hymnes, and spirituall Songs, singing to the Lord with grace in your hearts....
(The entire section is 13761 words.)
SOURCE: Scheick, William J. “Taylor's ‘Meditation 1.30.’” Explicator 58, no. 1 (fall 1999): 8-10.
[In the following essay, Scheick discusses Taylor's use of certain elements of Roman Catholicism in his “Meditation 1.30.”]
Because Edward Taylor was a theologically conservative minister, the seemingly un-Puritan features of his poetic meditations have often vexed critics. Few, however, have explored those features in depth. Read closely, “Meditation 1.30” reveals even more surprises than are customarily recognized in Taylor's verse. This critically neglected poem, a verse prayer of petition staged as a dramatic monologue spoken by a medieval crusader,...
(The entire section is 1190 words.)
SOURCE: Guruswamy, Rosemary Fithian. “Poetic Art.” In The Poems of Edward Taylor: A Reference Guide, pp. 83-106. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003.
[In the following excerpt, Guruswamy comments on the wide variety of stylistic devices Taylor employed in his work.]
Taylor's imagery and prosody are largely biblically based, with special attention to the images, points of view, literary figures, and Hebrew prosodic elements found in the Book of Psalms. Nevertheless, the entire Bible was a model for Taylor, a source of language that was still human but that God had sanctioned for human writers to use.
Many of Taylor's major image clusters, particularly those found in the Preparatory Meditations, come from the Bible, many more from Taylor's consideration of various exegetical metaphors that had been adapted from biblical words, as well as other art forms that had been modeled on the Bible, such as emblem books. Some of the imagery or particular use of the imagery, however, is purely Taylor.
Taylor's propensity for the use of the metaphysical conceit and apparent playful love of the English language itself often allows his poetry to disintegrate in the face of intriguing puzzles or wordplays. The first verse of “Meditation 2.17,” for example, makes Taylor's use of repetition seem more of a tongue twister than anything else:
Thou Greate Supream, thou Infinite first One: Thy Being Being gave to all that be Yea to the best of Beings thee alone To serve with Service best for best of fee. But man the best servd thee the Worst of all And so the Worst of incomes on him falls.
Thomas Davis writes also of the interlocking and doubling of rhyme in the dedication to art sequence at the end of the First Series, which he attributes to Taylor's desire to showcase the theme of singing (Reading 90). Perhaps one of Taylor's major weaknesses is to let his love of the sound and lexical flexibility of English get the best of him.
Many of Taylor's major images and image clusters come from the Book of Canticles, the text on which his first meditative poem is imagistically based and the one that Taylor turns to at the end of his life and poetic career. But other categories of imagery recur throughout his poetry that come from other biblical sources, from Christian iconography, and sometimes only from the power of his own imagination.
One of his favorite image clusters revolves around the scriptural picture of the garden, both the Garden of Eden and also the setting of the action in Canticles. Before Taylor begins his extended sequence on the Song of Songs in the Second Series, he starts and then stops two smaller sequences with headnotes from this biblical book that focus specifically on the image of the garden.
Starting with “Meditation 2.63” through “2.65,” Taylor creates an image cluster around the “garden of nuts” in Canticles 6:11, which he sees as an allegory for the church. He also compares this Canticles garden to the hanging gardens of Babylon, but establishes its quintessential parallel as the Garden of Eden before the fall of man. The nuts themselves are allegorized in “Meditation 2.63” as “Spirituall Food, and Physike.” At the end of each garden poem in this sequence, Taylor also pictures himself as a fruit or plant in the garden, or the garden bed itself. Taylor revisits the nut garden later in “Meditation 2.144,” using identical imagery and theme, providing unintentional humor to a modern audience by referring to Christ's church as “thy Nutty Garden.”
“Meditation 2.83” starts the second garden sequence, using “Can. 5.1. I am come into my Garden, etc.” as the headnote. This meditation begins with a picture of the Garden of Eden, but the first verse ends with the second garden, a “Garden-Church” that, in the latter verses, becomes the Garden-Soul of the characteristic redeemed Christian. “Meditations 2.84-86” stay with this verse from Canticles, repeating and embroidering the same allegorical image. “Meditation 2.85” ends with a plea to Christ to be Taylor's gardener.
After the Canticles sequence at the end of the Second Series begins in earnest, “Meditation 2.129” returns to the garden image, which is now cast as the garden of the beloved that was designed by Christ, an image that Taylor employs in the next few Meditations as he begins to focus on the bride and bridegroom imagery in Canticles. But the garden imagery starts as early as “Meditation 1.5,” also based on a passage from Canticles, where Taylor expresses the wish, “Oh! that my Soul thy Garden were.” “Meditations 2.129” through “2.132” continue to focus on the garden image, which Taylor uses here as a metaphor for heaven, and depicts as redolent with pleasant spices, echoing the headnote for “Meditation 2.130”: “Cant. 6.2. My Beloved is gone down into his Garden, to the Beds of Spices.” An alternate version of the garden is the “Pasture” that Taylor alludes to in “Meditation 1.45,” where he pleads with God to be His pasture “Where thy choice Flowers, and Hearbs of Grace shine trim.”
The dichotomy of the well-tended and planted garden or pasture and the wilderness outside it, which Taylor alludes to several times in his poetry, adds a unique American Puritan complexity to this image. This contrast appears in the Bible, but was more pertinently resonant in the Puritans' real life. The wilderness/garden opposition is actually used in the text of the Cambridge Platform of 1648, which delineated some of the earliest rules followed in the New England Puritan theocracy, as well as in the texts of countless other Puritan sermons and religious treatises.1 Taylor employs this variation of the garden image as he pictures his own soul as a garden taken over by the wilderness in “Meditation 2.4,” and begs Christ to “Fatten my Soile, and prune / My Stock,” turning the weed-infested wildness of his soul into a garden. In “Meditation 2.10,” he also uses the biblical story of Moses' farewell to the wilderness as a type for the wish of the redeemed soul to be removed from that untamed (or in his parlance, ungraced) state.
Several other images we see particularly in the Preparatory Meditations relate to this Canticles-inspired image of the garden—the pomegranate, ointment, the Rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valley are all images that come from this biblical book (Lewalski 418). “Meditation 1.4” is based on “Cant. 2.1. I am the Rose of Sharon” and allows Taylor to use some of his medical knowledge to create a conceit that has the flower distilled to produce spiritual cures for the “Consumptive Souls.” The next numbered Meditation has as its headnote “Cant. 2.1. The Lilly of the Vallies” and asks Christ to be Taylor's lily. “Meditation 2.160” uses this same verse from the Song of Songs to create a poem at the end of Taylor's poetic career with the same plea to Christ to be Taylor's lily and become planted in the garden of his soul.
A related image Taylor uses, common in Christian iconography, is the tree of life or the Jesse tree. A familiar figure in emblem books and Christian iconography, the Jesse tree is based on a passage from Isaiah 11 and is meant to illustrate the genealogical lineage of Christ's human nature. Most emblems depict Jesse, the father of the psalmist David, lying on a bed or couch with the tree growing out of his body. Old Testament personages hang from the branches of the tree, with Christ and Mary His mother and sometimes a variety of angels at the top of the tree. The tree of life has other guises as well, such as the “golden tree” in the Garden of Eden that forms the central metaphor in “Meditation 1.29,” which Taylor declares is his “Deare-Deare Lord.” In this poem, he also asks that his own “Withred Twig” be grafted onto that tree, an interesting metaphor for his hope for salvation. In “Meditation 2.33” he ties this image to his favorite theme of the Incarnation by specifically saying that the tree of life, which is Christ, is related to “Theanthropie.” Perhaps the quintessential verse about Christ as the tree of life appears in “Meditation 2.56”:
Thou art a Tree of Perfect nature trim Whose golden lining is of perfect Grace Perfum'de with Deity unto the brim, Whose fruits, of the perfection, grow, of Grace. Thy Buds, thy Blossoms, and thy fruits adorne Thyselfe, and Works, more shining than the morn.
Taylor also uses the apple tree from Canticles 2:3, there a simile for the beloved, to image Christ in “Meditations 2.161A” and “2.161B.” In these poems, which appear actually to be two versions of the same poem, the Christ-tree bears golden apples, and the poet contrasts it with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. In a related image from “Meditation 2.33,” he pictures the eucharist as an apple that drops in man's mouth from the tree that is Christ. Besides feeding Taylor with its fruit, other tree images allow him to bask in their shade and be revived by their aroma.
Another common image cluster that Taylor uses throughout the Preparatory Meditations consists of images of containment. Albert Gelpi identifies this imagery of boxes, cabinets, and containers as part of the erotic image cluster that emerges from his familiarity with the allegory of the bride and bridegroom of Canticles (37-38). Sometimes the image of the box is doctrinal, as in “Meditation 2.50,” where Taylor's image alludes to Pandora's box that breaks and releases all sin into the world. But what he presents here is a box in the Garden of Eden, crafted by God and containing all truth. In the second verse of the poem, Taylor parallels the box with the human body, most likely that of Eve, and its capacity for procreation:
Which Box should forth a race of boxes send Teemd from its Womb such as itselfe, to run Down from the Worlds beginning to its end. But, o! this box of Pearle Fell, Broke, undone.
Although Taylor most often does use the human body as the tenor for this metaphor of the cabinet or box, the human sexual act, which he relates to opening the cabinet, is used as a metaphor for the spiritual act of the infusion of grace. In several poems, Taylor creates a situation where he is locked up and Christ has the key or, as in “Meditation 1.49,” is invited to pick the lock. In “Meditation 1.25,” for example, Taylor complains that he cannot “unscrew Loves Cabbinet” and give the Lord his heart. He returns to this image in “Meditation 1.42,” where his door appears rusty and the lock needs the oil of Christ's grace, and later he asks Christ also to unlock his own wardrobe and take out the wedding garment for Taylor to wear. The parallel to the erotic relationship Taylor posits in other poems is evidenced in such passages as: “O pick't [the lock]: and through the key-hole make thy way / And enter in: and let thy joyes run o're” (“Med. 1.49”). Alternately, in “Meditation 2.115,” Taylor asks God to lock up his box with the key of the scripture. As this poem focuses on the love relationship between the spouse and Christ, the allusion to a biblical chastity belt cannot be ignored.
Less often, Christ Himself is the cabinet, as in “Meditation 2.46” where Christ's human body is a “Cabbinet” set with “transcendent Stones.” Also in “Meditation 2.50,” cited above, the Pandora's box that contains evil is replaced by a “Choice pearle-made-Box,” like the first one containing all truth, but this time an allegory for Christ's human body. This poem ends with Taylor's appropriate promise to “embox [Christ] in [his] heart.” In “Meditation 2.53,” it is God's heart that is the box and Christ who has the key to unlock it. Still, the intimation of erotic activity is present as Taylor uses this metaphor for the desired relationship between himself and Christ.
Because Taylor's meditative poems were written with the Lord's Supper in mind, one cannot help but notice the many images he uses that relate exegetically to sacramental themes and spring from biblical passages that deal either directly or indirectly, through their use by Protestant exegetes, with the eucharist.
Clothing imagery abounds in Taylor's verse, with the two general positive categories being royal robes and the “wedden garment” whose absence causes the wedding guest in Christ's parable from Matthew 22:1-14 to be cast out of the festivities into the darkness that is an allegory for hell. Karen Rowe observes that Taylor uses this image particularly in those poems that were written at the time period when he was most involved with refuting Solomon Stoddard's opening of the sacrament to the unconverted (163, 206-7). Indeed, the metaphors of the wedding garment and the feast that can only be attended if the garment is worn are the focus of the entire sermon collection, the Treatise concerning the Lord's Supper, that Taylor wrote in 1693 in response to Stoddard's actions, and in which Taylor defines the wedding garment as “the robe of evangelical righteousness” or the proof of one's conversion (xiii). Thomas Davis finds Taylor's use of the wedding garment image to be far more ubiquitous than just in the anti-Stoddard poems, however (Reading 30).
Although Norman Grabo observes in his introduction to the Treatise concerning the Lord's Supper that Taylor came from a textile center in England and thus might have had life experience that influenced him to use the metaphor of weaving and clothing, Taylor's clothing metaphors are clearly based on biblical imagery (xi). Taylor depicts himself as the parable's wedding guest in “Meditation 2.62,” where angels stare at him because he attempts to approach the feast wearing rags. Rowe suggests that Taylor views his own poetry as potential wedding garments that will replace the rags and facilitate his own entry into heaven (221-22). “Meditation 2.56” bears this speculation out, with Taylor asking Christ to weave for him “A Damask Web of Velvet Verse” that he can use to describe Christ more correctly. Also, in “Meditation 2.164,” Taylor writes:
But, oh Dear Lord, though my pen pikes no gold To lace these robes with, I would dress thee in And its a Shame that Tinsyl ribbon should Be all the trimming that I own to bring.
Here, Taylor makes a garment for Christ to wear out of the ink with which he writes. In the fourth sermon contained in the Treatise concerning the Lord's Supper, Taylor focuses on the speechlessness that grips the improperly clothed wedding guest in Christ's parable, further reinforcing Taylor's mental connection of the lack of the proper wedding garment and the inability to generate sufficient praise of Christ.
Throughout the meditative poetry, Taylor also describes glorious robes either worn by Christ or brought out of the grave by Him for Taylor to wear. Variously, the clothes that Christ makes for His beloved are white, to signify their purity, or red, to stand for the sacrifice of His human body that made regeneracy possible. Taylor is perhaps best known for one poem that fashions this image into a sustained conceit, the occasional poem “Huswifery.” In it, Taylor images himself as the spinning wheel and the loom that will potentially produce the holy robes that, in the last two lines of the poem, Taylor puts on: “Then mine apparell shall display before yee / That I am Cloathd in Holy robes for glory.” Also in “Meditation 1.46,” based on the headnote “Rev. 3.5. The same shall be cloathed in White Raiment,” Taylor again uses the image of the loom, this time a “Loom Divine” whereon Christ has spun the “whitest Lawn” with which to make clothes for those who belong to Him. The regenerate spouse of the Book of Canticles also wears white clothing “of Spirituall Silk / Of th'Web wove in the Heavens bright Loom” (“Med. 2.143”).
One of the most interesting uses of clothing imagery stems from Taylor's fascination with the Incarnation:
My Deare-Deare Lord, my Heart is Lodgd in thee: Thy Person lodgd in bright Divinity And waring Cloaths made of the best web bee Wove in the golde Loom of Humanity. All lin'de and overlaide with Wealthi'st lace The finest Silke of Sanctifying Grace.
Here, Taylor combines both the simpler, though expensive, clothes of humanity with the fancier overlay of divinity that marks the hypostatic union.
Taylor also often uses the biblical image of a banquet table prepared for a feast that clearly is a metaphor for the Lord's Supper, which in various poems takes place both on earth and in heaven. As early as “The Reflexion” in the First Series, Taylor pictures Christ at the head of a table and expresses his doubts as to whether he has been invited to the feast. Taylor's scriptural sources for the banquet include Isaiah 25:6, the feast of fat things, which Taylor uses as a headnote to “Meditation 1.11”; the allusion to the feast in 1 Corinthians 5:8, which serves as the headnote to “Meditation 2.71”; and even Revelations 3:10: “He that over comes will I give to eat of the Hidden Mannah,” which becomes a banquet image that controls the development of “Meditation 2.159.” In “Meditation 2.110,” Taylor makes his own connection to the feast clear: “And this rich banquet makes me thus a Poet.”
Like the wedding garment image cluster, the feast becomes a dominant image in poems inspired by the Stoddard controversy. “Meditation 2.108,” for example, based on the headnote “Matt. 26.26.27. Jesus took bread—and he took the Cup,” pictures a royal feast where all present are wearing robes made by Christ. Taylor brings up the feast image later in “Meditation 2.156,” which begins a short subsequence within the Canticles sequence on “Cant. 5.1. Eate oh Friendes and drink yea drink abundantly oh Beloved” and “Cant. 2.4. He brought me into the Banqueting house and his banner over me was Love.” Here, Taylor interprets these images as his invitation to “thy Rich Garden feast” (“Med. 2.156”).
“Meditations 8-11” in the First Series are particularly full of sacramental food and drink images, with their thematic emphasis on the Lord's Supper. Many of these are embroidered by Taylor through the power of the poetic conceit. The communion bread becomes associated with the bread of life, and the communion altar becomes the biblical feast. The communion wine also becomes intertwined with aqua vitae, or the water of life. In fact, all of Taylor's food and drink imagery relates to the sacramental emphasis of his poetry, as the food is most often bread or manna and the drink is water of life or wine. In “Meditation 2.86,” additionally, a feast in the Canticles garden features bread, wine, milk, and honey. Ursula Brumm suggests a connection between Taylor's use of such food imagery and the process of meditation, because in that devotional method ideas about God are mentally chewed and digested (“Meditative” 330). Taylor bears out this association in “Meditation 2.138,” referring to the teeth of the spouse in the Book of Canticles: “Teeth are for the eating of the Food made good / And Meditation Chawing is the Cud,” a theme he explores for the rest of the poem. Grabo sees him as muddying his imagery with this kind of “kitchen details,” finding the domestic bent in Taylor's imagery to be indecorous (Taylor 95). But Lewalski sees the food and drink imagery as a way of emphasizing the antithetical breach between God and Taylor, citing particularly the kitchen metaphors he uses to image communion in “Meditation 1.8” (401).
Part of Taylor's idiosyncratic appeal is based in his use of such domestic and homespun metaphors, which create a jarring effect when juxtaposed to the more familiar biblically based imagery (Rowe 246). Although some critics have pointed out that Taylor's existence on the frontier might have made the imagery of domesticity and the rustic a commonplace reaction to his environment or even a characteristic Americanness about his writing (Keller, Example 59, 165), others see this usage as much as the decorous biblical imaging as spiritually based, a devotional writer's habit that itself is an outgrowth of attention to the words of the Bible or a consideration of his own meek status in relationship to the glory of Christ. Richard Daly sees Taylor's frequent use of a humble stance as a way for him to avoid unchristian pride in his own work (196). William Scheick sees Taylor's homely imagery as an offering of himself to God as someone who needs to be refined (130). However, as indicated earlier, the domestic imagery found in such poems as “Meditation 1.8” is actually used to picture God Himself as the baker, a technique called domestication of the infinite, perhaps meant to underscore Taylor's affection for the mystery of the Incarnation and his belief that indeed it changed the antithetical relationship between the human and the divine to one of, if not equality, at least closeness and sharing (Grabo, Taylor 65). This view of God, furthermore, can be related to the depiction of the merciful, loving, even motherly Christ whom Taylor gives voice to in several poems in Gods Determinations.
The kitchen seems to be a favorite setting for Taylor's domestic imagery, which would relate to his focus on the food of the Lord's Supper. Besides depicting God as a baker, Christ becomes a cook and even a restauranteur, and the angels—dressed in white—become waiters. In several Meditations in the Second Series, he also pictures heaven as a bakery, and in “Meditation 1.31,” he figures forth Satan as a cook who sauces every dish with sin.
Taylor's domestic imagery is often coupled in discussion with his use of self-deprecation, his often sadomasochistic groveling before his Lord and his employment of the imagery of scatology and disease. Many critics have pointed out that the use of self-deprecation is a time-honored technique of meditative and devotional poets. John Gatta has even suggested that the way Taylor employs the technique goes beyond traditional ritual to parody (21). Most critics, however, view Taylor's denigration of his own spiritual state and writing ability as sincere. Thomas Davis ties the increased vehemence in the poems written between 1688 and 1692 to outside events in his life, such as his growing concern with the way in which Stoddard had begun to erode the orthodox ground on which the Puritan sacraments stood and, more personally, the death of his sixth daughter Hezekiah, which occurred as he penned the poems at the end of Series One (Reading 99; Grabo, Taylor 30). At any rate, the self-deprecation in the First Series begins rather gently as, for example, in “Meditation 1.22” with allusions to his “Hide bound Soule” and declarations such as: “My Quaintest Metaphors are ragged Stuff, / Making the Sun seem like a Mullipuff,” and then in the next Meditation, with references to “my Rough Voice” and “my blunt Tongue.” This deprecation, particularly in relation to Taylor's own writing, becomes more and more intense throughout the remainder of the First Series, with references to himself in “Meditation 1.25” as “starke nakt, rowld all in mire, undone,” a decidedly violent depiction with sexual undertones. In “Meditation 1.36,” he contrasts Christ's kindness with his own vileness caused by the overwhelmingly evil nature of his sin, and by “Meditation 1.40,” he is calling himself:
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.
In “Meditation 1.45,” he ties the deprecation specifically to his carnal passions: “My Members Dung-Carts that bedung at pleasure, / My Life, the Pasture where Hells Hurdloms leasure.” Although the concentration of this negativity is in the final poems of the First Series, even as late as 1698, in “Meditation 2.26,” Taylor refers to himself as “A bag of botches, Lump of Loathsomeness: / Defild by Touch, by Issue: Leproust flesh.” He refers again to his leprosy in the following Meditation, tying it to his carnal existence. This use of such a disease metaphor for sin actually occurs often in the Meditations, and in “Meditations 2.67[B]” and “2.69,” Taylor's medical vocation becomes apparent as he accumulates a list of diseases and “Spirituall Maladies” that can only be cured by Christ's “Surgeons Shop” where He busily makes “Cordiall powders,” mustard plaster, and a “Rheum-Cap,” among other potions and medical remedies, to cure all of Taylor's foul diseases.
Another common image cluster found in the Preparatory Meditations consists of a variety of physical transporting devices—conduits and pipes, ladders and chutes. Almost always, the pipes are in heaven and either God, Christ, or the angels use them to send messages, or more often, floods of grace down to man on earth. “Meditation 1.10,” for example, first depicts “Aqua-Vitae” running down from “Heav'ns high Hill” to allay the poet's thirst, but in the next verse, the water is being conveyed by “Golden Pipes” that are Christ's veins, made human by the mystery of the Incarnation, and then opened by the scourging and beating that led to His death and the redemptive act. In “Meditation 2.60[B],” the aqua vitae gushes out of the wound on Christ's side for Taylor to drink. As this poem builds imagery of richness, the liquid becomes liquor and wine, an allusion to the wedding feast of Cana where Christ also changed water to wine, which is itself used in exegesis as an allusion to the eucharist. In “Meditation 2.121,” the “golden Streams” made out of “Gospell Doctrine” run out of Christ's mouth and land on Taylor's heart. In the later Canticles sequence, “Meditation 2.142” depicts the spouse as being the recipient of Christ's love, that comes “tumbling on her” from “golden pipes that spout / In Streams from heaven.”
William J. Scheick has also connected the image of these conduit pipes to the musical “pipe” that Taylor cites often in relation to his need to praise God and contribute to Him the gift of poetry (126-27). Indeed, in “Meditation 1.22,” Taylor begs of Christ: “That I thy glorious Praise may Trumpet right, / Be thou my Song, and make Lord, mee thy Pipe.” This wish is countered in “Meditation 2.23” by Taylor's admission that his pipe is a “poor Creaking Pipe” and in “Meditation 2.44” that it is an “Oaten Straw.” Here, the conduit image reverses itself, with the motion going up from Taylor to heaven. Also, in “Meditation 2.126,” Taylor turns from a contemplation of Christ's windpipe, based on Canticles 5:16, that describes the Bridegroom's mouth, palate, and windpipe, to a plea to “make my Winde Pipe thy sweet praises sing.” Albert Gelpi has suggested that these conduit images also share in the erotic complex of imagery that Taylor employs, allying them with the marriage allegory that is so central to his verse (41).
The pipe is, of course, one of several musical images that Taylor uses throughout his poetry. His own mental connection to the Old Testament poet David, whose harp playing was so instrumental to the success of the Hebrews, and his use of the Book of Psalms and the traditions of psalmody that were so central in the Puritan culture, make the connection between poetry and music a natural one. Ivy Schweitzer notes that over two-thirds of the Meditations use imagery of musical instruments, often with Christ as the musician (84), but just as often Taylor. He refers variously to trumpets, harps (even David's harp from the Old Testament), bells, virginals, organs, and violins as positive instruments on which to raise praises to Christ. In “Meditation 2.51,” he cites bagpipes as more difficult instruments that cannot “play thy glory well,” but in “Meditation 2.129” he compares bagpipes to his lungs, which, if filled with Christ's “precious Aire,” will allow him to pipe God's praises adequately. He also alludes to various Old Testament hymn forms, such as the michtam and hosannah, and the Hebrew musical instruments, the shoshannim and muth labben. The last couplet of most of the Meditations offers promises to praise or try to praise musically “while teather'd to my clay” (“Med. 1.48”).
Many of Taylor's poems also allude to or employ scientific or numerological ideas or theory, although always in service to the spiritual message. As evidenced by the collection of books in his personal library, Taylor was enthralled by such esoteric topics. His fondness for number and word games might also be connected to his experience at Harvard with Ramist logic (Haims 85), although this is still another habit of Taylor's that Grabo attempts to ally with mysticism (Taylor 93). Several critics suggest that the First Series stops at the forty-ninth poem just because numerological perfection would dictate an ending at the seven-times-seven multiple.2 Taylor himself acknowledges the spiritual importance of the number seven in “Meditation 2.21”:
Each Seventh Day a Sabbath Gracious Ware. A Seventh Week a yearly Festivall. The Seventh Month a Feast nigh, all, rich fare. The Seventh Yeare a Feast Sabbaticall. And when seven years are seven times turnd about A Jubilee. Now turn their inside out.
What Secret Sweet Mysterie under the Wing Of this so much Elected number lies?
The connection to the feast, allusive of the eucharist as well as to election, places this mystery securely in a Puritan rather than a mystical context.
As he does with medicinal imagery, Taylor also uses alchemical imagery often in his poems to trope the movement of man's search for salvation.3 The power of grace to work the regeneration of the sinful soul is an obvious analogy to the alchemical distillation process, and Taylor often employs the imagery of chemical change for the fact of conversion in his poems (Clack 14). For example, in “Meditation 1.34,” Taylor pictures Christ as employing “gracious Chymistry” to concoct “Cordialls” out of the corpse of death, making death a remedy rather than something to be feared. Taylor also often uses the imagery of the refining process, another chemical action, that clears the dross from the precious stone of his “Inward man” (“Med. 2.5”).
Taylor's use of imagery, then, has a clear biblical basis, more often than not from one of the two Old Testament poetic books, the Song of Songs and the Book of Psalms. In many poems he uses the words and images from their biblical headnotes to anchor the construction of a conceit. These image clusters are those that appear most prominently in his meditative poetry.
Attempts to explain or characterize the prosody of Puritan poetry, to try to elicit some generalities that might create a monolithic knowledge base for understanding how Puritans wrote poetry or understood how they should write it, usually resort to speaking about “plain style.” This prose structuring, used mainly in the writing of Puritan sermons, is a legacy from Petrus Ramus who influenced many New England writers. But Puritan prosody, with its reliance on biblically based technique, is far from plain. A consideration of the many linguistic devices in the Bible, particularly the kind of unsophisticated, first-hand reflections that Taylor appears to have made that allowed him to model his prosody consciously on what happens particularly in the Hebrew Old Testament poetic books, produces poetry with consistent forms that are perhaps unknown to or unappreciated by many modern readers. Taylor himself did not have access to a study of the principles of Hebrew poetics; a compendium of them was not available in the seventeenth century or before. Even Johann Buxtorf's A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Tongue, written in 1655 and used by the translators of the Bay Psalm Book as a source for their understanding of Hebrew poetic rhythm, does not specify prosodic patterns or rules. Taylor, however, appears to have examined particularly the structure of the various psalms in both Hebrew and English translation to determine their rhetorical and metrical nature, so that he could adapt some of their technique to his own verse.
A cursory reading of the meditative poetry, of course, makes it seem plain, rigid, and unvaried in its prosodic structure. Taylor's strict consistency of metrical pattern in whatever poem or series of poems he was writing seems to come from an allegiance to his own classical education rather than to what Lynn Haims sees as the spirit behind Puritan aesthetics, the anxiety and self-doubt that would pillory their sensibilities to regular metrics and rhyme (38) or what Karl Keller says is an echo of the rigidity of Taylor's Puritan faith (Kangaroo 53). Jeffrey Hammond sees the regularity of verse form throughout the two series of Preparatory Meditations as part of the ritualistic nature of the two series, while Karen Rowe sees Taylor's style as a metaphor for the soul trying to break the bonds of the body (Sinful Self 202, Rowe 105). Nevertheless, within this regularity is a plethora of rhetorical and figurative patterns that should divert the educated reader from the monotony of the overall stanzaic pattern.
Literary critics almost always notice Taylor's constant use of the figure of antithesis, the joining of contrasting ideas, which is most often employed in the poetry to contrast the greatness of God with the world's lowliness, which Taylor then invariably relates to his own inability to praise with suitable words. A line such as “Should Gold Wed Dung, should Stars Wooe Lobster Claws,” which Taylor uses in “Meditation 2.33” as an image for man's salvation, illustrates how Taylor employs antithesis throughout his poetry. This figurative technique—related to classical enantiosis, antitheton, paradox, and oxymoron4—is fairly common in seventeenth-century devotional poetry as a whole, and appears to derive mainly from its use by the biblical psalmist as a way of expressing humility and dependence on God. A related issue is whether Taylor, as the poetic voice of the Preparatory Meditations, believes himself to be at the lower end of the antithesis, in constant danger of damnation, or whether his antithetical stance reflects the conflicted but ultimately victorious path of any assured saint.
Andrew Delbanco characterizes antithetical thought as part of the New England Puritan consciousness, an ability to deal with and resolve contradiction by holding it suspended in one's head and belief system (127). Rowe sees antithesis as related to the process of typology, which not only yokes together elements in the two Testaments, but always see Christ the antitype as the superior element in the dichotomy (234-35). Barbara Lewalski sees the Meditations structured via thesis, antithesis, and resolution, with a central focus on contrasting God's greatness with Taylor's own lowliness (398); she says antithesis is a “radical technique” (402).
Taylor also often uses the related rhetorical technique of amplification, an addition to or expansion of a statement. He uses this device to counter the ultimate inexpressibility of God's being and attributes, the sticking point that so befuddles Taylor throughout the poetry and casts doubts on the legitimacy of his skill and his salvation. He uses such figures as accumulatio (the amassing of details), hyperbole (the exaggeration of qualities or numbers), and ecphonesis (emotional exclamation) to convey both the greatness of the amplified object and his own humbleness and sinfulness. “Meditation 1.29” offers an example of accumulatio that expresses the wonder Taylor feels at the Incarnation:
I being grafft in thee there up do stand In us Relations all that mutuall are. I am thy Patient, Pupill, Servant, and Thy Sister, Mother, Doove, Spouse, Son, and Heire. Thou art my Priest, Physician, Prophet, King, Lord, Brother, Bridegroom, Father, Ev'ry thing.
Hyperbole emerges in “Meditation 1.11,” as Taylor writes:
A Deity of Love Incorporate My Lord, lies in thy Flesh, in Dishes stable Ten thousand times more rich than golden Plate In golden Services upon thy Table.
From Taylor's point of view, of course, this was not hyperbolic, as no amount of human exaggeration could approach the greatness of God, but this rhetorical technique is found often in the Book of Psalms, so Taylor—as the New England David—adapted it to his verse as a figurative attempt to reach his impossible goal. Ecphonesis, on the other hand, merely expresses Taylor's excitement or ecstasy in light of the subject of his verse or, alternately, his consternation at his own limitations: “Oh! Wealthy Theam! Oh! Feeble Phancy” (“Med. 1.27”). Through amplification, then, Taylor explores his theme of the contrast between the divine and the human. Humble because he is sinful and not able to praise God as He deserves, he nonetheless tries to stretch the limits of language to search for the apotheosis of praise.
Another feature of Hebrew poetry that Taylor uses throughout his verse is the iterative style, or frequent word repetition. Phrases are repeated for a quasi-incantatory effect or to express great emotion. Norman Grabo also suggests that, for the Puritan, certain words had no substitutes so only could be repeated (Taylor 90). The fact that the voice of God Himself uses this technique, as in Ezekiel 21 (“I will overturn, overturn, overturn it … A sword, a sword is drawn …”) caught the eye of such exegetes as Martin Luther and John Calvin, who both comment positively on the use of repetition for sacred purposes. Taylor, of course, uses it too, as in “Meditation 1.17”:
A King, a King, a King indeed, a King Writh up in Glory! Glorie's glorious Throne Is glorifide by him, presented him. And all the Crowns of Glory are his own.
His use of the classical rhetorical figure of ploce, often productive of a musical effect, is most likely an imitation Taylor makes of the technique David the psalmist uses in the Book of Psalms. In “Meditation 1.20” he even uses the same words as those in Psalm 47: “Sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praises out, / Unto our King sing praise. …” He also uses the related device polyptoton—repeating forms of the same word in close proximity—in such poems as “Meditation 2.35”:
We have our Souls undone, Can't undo this. We have Undone the Law, this can't undo: We have undone the World, when did amiss, We can't undoe the Curse that brings in Woe. Our Undo-Doing can't undo, its true. Wee can't our Souls, and things undone, renew.
Repetition for emotional effect or to suggest the incantatory trance of meditation becomes a hallmark of the Preparatory Meditations.
Perhaps the most notable prosodic device used in the Preparatory Meditations, however, which is also a common technique of Hebrew poetry, is parallelism. It is a prosodic device that Taylor uses liberally in his poetry, a repetition of grammatical structure with variant words that seems similar to accumulatio, and is tied to his habit of the conceit. However, the exact prosodic structuring that Taylor uses is based directly on psalmic parallelism. “Meditation 1.19” offers a good example:
Looke till thy Looks look Wan, my Soule; here's ground. The Worlds bright Eye's dash't out: Day-Light so brave Bemidnighted; the sparkling sun, palde round With flouring Rayes lies buri'de in its grave The Candle of the World blown out, down fell. Life knockt a head by Death: Heaven by Hell.
Parallelism such as this holds Taylor's poetry together structurally in a major way and gives much of it a sense of slow, repetitious, almost liturgical grandeur because the addition of information in the parallel structure is less substantive and more metaphorical and emphatic. Additionally, a close consideration of what David does in the Psalms and what Taylor does in the Meditations reveals that Taylor adapts several different forms of recognizable Hebrew parallelism to his verse. Synonymous parallelism allows two different expressions to stand for one fundamental thought; tautological parallelism uses actual word repetition to do the same thing (thus making it similar to basic ploce, but creating the effect of a litany). Taylor's use of this type of parallelism is ubiquitous in the poetry, as for example in “Meditation 1.24”: “What shall an Eagle t'catch a Fly thus run? / Or Angell Dive after a Mote ith'sun?” or in “Meditation 2.26”:
Thou wilt have all that enter do thy fold Pure, Cleane, and bright, Whiter than whitest Snow Better refin'd than most refined Gold.
Antithetic or contrasted parallelism, on the other hand, uses the structure to offer a statement of opposites in the act of corroboration. When Taylor uses this kind of parallelism, he sometimes creates a merely linguistic contrast as he puts similar sentence elements in opposite order, as in “Meditation 1.31”: “Begracde with Glory, gloried with Grace.” But in other poems, the word order reversal also reflects a contrast in idea, as in “Meditation 1.22”: “Then Saints With Angells thou wilt glorify: / And burn Lewd Men, and Divells Gloriously.” This opposition between the righteous and the wicked, incorporating one of Taylor's pet subjects for antithesis, is also reminiscent of this major theme in the Book of Psalms. Taylor also often uses synthetic parallelism, which intensifies or builds the idea rather than merely repeating it, using a variety of logical devices. For example, in “Meditation 1.41,” his parallelism is shaped for a clear cause-effect relationship: “The Magnet of all Admiration's here. / Your tumbling thoughts turn here.” Taylor takes fullest advantage of synthetic parallelism in his typological meditations, however, as he creates a cause-effect relationship between the Old Testament type and Christ as the antitype. Ivy Schweitzer notes this particular use of synthetic parallelism in Taylor's verse, although she doesn't recognize it as the Hebrew technique (101). A final kind of parallelism in which the idea is slowly developed by repetition of the last half of the primary element in the first half of the secondary element, creating a ponderous effect, is called anadiplosis or steps parallelism. This type of parallelism was used for Hebrew songs meant for temple processions, such as the Songs of Ascent in the Book of Psalms. Taylor uses it also, as in “Meditation 2.72”:
Hence make my Life, Lord, keep thine Honour bright. And let thine Honour brighten mee by grace. And make thy Grace in mee, thee honour right. And let not mee thy Honour ere deface.
Perhaps the most noticeable use of different forms of parallelism occurs in the occasional poem “Huswifery.” The poem begins by using antithetic, then simple, then steps parallelism altogether in one verse:
Make me, O Lord, thy Spining Wheele compleate. Thy Holy Worde my Distaff make for mee. Make mine Affections thy Swift Flyers neate And make my Soule thy holy Spoole to bee. My Conversation make to be thy Reele And reele the yarn thereon spun of thy Wheele.
A close look at all Taylor's work will reveal the ubiquitous use of the Hebrew device of poetic parallelism, done so intricately that he must have been conscious of imitating the technique he observed in the words of the psalter.
Another prosodic device that goes beyond the actual structuring of the verse is point of view or stance, by which a poet can betray his relationship to his intended audience as well as his attitude and mood in any given poem. Because Taylor's intended audience in the Preparatory Meditations and most of the occasional poems is most often wholly or partially his Lord, his first person addresses seem to have a clear sense of purpose. In the body of the meditative poetry, three stances toward his audience Christ can be identified: lament, supplication, and thanksgiving and praise, which are also the three points of view that biblical critics find in the Book of Psalms. Throughout the two series, Taylor shifts between these stances, sometimes in the body of the same poem.
The lament, a point of view intended to arouse God's pity and remind Him of His covenantal obligation, consists of several stages, some of which reflect the pattern of typical meditative poetry. The lamenting poet will cry for help, present the substance of his complaint, express his faith and trust in God, tell God what he wants, and then end with a vow to praise God if his complaints are remedied. The language of self-deprecation becomes a regular part of this point of view. A substantial number of Taylor's poems, particularly those that concentrate upon his own sins and unworthiness, are patterned as laments. Thomas Davis sees the tendency of the poems at the end of the First Series—beginning with agitation and ending with peace—to be in the style of psalmic laments (Reading 123). Taylor employs this stance, for example, in “Meditation 1.36.” He begins with a question to his audience, Christ, that could qualify as a cry for help and is fraught with the language of self-deprecation:
What rocky heart is mine? My pincky Eyes Thy Grace spy blancht, Lord, in immensitie. But finde the Sight me not to meliorize, O Stupid Heart! What strang-strange thing am I?
He then focuses on the substance of his complaint, which in this Meditation is his typical problem of confronting the gulf between the kindness of Christ and his own vileness, a chasm that leads Taylor to speculate “am I not thine own?” But after this heartfelt question, Taylor goes on to the third stage of the typical lament by expressing his faith in God:
My Faith therefore doth all these Pleas disdain. Thou kindness art, it saith, and I am thine. Upon this banck it doth on tiptoes stand To ken o're Reasons head at Graces hand.
After several more verses of contemplation on his theme, Taylor ends the poem with a promise to praise:
But that there is a Crevice for one hope To creep in, and this Message to Convay That I am thine, makes me refresh. Lord ope The Doore so wide that Love may Scip, and play. My Spirits then shall dance thy Praise. I'me thine. And Present things with things to come are mine.
Thus, although the lament is essentially a negative and self-doubting stance, its ending is characteristically more confident as it promises to praise.
The structure of the supplication is only slightly different from the lament. Indeed, biblical critics who identify this type of poem in the Book of Psalms often classify it as a subcategory of the lament. The difference is that the supplication poem is a petition spoken in a mood of confidence throughout, avoiding all but the mildest self-deprecation. It begins with a short opening invocation, followed by a description of the poet's attempts to follow God's laws or desires and what he therefore wishes God to grant him, and a final voiced realization of the possibility of God's help, sometimes coupled with a promise to praise. “Huswifery” stands as a perfect example of a supplication. In the meditative poetry, those poems in which Taylor encounters the paradox created by the duty to praise and the difficulties of doing so most obviously reflect this stance. His petition, of course, is the primary desire to find the right words to praise Christ. “Meditation 1.21” is structured as a supplication. The opening invocation is in interrogative form: “What Glory's this, my Lord?” The poet follows with an account of his desires to be a better poet mixed with protestations of the sincerity of his attempts to do right:
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.
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, When such bright Glory glorifies within? That makes my Heart leape, dancing to thy Lute? And shall my tell tale tongue become a Mute?
Taylor's mood here is essentially one of confidence despite the comparatively mild deprecation of his poetic skill, perhaps the last confident poem in the First Series as his mood after this poem quickly descends and his doubts multiply. He follows this with a more assured stanza that ends with the requisite couplet of praise:
Lord spare I pray, though my attempts let fall A slippery Verse upon thy Royall Glory. I'le bring unto thine Altar th'best of all My Flock affords. I have no better Story. I'le at thy Glory my dark Candle light: Not to descry the Sun, but use by night.
He then ends this poem with an example of his attempt to accomplish his desire, two stanzas that describe the glory of God and the beauty of heaven, which leave the reader aware of Taylor's occasional confidence in his poetic ability, despite the limitations of human language.
The last classification of stance that Taylor uses is that of thanksgiving and praise. This kind of poem has a three-part structure, making it appear to imitate the structure of the typical meditation. The first part is an exclamation of intention to praise, followed by an explanation of the grounds for praise, and ending with a final statement of praise. Taylor's poems that concentrate more on God's actions than on Taylor's own sins or attempts to determine his salvation are structured as thanksgivings and praises. “Meditation 1.10” is an example of this mode. The poem begins with an example of ecphonesis that qualifies as an exclamation of intention to praise: “Stupendious Love! All Saints Astonishment!” He then writes several verses that attempt to explain the extent of God's glory, and the kindness with which he has cured Taylor's spiritual “Ague.” This in turn leads Taylor to an explanation of his pet theme, the Incarnation:
But how it came, amazeth all Communion. 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.
His final statement of praise is uncharacteristically indirect: “Then make my life, Lord, to thy praise proceed / For thy rich blood, which is my Drink-Indeed.”
The frequency with which Taylor uses one of these stances or a combination of two or three of them indicates that, although the poetry is clearly meditative, the structuring principle of the Preparatory Meditations is the Book of Psalms, as these three structures can clearly be seen to dominate that poetry as well. Moreover, Taylor uses these stances in his occasional poetry as well.
Another feature of Taylor's poetry that is based on what he observed in the Book of Psalms is a shifting of the poetic voice and the addressee within the walls of the same poem. Although Christ is most often the intended audience of Taylor's lines, this is not always so. Karl Keller tries to say his inability to stick with the same addressee shows that Taylor can't get a grip on his own identity (Keller, “Taylor” 193), but when one compares what David the psalmist does with what Taylor is doing, the shifts seem far more to be another deliberate imitation of this sanctioned book of poetry.
Of course, in Gods Determinations such shifts are expected, as Taylor has divided the poem into various subpoems. The preface begins with a third-person objective narration to a general audience, and the next poem continues that way as it attempts to set forth the background of the entire poem. Other poems in the piece are also narrated objectively, revealing the largely public nature of the poem and its apocalyptic subject matter of the Last Judgment. Additionally, Taylor's intentions as author are not that far away from those of a preacher. However, the third poem is a dialogue, as in a play, between Justice and Mercy, and later in the poem, there are several other dialogues, one between “Satan” and “Soul,” one between “Rank Two” and “Rank Three” of those called to the Last Judgment, and four others between “Soul” and “Saint.” In each case, the participants in the dialogue address each other and there is no poetic narrator. Additionally, we have two poems in which the Soul addresses Christ, two in which Christ replies to the Soul, poems directed objectively at the “Inward Man,” the “Outward Man,” and “The Soul,” and poems in the voice of the Elect and the second and third rank of people who are still awaiting revelation of their election, all of which are directed to Christ. In the middle of the poem, two subpoems in the voice of Satan are also addressed to the second and third ranks, respectively, and in the latter part of the poem, a series of subpoems are written objectively about the Soul or directed by the voice of the Soul to Christ. On a few occasions, moreover, the addressees shift slightly within a single poem, such as with the couplet of praise directed at Christ at the end of the subpoem “Our Insufficiency to Praise God suitably, for his Mercy.”
In the Preparatory Meditations, which could be viewed even more so than Gods Determinations as a seamless piece of work, the shifts of addressee become far more noticeable. They are often abrupt, creating a somewhat startling and confusing effect. Taylor sometimes interrupts his usual address of Christ or God by speaking to his own soul, as in “Meditation 1.12”: “But is this so? My Peuling soul then pine / In Love untill this Lovely one be thine.” Yet rarely is an entire meditation addressed to his soul. In “Meditation 2.68[B],” for example, he begins with an address to the soul that continues through the first five stanzas:
My megre Soule, when wilt thou fleshed bee, With Spirituall plumpness? Serpents flesh dost eat Which maketh leane? Thy bones stick out in thee. Art thou Consumptive? And Concoctst not meat?
In the fourth stanza, however, he also begins to speak of souls in general and the benefits they garner from contact with Christ. The penultimate stanza ends with this couplet:
My little Pipkin Soule of heavenly Clay Shall fatted to the brim with grace grow gay.
These lines provide a bridge to the shift in the last stanza, which becomes a direct address to Christ: “My Heade, O Sun, hide in thy healing Wing.” Such shifts are effective means of conveying the self-examining chastisement characteristic of the penitent Puritan in his Christian walk.
As is obvious, the shift in addressee in the context of a poem cannot really be discussed without also mentioning shifts in the identity of the poetic voice itself. The movement between sin and grace is not consistently a private matter in the Meditations delivered by a lyric persona, the voice of the Christian poet who is Edward Taylor. The voice of the poems does not articulate merely an individual struggle for assurance and worthy communion with God. In several Meditations, a public voice emerges and blends with or else temporarily replaces the private persona. Both the public and private voices, of course, articulate the hope-doubt dilemma that is the central theme of the Meditations, so that in essence Taylor's voice becomes, as Norman Grabo maintains, that of the “representative saint” who confesses his sinful carnality as the condition of all God's Elect on earth (Taylor, Treatise xlv-xlvi).
In several Meditations, Taylor changes the person of his speaker by shifting between first person singular and plural. When he does so, Taylor creates a poem both public and personal. In “Meditation 1.27,” for example, he first speaks of the redemption in communal terms:
This Flower [Christ] that in his Bosom [God's] sticks so fast, Stuck in the Bosom of such stuffe as wee That both his Purse, and all his Treasure thus, Should be so full, and freely sent to us.
In the next stanza, however, he considers the redemption as it applies to himself alone: “Let him in Whom all Fulness Dwells, dwell, Lord / Within my Heart: this Treasure therein lay.” Since the universality of the experience of salvation is also ultimately an individual matter, Taylor's plural-to-singular shift is one from public to private voice, but at the same time reflects an experience that every Christian must go through. Such a persona who embodies the fate of all men in his own experience appears in “Meditation 1.31”:
Begracde with Glory, gloried with Grace, In Paradise I was, when all Sweet Shines Hung dangling on this Rosy World to face Mine Eyes, and Nose, and Charm mine Eares with Chimes. All these were golden Tills the which did hold My evidences wrapt in glorious folds.
But as a Chrystall Glass, I broke, and lost That Grace, and Glory I was fashion'd in And cast this Rosy World with all its Cost Into the Dunghill Pit, and Puddle Sin. All right I lost in all Good things, each thing I had did hand a Vean of Venom in.
The fall of man, as described in the poem, is at once both personal and communal. The singular “I” stands for both Taylor individually and all men collectively. Later in the poem, the voice merges into first person plural: “What e're we want, we cannot Cry for, nay, / If that we could, we could not have it thus.” The representative Christian soul and the individual here both experience redemption, as the voice assumes the plural pronoun. Thus, the collective “I” can speak in Taylor's poetry in either the singular or the plural; Taylor himself is, of course, one member of this “I” and, as such, also embodies it.
For a full discussion of the intellectual development of this image cluster, see Jeske 30-33, 47-48.
These critics include Gatta 143; Hammond, Fifty 25; Gelpi 33; and Hambrick-Stowe 55.
Cheryl Oreowicz uses Meditation 1.7 to explain Taylor's spiritual use of alchemical imagery (108).
I would like to thank the editors of the Web site “Silva Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric,” compiling the ongoing work of Gideon O. Burton, for these classical rhetorical terms.
Burton, Gideon O. “Silva Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric.” 16 May 2002.
Gatta, John. Gracious Laughter: The Meditative Wit of Edward Taylor. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1989.
Gelpi, Albert. The Tenth Muse: The Psyche of the American Poet. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975.
Hambrick-Stowe, Charles E. Early New England Meditative Poetry: Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor. New York: Paulist P, 1988.
Hammond, Jeffrey A. Edward Taylor: Fifty Years of Scholarship and Criticism. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1993.
Jeske, Jeff. “Edward Taylor and the Traditions of Puritan Nature Philosophy.” Schuldiner 27-67.
Oreowicz, Cheryl Z. “Investigating ‘the America of nature’: Alchemy in Early American Poetry.” White 99-110.
Ashley, Renée. “An Aesthetic of Anomaly: Edward Taylor's ‘Preface’ to His Gods Determinations, My Mother and the Trolley, and Some Thoughts on Involuntary Comedy.” Studies in American Humor n.s. 3, no. 4 (1997): 15-46.
Discussion of the irreverent, homely metaphors employed in Taylor's “Preface” that elicit laughter in the modern reader.
Grabo, Norman S. Edward Taylor. Boston: Twayne, 1988, 136 p.
Comprehensive coverage of Taylor's life and career as both preacher and poet, as well as a discussion of the influence of his sermons on his poetry.
(The entire section is 363 words.)