The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In the contemplative lyric “The Salutation,” Thomas Traherne celebrates the wonder of life through the eyes of a first-person speaker who has only recently become aware of life’s gifts. The lyric consists of seven regular six-line stanzas, forty-two lines total. What begins as a celebration of existence becomes by the end a religious poem in praise of the Creator.

In the first stanza, the speaker addresses parts of his physical body—limbs, eyes, hands, and cheeks—to inquire why they were originally hidden from him. Where, he asks rhetorically, was his speaking tongue? The questions imply a common theme in Traherne’s poetry: the pre-existence of the soul. He implies that the parts of his body have also been hidden from consciousness, that they too have been in existence. Thus what is celebrated is in one sense not pre-existence but a newly acquired mental awareness of existence.

In the second stanza, the speaker acknowledges that his pre-existence was unconscious, that he remained thousands of years beneath the dust in “Chaos” and now welcomes his lips, hands, eyes, and ears as newly discovered treasures. Acknowledging in the third stanza that he has been nothing, the speaker also welcomes sensory pleasures as joys he has discovered and experienced. Stanza 4 lauds the richness of these joys, comparing them metaphorically to gold and pearls. To the speaker it appears that human joints and veins contain more wealth than all the...

(The entire section is 440 words.)

The Salutation Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Among the poem’s most creative conventions is the introduction of the first-person speaker. In the first stanza, reference to his “Speaking Tongue” suggests that he has just begun speaking, like an infant who has become aware of his own body and senses and is struck with wonder at their power. The speaker does not remain at that stage, however; he quickly develops a sense of his being and of mental categories (abstractions) such as time. He is able to admire the universe outside himself and to discern the purpose of its creation. Optimistically finding everything created pleasant and good, he celebrates the Creator through celebrating creation. Throughout his development, the speaker maintains a tone of naïve and innocent wonder as he celebrates himself, the world, its purposes, and the Creator. Thus, Traherne presents a developing intellect from childhood to maturity, but the speaker retains the child’s sense of wonder and optimism throughout. In his Eden there is neither a serpent nor a Fall; the fictive speaker’s mind develops and expands without any awareness of guilt and sin.

Each of the poem’s six-line stanzas, rhyming ababcc, exhibits an unusual metrical pattern: two iambic feet in line 1, four in line 2, five in line 3, three in line 4, and five in lines 5 and 6. Traherne also uses repetition to create emphasis and conviction. In the final stanza, the word “strange,” or one of its variants, occurs six times, employing the...

(The entire section is 405 words.)