Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Although Traherne belongs among the Metaphysical poets, he is among those Metaphysicals more accurately termed meditative or contemplative poets. “The Salutation” best fits the contemplative poem designation, for its speaker does not engage in a disciplined, structured meditation for the purpose of self-improvement. Instead, he turns his attention to objects outside himself in order to cultivate a sense of wonder and praise their existence. For its effect, the poem depends upon the reader’s ability to share his profound sense of naïve wonder when viewing his own existence and that of the external world.

Although the speaker assumes a kind of quiescent pre-existence of the soul, this theme is more subdued than in other Traherne poems, such as “Wonder” and “Shadows in the Water.” The speaker views himself as having existed beneath dust and chaos for thousands of years, as having been nothing. Such a minimal conception of pre-existence heightens the wonder by contrasting the speaker’s state with the richness and diversity of life on earth. Through identifying himself with dust and nothingness, the speaker magnifies his existence.

Like many lyrics, this one belongs among those that praise external nature and contemplate Dame Kind, with a view toward belonging or uniting with nature, as the more conventional mystic seeks unity with God. The poem attempts to portray all being as miraculous—a source of contemplation—and it conveys Traherne’s own sense of wonder at...

(The entire section is 615 words.)