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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...

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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).

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.”

Principal Works

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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

Karl Keller (essay date 1985)

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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 before him or from his contemporaries or from those who followed. We could not have guessed him from the articulated esthetics of the period either, nor from what we have known about the dogmatics or demographics or dynamics of the time. Except for a handful of historians who had him down only as a minister—Ezra Stiles, John H. Lockwood, William Sprague, John L. Sibley, Abiel Holmes, Josiah Holland, Harriet Beecher Stowe1—Taylor was lost for two whole centuries. The Taylor family had its own tradition about the old man as some kind of backwoods, backwater versifier, and libraries in New England had him catalogued,2 but still the name collected centuries of dust. The first frontier poet of early America just disappeared.

He appeared first in the 1930s at the hands of Thomas H. Johnson,3 and here for the first time was an accomplished artist at the heart of, and not merely at the fringes of or among the descendants of, American Puritan life. Not even Perry Miller could foresee what had been the art of Edward Taylor. The event of the discovery, which romanticizes Taylor a little for us now in the twentieth century, is best marked by the anecdote of Johnson and Miller scrambling to insert Taylor into their anthology and history The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings (1938)—pages 656a-n. He has brightened the pages of practically every collection of American literature since then. And more important, he has colored considerably our understanding of the esthetics possible within the Puritan sensibility.

Then the work of rationalizing his existence began. Apologists made two camps: those who thought he was the last flash of a lagging European culture on primitive shores (perhaps baroque,4 maybe a little Catholic,5 certainly unorthodox,6 mainly quaint7) and those who thought he was just being reactionary (a devotional man writing private verse for no one to see,8 a conservative man trying to preserve the faith within the American experiment9). The two camps warred genially over a body that, I fear, remained largely dead to them.

The period of expansion of the Taylor canon began in 1960 when Donald E. Stanford published an edition of over 240 poems, The Poems of Edward Taylor,10 and Norman Grabo published two collections of sermons, Christographia (1962) and Edward Taylor's Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper (1966). Johnson's edition had favored Taylor's Gods Determinations over his Preparatory Meditations, for he saw him as mainly an ecclesiastical poet. Stanford's edition favored the Meditations, for he saw him (as did Louis Martz in his important introduction to the edition) as basically devotional and meditative. Grabo's publication of Taylor's sermons set both views straight, however, for with them one could see that Taylor had been more of a fighter than a minister or a dark recluse. There were large, specific issues which lay behind his art. Norman Grabo also wrote the first full-length study of Taylor at about the same time, Edward Taylor (1961), and in it he stumbled upon mysticism as a way of reconciling his Old Worldliness, his private devotionalism, and his debates with the world around him—but it was a stumble. Taylor turned out to be far too earth-bound, too earthy, and too carelessly inconsistent for such characterization.

Important as it was to know how Taylor, through poetry, had been able to break out of the Puritan mold, or at least to stretch it considerably through meditation, which was the fine emphasis of Stanford, Grabo, and most students of Taylor in the first decades of his emergence, it took the work of some very careful analysts of individual Taylor poems,11 of his intellectual milieu,12 and of the demographics of the Connecticut River Valley13 to show that while his spirit could often soar, he was of a time and a place—America in the late seventeenth century.

There came then the closer explications, and they showed for the most part that Taylor was more contender and clown than he was mystic and metaphysician.14 His language, after all, was clever, idiosyncratic, erratic, egregious. He needed his words to move him to his meiotic and loving states; he felt what he wrote. And there came the closer attention to the American pressures that moved Taylor to write.15 He wrote out of necessity, out of need, not out of flights of fancy or when possessed of the spirit. He was not a religious poet in that sense at all. He was a self-styled defender of American covenants, a local apologist of Valley orthodoxy. His muse was, perversely, Solomon Stoddard, the devil's liberal up the river from him in Northampton.16 His references to heaven and hell were in reality his way of talking about New England and orthodoxy in the Valley.

We needed these close studies. That is, we needed to know the air Taylor breathed—the doctrines he loved, the language he knew, the issues he fought for—more than the Old World traditions he emerged from and refreshed. William Scheick wrote the cleverest essays linking Taylor's beliefs with his language: the theology did have its esthetics, Puritanism could produce art. But when these were collected into the book, The Will and the Word: The Poetry of Edward Taylor (1974), one saw that Taylor had once again been made out to be a profound thinker, a systematic philosopher of sorts, an early, smaller Edwards. Scheick's Emersonian assumption that high thought leads to high art skewered Taylor, as Stanford and Grabo had done, on universals that might lead one to make Taylor important beyond his own time and place. Scheick's Taylor thinks he is a thinker.

I came to the writing of The Example of Edward Taylor (1975) because I felt the claims for Taylor had put him in the wrong categories, had in fact been too large, even perhaps, because of his surprise emergence, hyperbolic, hyperactive, a hype. Early American literature had needed a great poet, and the critics were determined to make this one great. I didn't intend to cut him down to proper size, but simply to find a way to measure him better, more interestingly, more relevantly: Taylor the American. Was there anything indigenously American at that early point in the making of a culture, I wanted to know, and Taylor seemed to give an affirmative answer. From his inadvertence came an art, that of a primitive. It was an eccentric point to make, but it at last caught Taylor at his art. It caught him making something for us: attractively flawed poems, “rough feet for smooth praises.”

But the work of Thomas Davis has now overshadowed everything previous and substantially shifts the grounds for understanding Taylor accurately. Davis' correction of previously published Taylor works, his transcription of many unpublished works into three volumes (Boston, 1981),17 and his (and his Kent State protégés') documentation of Taylor's activities and relationships18 give us much more of Taylor to know but also, ironically, a much smaller Taylor to like. Taylor can no longer be romanticized into a baroque brocailleur, a high-flying Hooker, a man of much mind. Most of his works now seem narrowed to a single cause, a single motive, a single objective: S. Stoddard up the river. Others had seen Stoddard looking over Taylor's shoulder before Davis did. Now the two face each other off, eyeball to eyeball, in the grand debate of that New England century: admission to the American sacrament. We care little about that now, except for the intellectual history in it. Taylor has been put in his place. The artist was first an ecclesiastic, second an apologist, and only third an artist. He may have gained a place in history by this process but perhaps lost something in esthetics.

The struggle to find the art in Taylor will now be more difficult, if certainly more accurate. His redaction of Scripture into an American typology interests some.19 His search for forms to accommodate church and ear interests others.20 This is a challenge that has always been there, of course, but now far more demanding of precision and creative criticism: for all the debilities, what is it, precisely, that delights us in this man?

Holding all the studies of Taylor in mind, however, does not give one a defined or definitive Taylor. It has simply very smartly created The Problem of Edward Taylor: the criticism often looks better than the poet does. The problem with knowing, admiring, analyzing, and teaching Taylor is that, like many writers of early American literature, he is, against the best twentieth-century literary standards, a poor writer. He is a poor writer by almost any standard except his own, which understandably was not standard.

Biography is of little help because we still know little about the man, little about the environment that produced him, little about the cultural factors or the persons that influenced and encouraged him. And even as we learn more about these, especially in the writings of Grabo, Scheick, and Davis, the art of his art still seems anomalous. Somehow it came from a source we have not yet tapped, or it came attractively of itself from a poet who did not know what he was doing. Art is often an American accident.

Approaching Taylor through literary conventions is not very rewarding either, for, like many writers of early America, he is almost entirely predictable, his forms and structures are imitative and repetitive almost to the point of self-parody, and his experiments are handled with almost unfailing ineptitude or just get lost. In many formal ways, he is, like many writers of his time, a perfect bore. Nor boring, though, if we see what he found to do within the expected, the determined. He wanted to sing somehow, even when the hymns were all prescribed and proscriptive ones. He just sang them with the voice he had—screechy, anxious, improvisational, loving voice, but a voice indeed: his own. Maybe early America allowed that, encouraged that, demanded that. Maybe it always has, until we come to our time, when the non-singers write songs.

The condition of Taylor's poetry itself, as with much early American writing, also does not help very much in finding the art of his art. The best of it is largely unfinished and unfinishable. You will stumble over it if you try to read it aloud. You will find it was not written to be examined by anyone except Taylor himself and perhaps God. You dance around an antique if you use it at all. You will be a laughing stock if you take it too seriously. The mistakes may or may not be mistaken—who can know?—but certainly should not be mistook, for they have to be accepted as part of the art or else we have not taken the artist whole. Do I go too far to suggest that The Flawed Poet of American Literature was not a failure but God's fool? He fooled around with the toys of this fallen world, the words, thinking he had a calling to play. Rejoice that the man knew how to play, even when it turned out to be his own game, not God's at all. Thank God he got that part wrong. Thank him that it turns out right. It is right because in its silliness, its experimentation, its sprightliness, its corniness, its stretching for color and sound, its cragginess, its ugly lure, it simulates the condition of the world Taylor was in. Taylor did not like it either!

I do not know if I am yet suggesting some solutions to The Problem of Edward Taylor. Maybe we should simply read him as theologian and claim for him some artfulness in delivering his theology to us somewhat interestingly. There is much in New England Puritanism that we can see because of him: the helplessness of mankind, the awful state of the world, the mercy of God in the saving power of Christ, the power and joy of the regenerate saint. Much in the theology—pop-theology, then—is chewable in his images. Much of it stops grumbling in the gut when we see that he could digest it. Much then comes out “streams of Grace, … Heavens Sugar Cake.” But this approach does not allow for many of the complexities of Puritan dogma at all. For one thing, it illustrates only one of the Connecticut River Valley brands in a fairly large New England storehouse. And it overlooks the probable motive behind such poetry: self-therapy. We know we get more of the man in his poetry (a man hunting for words) than we do of God (God hunting for words). It is humanistic, not theistic. It is poetry, not preaching.

Or maybe we should try to read him as a little psychoanalyst: a man after his own darkness for the fun in it. He wrote poetry, if we believe his apologetics, to ready himself for taking the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper through conscientious self-examination, knowing that that very attitude was evidence enough of his spiritual worth. If his poetry indeed moved him to a position of maximum humiliation and dependence, it is better than we have thought, better than we can experience. It is just there on the page for us to wonder at, in awe that so little could do so much to the man. If it balanced his mind between despair and hope, then its art had its effect but still escapes us. And so it is not really poetry anymore for us. How can we deal with the remoteness of the most intimate/private poetry written in this country before Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson? That kind of poetry, to be sure, gave him a means of demonstrating the talent which grace had vouchsafed him, that of writing poetry. Holding Taylor in mind as a little psychoanalyst, however, illustrates only his occult side and not all of his interests and abilities and personality. It makes Puritan practices seem darker (at least after reading him in the dark light of Hawthorne, Melville, and Emily Dickinson) than they actually were. And it does not pay much respect to the poem as an artifact, as a work of art, as an artful accomplishment. It becomes too much of an exercise to only watch his exercises.

If we honor Taylor as an amateur theologian or amateur psychoanalyst but find ourselves wanting more high verse and less thick doodling, we must jump into his poems as belles lettres. Let him handle his conflict, tension, climax, and denouement in his structures. Let him try dramatics in his rhythms and sounds. Let his metaphors move for meiotic and amplified effects. Let his skill with puns and other playful language devices show, even as you admit that such may come from a myopic New Critic rather than from any esthetics inherent in the poetry itself. Admit, as Taylor asks one to do, that he was far more interested in the process of writing his poetry than he ever was in any of his finished products, since they represented his fallen state. And admit that much does go wrong with verse-making in Taylor's hand. He had to fail at being faithful to the world's arts, for he had to show he needed the help of his God. Not the critic's help—God's.

When all of these approaches fail, and I think they do, wonderful as the criticism using them has become, I sell The Poet Primitive, The Village Verse-Maker, Taylor the Messy Emerson, Taylor Who Tried and Survived by Torment and Tease. None of these flip labels are accurate, of course, for in the attempt to see his natural art emerging out of unnatural acts, it is extremely difficult to name the Indigenous Inadvertence simply and clearly. Relaxed, we see how he simply and clearly wrote what he could. The resulting poems are acts of honesty, acts of love. They do not compete with the arts of the world, not even with the critics of the world, and so the temptations to snob it out and call them incompetent. But they nonetheless work in their cranky way. This anomaly, the Rev. Mr. Edward Taylor, therefore makes his place, unskewered, in the literature.

All of the above is a cop-out, however, for even when one can show that he knows the literature about Taylor well and knows the literature written by Taylor well enough as A Problem, one still must prove that the art of the man can be handled. Not manhandled, but handled in accurate celebration of an honest discovery that matters esthetically. We should, after all, try to know where Taylor is good, where Taylor is best—and what in his understanding of his faith and his art made him so. I propose—speculatively, airily—that Taylor had to act in order to be a good poet and that the resulting poems are very good acts indeed. He is the great Acting Poet (both as stand-in and as self-dramatist in a role) of early America.

In the late 1660s and early 1670s, he began by writing a set of well-conceited occasional poems imitative of features of an outdated baroque style. By 1682, however, for personal and ecclesiastical reasons, he was writing confessional poems for no other eyes but his own and in a much more inventive, personalized style. In between, at some point, he wrote his cantankerous, contentious, and crude series, A Metrical History of Christianity, and his ministerial, minatory series, Gods Determinations.

When one surveys the full range of Taylor's works, one comes to recognize just how special his one series is, the Preparatory Meditations. The main reason for their distinct difference from the rest of what he wrote lies in the fact that in all of his Meditations, but in very little of the rest of the verse he wrote, Taylor is acting—and acting a very good act, too. In them he plays a persona exacted by Connecticut Valley Preparationism. The Taylor of the Meditations is a Prepared Persona. We in the twentieth century, his only audience, can judge how well he played his part.

Taylor had found within his orthodox beliefs, especially in the Preparationism of which he became an ardent defender for over forty years, the license for a form of drama. He is, in his Preparatory Meditations, the most dramatic of all Puritan poets. In his Meditations he rivals John Bunyan as a Puritan initiator of fictive drama into literature in English.

What gave Taylor his drama in these poems was his decision at some point to play a part before God, and now before us his rediscoverers. Preparationism encouraged this technique. It gave him fuel for his natural ability to act. Probably the innovation was an inadvertent result of Preparational dramatics, but an innovation nonetheless. The persona of his meditative poems knows universal truths but not much about himself. So he doubts and hopes at the same time, creating drama. He is a voice-with-personality, a role or set of roles or range of roles being played coherently and consistently by an identifiable narrator. He has aura-presence by virtue of his ability to make a world. He plays with language more than with ideas. He flaunts his sins and sinfulness flamboyantly, theatrically trying to attract attention from his God in any way he can. He performs for Him.

We might wish that Taylor had made more of a distinction for us, as he worked up his little acts, his poems, between preparation for communion and preparation for grace. We can believe he knew the difference; we can believe equally that in ecstatic mini-states his poetry got him excruciatingly/exhilaratingly into, the difference faded away. Through his writing of poems, such as they are, he could act a part that led him to feel he was ready.

The persona that the grace-desperate Taylor plays the most consistently as he prepared himself to take the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper is that of a man working hard to put himself down severely in order to be lifted up radically by a savior. “Woe is mee!” he cries, and his efforts at self-humiliation throughout his 212 Meditations represent his need, which in turn represents his hoped-for grace.21 In his assumed passivity he even shifts sometimes to the feminine in order to be “taken.” And then his act becomes one of willing his will to be won at any cheap price. His role of unbidden “Guest” at the “Feast” of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in his poem “The Reflexion” is a good example. In his little sacramental drama, he is unworthy and so he weeps. He feels God is ashamed to look at him—and he may be right. He is full of filth and poison. He starves for some spiritual nourishment. He begs for some kind of recognition: “So much before, so little now!”

The metaphoric roles of searcher, seeker, desirer which Taylor creates in his Meditations to achieve this meiosis at the time of seeking to feel worthy to take the Sacrament are fanciful, consistent, entertaining, and dramatically convincing. “I am this Crumb of Dust,” he writes in his Prologue to his First Series of Meditations, “which is design'd / To make my Pen unto thy Praise alone. …” But we know all the same that he has chosen to play this dunce for the nonce. His language made the act possible.

Taylor asks God to forgive the roles he plays as fallen human being (“Let not th'attempts breake down … Nor laugh thou them to scorn”), for the person-in-need, as Edwards was to argue two generations later, justifies the saving power of God. The (perhaps to us funny) self-demeaning masochism defines, by distance, the (no doubt to him phenomenal) greatness of God. Taylor therefore works to imagine himself in sorry, abject roles, even begs God's help to put him in such roles: “Let me thy Patient, thou my surgeon bee”—all for the sake of underscoring, or even creating, his dependence on God (“I.4”).

In his meiotic role of “Poor wretched man” with a “poore poore heart,” he speaks of his “Graceless Soule,” his “befogg'd Dark Phancy,” his “naughty heart.” He is thoroughly “Bemidnighted,” he claims. “I … am all blot,” he complains. “I'm but a Flesh and Blood bag.” “I could do more but can't …” (“I.34”; “II.17”; “I.26,” 18, 44, 25, 30, 41). All for the sake of a convincing act before God. The irony of which, however, is that he knows God knows it is just an act. The judgment he must then hope for is that God will think the act (and not necessarily the man himself) a good one.

The consistency of the self-demeaning persona throughout the Meditations might lead one to believe that this is the real Edward Taylor talking. But it is not possible to believe that Taylor really thought so poorly of himself. It is an act, the act of The Poor Thing in Need of God:

Was ever Heart like mine? Pride, Passion, fell.
          Ath'ism, Blasphemy, pot, pipe it, dance
Play Barlybreaks, and at last Couple in Hell.


He says he is but “a Ball of dirt.” He speaks of his “vile Heart.” He is sure of his “little all.” He claims that he is merely a “hide bound Soule that stands so niggardly” (“I.40,” 22, 46, 48). Such meiotic assertions, because so insistent and so repetitious, raise the important question whether this was a genuine conviction on Taylor's part or a genuine role he played. Surely the intensity is concocted, contrived. “I … have been a pest,” he says, “And have done the Worst.” “O bad at best! what am I then at worst?” (“II.1,” 17; “I.26”). Can we really believe he believed this of himself? Acting, an especially degrading activity to the staunch Puritans anyway, demeans the man nicely. His pride must now play the clown, the fool, the beggar, the pitiful one. Acting—a creative, confessional choice of his—gives him, if he is good at it, need.

Taylor is especially good at acting when he works at berating his own writing. He speaks of “My Rough Voice, and my blunt Tongue” as he puts himself down. “I know not how to speak, …” he says (ironically, cutely) quite competently. “I am Tonguetide [,] stupid, sensless.”

What aim'st at, Lord? that I should be so Cross.
          My minde is Leaden in thy Golden Shine.
Though all o're Spirit, when this dirty Dross
          Doth touch it with its smutting leaden lines.
.....                    Mine Eyes, Lord, shed no Tears but inke.
My handy Works, are Words, and Wordiness.

[“I.23,” 27, 24]

Taylor is often redundant in the extent to which he writes about his bad writing, but there was a Preparational reason for this. Taylor plays the role of writer by writing. He plays the role of Humble One by meiotic metaphors and a primitive style. He plays the role of Insufficient One by writing deliberately insufficiently. He therefore makes the role real. His desires thereby become truth. Anyone (that is, God) should be able to see that.

Taylor's acting in such little scenes as he sets for himself to play roles in is factitious. In acting, he is trying to deceive God: that he is good at being no good. His Meditations are vehicles for him to act poor in (though not poorly in), so that he can sustain his hope of rescue. God (that is, the critic) should love watching the fool play the fool when he is in reality a fool and only needed to play it to see it himself. The act then becomes an act of honesty.

Taylor had the phenomenal task of making this humility—that is, this recurring act of grovelling before God—attractive. Both preparation for grace and preparation for the Sacrament required at least that of him. In his Meditations, therefore, Taylor did a certain amount of playing at humility, knowing it was really a form of worthiness. He apparently hoped that the playing at humility was not hypocrisy or presumptuousness, but a showing forth of one's faith-filled abilities. To put on a humble act—that is, to play the Prepared Persona—is human, natural. “The New Englanders,” Sacvan Bercovitch observes in his American Jeremiad, “acted as if they were doomed while presuming they were saved.”22 Taylor's little act of self-abasement in his poems had to be attractively convincing to his God. And so what we get is his attempt at poetry. His fallen self, after all, had to be made interesting.

But what happens to voice when a poet creates a persona which acts only for God? Taylor's persona violates the assumption that a poetic role is for an audience.23 Playing only to himself, as Taylor did in his Meditations, left him free to innovate, for there were no other judges, no other criteria, than his own desires. Since Taylor-the-persona is pretty much in the dark about himself, he is free to play any earthly role he wishes through the metaphors of his poems. This counterpoint of consistent persona and wild, brief flights with his roles, his voices, his images, represents the already determined soul free to play in and with a foolish world. The poet therefore has the advantage which Preparationism promised: that one might participate in one's salvation a little. Because his Self is as yet undefined (and will remain so until fully aware of his election, hereafter), he may try out many roles, not in search of his true Self but because he cannot know what his true Self is. His ignorance is liberating, for he is at liberty to play—and that leads him to all his fanciful, and sometimes extravagant, metaphors. Taylor the Tense Actor is then, through his writing of poetry, something of a free spirit, if only among the little toys of this world—which is all that a Puritan could expect of his liberties anyway.

This can help to explain the shifting roles, confusion of voices, and mixed metaphors in a Taylor poem: he does not know who he is—and can enjoy that fact. Though he desires an identity (“God's determinations,” he calls such), he also enjoys the not knowing. Ignorance is his area of freedom. Taylor thus justifies the Puritan principle: Adam fell that mankind might be, and mankind is that it might have joy. The Fall meant living with the ambiguity of having freedom from knowing oneself, alongside the obligation to seek to know oneself—and there was a certain amount of joy in that. The Fall was therefore the form that God's grace takes: excrement dished up by angels' hands, as Taylor puts it in one of his more humorous, theological poems. Taylor appears to have understood the Fall, at least on the occasion of writing his Meditations preparatory to taking the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, as not merely a burden but also as license to play, to act, to try out, to create. Out of unknowing came his poetry. And it is thus to be taken less as a Poetry of Piety than as a Poetry of Poverty. The “Poor wretched man” can at least write.

It should be obvious to anyone who reads through the Preparatory Meditations that the range of roles Taylor gives himself to play is not very wide. But he has an obsession to create; that is, to deplete, to enrich, to supplement ordinary human experience. Acting adds a new dimension to his life. His acting makes it possible for him to project some of his desires (as if out of some hell into which he delights putting himself) in the form of potentials, possibilities, hopes. The fairly chaotic variety of projected hopes out of his self-induced mire do not, however, make up Taylor's ideal self, merely some possibilities, for it would be presumptuous of him to think he knows what he might be. That he leaves to God. For the present this deferral means, of course, that his ideal self is one of the great unknowns. He plays the man trapped by existence and begging for a way out. And that is why his act has the simplest and worst emotions in it: sentimentality, severe melodramatic angles, hokey gestures, mumblings and screechings, cowering before the lights, lots of bathetic asides, a pause for the applause.

The gloomy Puritan is at play. Language made his game possible. I think Taylor has importance because he is the first American to discover language as a way out of some of the oppressiveness of the Fall, even while the way out was indigenous to the system of the Fall itself. It is to Taylor's credit that the voices of his persona in the Meditations have remained with us so well. He sticks—loathsomely, lovingly, Americanly—in the ear.


  1. Actually the first to give any recognition to Taylor as minister were Increase and Cotton Mather. They made use of some writings of his in their works, Illustrious Providences (1684) and Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), respectively, though they do not refer to him by name. (See my “Edward Taylor and the Mathers,” Moderna Språk 72 [1978], 119-35.) The only other references to him in published works in the eighteenth century are Ezra Stiles, The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, ed. Franklin B. Dexter (New York, 1901), I, 367-8; Extracts from the Itineraries and Other Miscellanies of Ezra Stiles, ed. Franklin B. Dexter (New Haven, 1916), 81-83, 103-4, 403-4; and Abiel Holmes, The Life of Ezra Stiles (Boston, 1798), pp. 379-82. In the nineteenth century, Taylor was known to only a few historians: Josiah Holland, History of Western Massachusetts (Springfield, 1855), I, 107-8, 115-18; II, 141-44: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oldtown Folks (Boston, 1869), p. 453; John L. Sibley, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University (Cambridge, 1873-85), II, 397-412; William B. Sprague, ed., Annals of the American Pulpit (New York, 1957-9), I, 181; and John H. Lockwood, Westfield and Its Historic Influences, 1669-1919 (Springfield, 1922), I, 102-321 passim.

  2. Taylor's major manuscripts can be found in the following places: Massachusetts Historical Society: “Commonplace Book.” Boston Public Library: “Extracts.” Redwood Library and Athenaeum: “Diary,” “Harmony of the Gospels,” “A Metrical History of Christianity.” Westfield Athenaeum: “The Publick Records of the Church at Westfield.” Yale University Library: “Commonplace Book,” “Christographia,” “Dispensatory,” “Poetical Works,” “Manuscript Notebook,” and “Metallographia.” University of Nebraska Library: “Commentary upon the Scriptures.” Charles W. Mignon, Jr., is editing the “Commentary” for publication. Those other manuscripts not already in print will be published by Thomas M. Davis in volumes IV-VI of the G. K. Hall edition of the works of Taylor. Taylor's brief manuscript diary in the Connecticut Historical Museum has been edited by Francis Murphy, The Diary of Edward Taylor (Springfield, Mass., 1964). In addition, there is a good bibliography of Taylor: Constance J. Gefvert, Edward Taylor: An Annotated Bibliography, 1668-1970 (Kent, Ohio, 1971); and an excellent concordance: Gene Russell, A Concordance of the Poetry of Edward Taylor (Washington, D.C., 1973).

  3. The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor (New York, 1939), Johnson discusses his find in “The Discovery of Edward Taylor's Poetry,” Colophon, I, No. 2 (1939), 100-6.

  4. See especially: Austin Warren, “Edward Taylor's Poetry: Colonial Baroque,” Kenyon Review 3 (1941), 355-71; “Edward Taylor,” Major Writers of America, ed. Perry Miller, et al. (New York, 1962), I, 51-62: Wallace C. Brown, “Edward Taylor: An American ‘Metaphysical,’” AL [American Literature] 16 (1944), 186-97; and Mindele Black, “Edward Taylor: Heaven's Sugar Cake,” NEQ [New England Quarterly] 29 (1956), 159-81.

  5. See especially: Norman S. Grabo, “Catholic Tradition, Puritan Literature, and Edward Taylor,” Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters 45 (1960), 395-402; “The Veiled Vision: The Role of Aesthetics in Early American Intellectual History,” WMQ [William and Mary Quarterly] 19 (1962), 493-510; Stephen Fender, “Edward Taylor and ‘The Application of Redemption,’” Modern Language Review 59 (1964), 331-34.

  6. See especially: Murdock, Literature, pp. 152-71; Herbert Blau, “Heaven's Sugar Cake: Theology and Imagery in the Poetry of Edward Taylor,” NEQ 26 (1953), 337-60; and Willie T. Weathers, “Edward Taylor and the Cambridge Platonists,” AL 26 (1954), 1-31.

  7. Three who have pictured him thus are: Roy Harvey Pearce, “Edward Taylor: The Poet as Puritan,” NEQ 23 (1950), 31-46; Charles W. Mignon, Jr., “The American Puritan and Private Qualities of Edward Taylor, the Poet,” unpub. diss., University of Connecticut, 1963; and Karl Keller, “The Example of Edward Taylor,” EAL [Early American Literature] 4 (1969-70), 5-26.

  8. On the issue of the essential privacy of Taylor's act of writing see: Francis Murphy, “Edward Taylor's Attitude Toward Publication: A Question Concerning Authority,” AL 39 (1962), 393-94; Emmy Shepherd, “Edward Taylor's Injunction Against Publication,” AL 38 (1962), 512-13; and Norman S. Grabo, “Colonial American Theology: Holiness and the Lyric Impulse,” in Joseph Waldmeir, ed., Essays in Honor of Russell B. Nye (East Lansing, Michigan, 1978). pp. 74-91.

  9. For discussions of Taylor as defender of the faith see Donald E. Stanford, Edward Taylor (Minneapolis, 1965); Norman S. Grabo, “Edward Taylor on the Lord's Supper,” Boston Public Library Quarterly 12 (1960), 22-36; and Michael J. Colacurcio, “Gods Determinations Touching Half-Way Membership: Occasion and Audience in Edward Taylor,” AL 39 (1967), 298-314.

  10. Stanford, Taylor. Stanford also transcribed and made available a long work of Taylor's from the Redwood Athenaeum and named it The Metrical History of Christianity (Baton Rouge, 1963).

  11. Those who have best shown Taylor as an artist in individual series and individual poems are Clark Griffith, “Edward Taylor and the Momentum of Metaphor,” English Literary History 23 (1966), 448-60; Peter Thorpe, “Edward Taylor as Poet,” NEQ 39 (1966), 356-72; E. F. Carlisle, “The Puritan Structure of Edward Taylor's Poetry,” AQ [American Quarterly] 20 (1968), 147-63; Charles W. Mignon, Jr., “Edward Taylor's Preparatory Meditations: A Decorum of Imperfection,” PMLA 83 (1968), 1423-28; John F. Lynen, “Literary Form and the Design of Puritan Experience,” The Design of the Present: Essays on Time and Form in American Literature (New Haven, 1969), 61-70; Donald Junkins, “Edward Taylor's Creative Process,” EAL 4 (1969-70), 67-78; John J. Gatta, Jr., “The Comic Design of Gods Determinations,EAL 10 (1975), 121-43.

  12. It took a long time for Taylor scholars to realize the intellectual milieu in which he wrote. Some works to consult on this are Norman Pettit, The Heart Prepared: Grace and Conversion in Puritan Spiritual Life (New Haven, 1966); Thomas M. Davis, “Edward Taylor and the Traditions of Puritan Typology,” EAL 4 (1969-70), 27-47; and Lewalski, Poetics.

  13. Paul R. Lucas, “Valley of Discord: The Struggle for Power in the Puritan Churches of the Connecticut Valley, 1636-1720,” unpub. diss., University of Minnesota, 1970; Stephen Foster, Their Solitary Way: The Puritan Social Ethic in the First Century of Settlement in New England (New Haven, 1971); James W. Jones, The Shattered Synthesis: New England Puritanism before the Great Awakening (New Haven, 1973); and John Gatta, Jr., “Edward Taylor and Thomas Hooker: Two Physicians of the Poore Doubting Soul,” Notre Dame English Journal 12 (1979), 1-13.

  14. Donald Junkins, “‘Should Stars Wooe Lobster Claws?’: A Study of Edward Taylor's Poetic Practice and Theory,” EAL 3 (1968), 88-117; Karl Keller, “‘The World Slickt up in Types’: Edward Taylor as a Version of Emerson,” EAL 5 (1970), 124-40; John J. Gatta, Jr., “Dogma and Wit in the Poetry of Edward Taylor,” unpub. diss., Cornell University, 1973; William J. Scheick, “The Jawbones Schema of Edward Taylor's Gods Determinations,” in Emory Elliott, ed., Puritan Influences in American Literature (Urbana, Illinois, 1979), pp. 38-54.

  15. Thomas M. Davis summarizes these pressures best in his introduction to his three-volume edition of Taylor's writings (Boston, 1981).

  16. From the outset, students of Taylor have seen Stoddard's presence in the Taylor canon, but this has increased now to show the serious obsession that Taylor had with the man and his heresy. On the conflict between the two and the resulting esthetics, see especially Norman S. Grabo, “Edward Taylor on the Lord's Supper,” Boston Public Library Quarterly 12 (1960), 22-36; “The Poet to the Pope: Edward Taylor to Solomon Stoddard,” AL 32 (1960), 197-201; James P. Walsh, “Solomon Stoddard's Open Communion: A Re-examination,” NEQ 43 (1970), 97-114; Dean Hall and Thomas M. Davis, “The Two Versions of Edward Taylor's Foundation Day Sermon,” Resources for American Literary Study 5 (1975), 199-216; and David L. Parker, “Edward Taylor's Preparationism: A New Perspective on the Taylor-Stoddard Controversy,” EAL 11 (1976-77), 259-78.

  17. Until Davis' work, more than half of the manuscripts of Taylor remained unpublished. Volume One of Davis' edition, Edward Taylor's Church Records and Related Sermons, includes the continuous record of Taylor's pastoral activities for nearly fifty years and three sermons related to major issues in those records. Volume Two, Edward Taylor versus Solomon Stoddard: The Nature of the Lord's Supper, includes key manuscripts written before the published works of the Stoddard-Increase Mather controversy. Volume Three is Edward Taylor's Minor Poetry. Three more volumes are to follow, made up of Taylor's The Harmony of the Gospels.

  18. Davis' students have produced some of the most original research on Taylor. Of note: Burley Gene Smith, “Edward Taylor and the Lord's Supper: The Controversy with Solomon Stoddard,” unpub. diss., Kent State, 1975; Dean Hall, “Edward Taylor: The Evolution of a Poet,” unpub. diss., Kent State, 1977; and Walter L. Powell, “Edward Taylor of Westfield: An Edition of the Westfield Town Records,” unpub. diss., Kent State, 1981.

  19. Many scholars have been attracted to Taylor's uses of typology in his poetry. Most important are: Ursula Brumm, American Thought and Religious Typology (New Brunswick, N. J., 1970); Karen Rowe, “Puritan Typology and Allegory as Metaphor and Conceit in Edward Taylor's Preparatory Meditations,” unpub. diss., Indiana University, 1971; Lowance, Canaan; and see the essays on Taylor in Bercovitch, Typology.

  20. Herein lies the greatest need: to relate Taylor's religion to his art. Valuable attempts to do so are Kathleen Blake, “Edward Taylor's Protestant Poetic: Nontransubstantiating Metaphor,” AL 43 (1970), 1-24; Steven Goldstein, “The Act of Vision in Edward Taylor's Preparatory Meditations,” unpub. diss., Tufts University, 1972; Gary A. Wood, “The ‘Festival Frame’: The Influence of the Tradition of Right Receiving on the Preparatory Meditations,” unpub. diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1972; Michael D. Reed, “Edward Taylor's Poetry: Puritan Structure and Form,” AL 46 (1973), 304-12; Daly, God's Altar; Michael North, “Edward Taylor's Metaphors of Promise,” AL 51 (1979), 1-16; William J. Scheick, “Edward Taylor's Herbalism in Preparatory Meditations,American Poetry 1 (Fall 1983), 64-72; and Catherine Rainwater, “Edward Taylor's Reluctant Revolution: The New Astonomy in the Preparatory Meditations,American Poetry 1 (Winter 1984), 4-17.

  21. All quotations from the Meditations are from Stanford, Taylor. The poems are designated by Series I or Series II and by Taylor's own numbers or titles within each series. Here, I.3.

  22. P. 51

  23. A thoughtful study is Caroline C. Zilboorg, “The Speaking Self in American Puritan Literature: A Study in Genre and Rhetorical Continuities,” unpub. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1976. See also Paul Sorrentino, “The Metaphor of the Earth as a Theater: The Early American Actor on the Stage of Life,” unpub. diss., Pennsylvania State University, 1978.

J. Daniel Patterson (essay date spring 1987)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8375

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 including those whose parents had not experienced saving faith. In spite of some protracted resistance, the practical necessity of extended baptism persuaded most congregations in Massachusetts and Connecticut to adopt the Half-Way Covenant by the mid 1670s (Pope 125, 272). Even with the general acceptance of extended baptism, however, New England's clergy continued to perceive an urgent need for new communicants.1 Amid this continuing crisis, and possibly influenced by the same attitudes that prompted his friend Increase Mather to call for a “reformation” in New England, resulting in the Reforming Synod of 1679, Taylor began composing the poem that presents his response to what he perceived to be a crucial issue in New England Congregationalism.2

From his arrival, Taylor's life in New England had been troubled by the controversy surrounding the Half-Way Covenant. When he arrived in Boston and began his studies at Harvard in July 1668, the disagreement over the adoption of extended baptism at First Church Boston was in its early stages and continued to be a dominant political issue in Boston almost until Taylor left for Westfield in November 1671. By the time Taylor departed for the frontier, however, it was fairly clear that those leaders who were in favor of extending baptism were prevailing; some six months before Taylor left for Westfield, the last opposition leader, Increase Mather, found new light and reluctantly approved extended baptism.3 Although nearly eight years passed before Taylor officially gathered his church, all the evidence indicates that extended baptism was accepted in the Westfield church—as it was in almost every other Massachusetts church founded after 1675—from the founding day. (See Taylor, “Critical Edition” xii-xiii and cxii-cxiii.)

Colacurcio has discussed Gods Determinations in the context of the Half-Way Covenant and convincingly shown that the poem's specific occasion is “the failure of the New England Congregational churches to replenish themselves with an ample supply of ‘saints’”; he further argues, however, that the “implied audience of the poem is precisely the half-way member of the Puritan congregation …” (299). According to his reading, then, the “long middle of Gods Determinations,” recounting the spiritual struggles and final victories of the poem's three ranks of souls, “is … a version of the Puritan psychology of conversion, designed to instruct and reassure hesitant half-way members who might be on the brink of confessing their full conversion” (302).

Colacurcio is no doubt right about the poem's occasion. Written at a time when most of New England's Puritan clergy were preoccupied with their attempts to preserve Congregationalism by bringing greater numbers to full communion, Gods Determinations clearly is designed to convince the elect of their fortunate status and thereby to encourage them to become full members. As his career as a minister officially began in the young frontier settlement of Westfield, Taylor naturally wanted as many full members as possible in order to establish a strong and spiritually vital community of saints. In the sermon he wrote to deliver on the day the Westfield church was founded, Taylor explained that as a minister he was an instrument of God (CR [Edward Taylor's “Church Records” and Related Sermons, ed. Thomas M. and Virginia L. Davis. Boston: Twayne, 1981] 122) whose mission was to assist the elect in reaching full communion in a particular church and thereby to build on earth a suitable habitation for God. He further explained that that habitation (in particular Taylor's Westfield congregation and in general the catholic church on earth) must be built of “stones” that “are fetcht out of the Quarry, or Stone pit of Mankind, & hewen, & Squared by the Axe of the Spirit till they are rightly pollisht & fitted for this building: & so made living stones … for this Spirituall Temple …” (CR 125). With his mission clearly in mind and publicly articulated, then, and following an eight-year period during which the gathering of Westfield's church was delayed (at first by Taylor's own personal doubts and then by King Philip's War4), Taylor began working on Gods Determinations, his poetic response to the central concern of New England Congregationalism.

In the following pages, however, I set forth my disagreement with Professor Colacurcio's study on two important points. First, I believe the evidence compels us not to limit the poem's intended audience, as Colacurcio does, to half-way members. Second, Taylor purposefully and completely distinguishes between the First Rank and the Second and Third Ranks of souls in the poem; Colacurcio's charges that the division is “factitious” (302) and that the respective experiences of those two main groups of the elect “are not very different” (303) do not justly appraise Taylor's control over his poem. In my discussion of the theological strategies and pastoral aims of the work, I clarify both the literal and the more subtle important distinctions between these largest two groups of the elect that Taylor treats in the poem. The poet is not, at least in Gods Determinations, predisposed to redundancy.

The poem does address half-way members, but not, as Colacurcio suggests, exclusively. While it is true that there were half-way members in Taylor's congregation and that the increasing number of half-way members throughout New England was a generally recognized problem, in Gods Determinations Taylor addresses more generally all members of the Puritan community who might be among God's elect: a saint of the church, his pious and dutiful children, his less pious (or more scrupulous) children, the children or even the grandchildren of those who had owned the Covenant but never attained full membership—even a town resident who had no ancestral claim to the Covenant could not be excluded from those who might be among God's chosen. The poem itself states quite literally that its concern is with all the elect and not with any subgroup or special type of the elect, such as half-way members. Most obviously, the title indicates that the focus of the poem is on what God has determined for “his Elect”;5 the title also demonstrates that the poem will treat “The Elects Combat in their Conversion.” In “Gods Selecting Love in the Decree” [pp. 399-401], Taylor again identifies the elect as the poem's main focus. The “Royall Coach” (375), which God sends to carry some of fallen mankind to the “mighty Sumptuous feast” (371), has the effect of splitting “All mankinde … in a Dicotomy” (382). All those fortunate enough to find God's favor ride in this coach; “The rest do slite the Call & Stay behinde” (384). Taylor then effectively removes from the poem those not in the coach by having them “Scull unto eternal woe” (403) and clearly announces that the exclusive concern of the remainder of the poem is with those in the coach, God's Chosen Few: “These therefore & their journey now do come / For to be treated on, & Coacht along” (417-18).

From this point on, then, Taylor is concerned strictly with all of God's elect. In the next poem, “The Frowardness of the Elect in the Work of Conversion” [pp. 401-02], he begins to represent various degrees of resistance to “the Work of Conversion” by dividing the elect into four groups. The first group answers the call of Grace immediately: “Grace therefore calls them all, & Sweetly wooes. / Some won come in, the rest as yet refuse, / And run away …” (435-37). Those who run away are pursued by Mercy, and some of them surrender after only a short attempt to flee (437-40). This group becomes the poem's First Rank. Taylor further divides those who continue to resist into two groups, which later become the poem's Second and Third Ranks. Justice captures the Second Rank when they run into “Strong Baracadoes” (446); then Justice pursues the Third Rank until they surrender when they see “Mercy stand with Justice” (457). The clearest distinction Taylor makes in this four-fold division of the elect is between the first two groups, who surrender easily to Mercy, and the other two, who offer much more resistance and must be captured by Justice, with, in the last case, Mercy's assistance.

Colacurcio has called this division of the elect “factitious,” seeing Taylor's strategy as merely emphatic repetition, as primarily a desire to “have several chances to examine the psychology of conversion …” (302). He sees, then, no important distinction between the conversion of the First Rank and that of the Second and Third Ranks. Taylor's divisions, however, are not factitious; he deliberately distinguishes the spiritual experiences of the First Rank from those of the Second and Third Ranks in order to demonstrate, to every member of the Puritan community who might possibly be one of the elect, two contrasting approaches to full membership. In the first, the elect soul comes relatively easily to an awareness and acceptance of its fortunate condition. The First Rank representative, Soul, effectively withstands Satan's various assaults (605-774 [pp. 407-13]) and then turns away from Satan to seek “Succour” directly from Christ (775-98 [pp. 413-14]). Christ replies favorably, explaining that Satan's assaults function simply “to make thee Cling / Close underneath thy Saviours Wing,” and that the First Rank's sins are “Dead'ned” and “shall not rise again” (814-34 [pp. 414-15]). Soul is able to accept this good news from Christ and is moved by its joy to attempt a song of praise (925-1016 [pp. 418-21]). The souls of the First Rank, then, come to a recognition of their elect state (“Christ for us / Hath slain our Enemies,” 999-1000 [p. 420]) without allowing their natural fears and doubts (i.e., Satan's assault) seriously to hinder their progress.

When Taylor presents the second of his two possible approaches to full communion, however, he distinguishes it from the first in two important ways: first, he shows the progress of the Second and Third Ranks to be considerably slower and more difficult;6 and, second, he has the troubled Second and Third Ranks find help in Saint, the full member of the Puritan church, and not, as the First Rank does, immediately in Christ. The ordeal of the Second and Third Ranks begins, as does the First Rank's, with an attack by Satan that effectively convinces them of their sinfulness (1017-1166 [pp. 421-25]). They are unable, however, to offer effective resistance to Satan's attacks, as the First Rank does, and fall into a debate over which is the more sinful rank of souls, each arguing that it has reason to envy the more hopeful condition of the other (1167-1238 [pp. 426-28]). As the First Rank does following Satan's assault, so now the Second and Third Ranks plead for mercy from Christ: “Then pardon, Lord, & put away our guilt. / So we be thine, deale with us as thou wilt” (1289-90 [p. 430]). But here Taylor makes an important variation in the pattern established by the First Rank's experience: no “Christs Reply” follows the remaining ranks' humble plea for mercy. Taylor does not have Christ step in and gently remove their agony, as he does for the First Rank; instead, the now unified voice of the Second and Third Ranks reverts to a lament over the utterly sinful condition of both its body and soul (1291-1318 [pp. 430-31]). The grip of despair slackens, however, and the Second and Third Ranks resolve to search for some hope of their salvation (since their plea directly to Christ apparently goes unanswered) under the guidance of “the Pious Wise” (1340 [p. 432]). Taylor here introduces, in the work's second “Preface,” Saint, the full church member, who for approximately the next 500 lines (1347-1842 [pp. 433-50]) helps Soul find reason to believe that it is among God's elect. The role Christ performs in the conversion experience of the First Rank, Saint performs for the Second and Third Ranks, who face much greater difficulties than does the First Rank in their progress toward an awareness of their elect condition. Taylor's distinction between the First Rank and the Second and Third Ranks, then, is clearly developed and therefore warrants careful consideration.

By thus distinguishing the experience of the First Rank from that of the Second and Third Ranks, Taylor effectively represents the two main types of conversion experience members of the Puritan community underwent in their progress toward full membership in the church. The first requires a relatively shorter period of time and leads the individual, after a period of initial doubt, directly to Christ. The second takes a considerably longer time, and the individual, after apparently receiving no succor from Christ directly, must find help instead in those who already are full members in the church. The experience of Taylor's First Rank represents what the founding generation of Puritans had hoped would be the common experience of all the children of the Covenant: following baptism as a child, the individual would in due course experience an action of God's grace on his soul, examine himself for a time in order to accept this action, with some confidence, as a sign of his own elect state, and convincingly relate this experience to the church elders, who then would grant full membership. This person does not become suspended in a state of half-way membership. Had the experience of the First Rank been that of the second and third generations of Puritans, the clergy would have perceived no membership crisis in New England's Puritan congregations.

The large majority of the later generations did not, however, come so quickly to a belief that they were among the elect; they were generally more hesitant than the founders. Taylor's Second and Third Ranks represent those members of God's elect who in New England in the latter part of the seventeenth century were beset with persistent doubts and fears concerning their election. The majority were half-way members; they had at least one professing ancestor and had renewed their Covenant with a particular congregation, but they continually surrendered to doubts and fears and were unable to give a public relation of an action of grace on their souls. There were also some who, although having no professing ancestor, had owned the Covenant after attending the converting ordinance, the preaching of the Word, but who failed to become full members. Even residents of a town who had neither professing ancestors nor half-way membership could be among God's elect; they were, after all, required to attend public sermons7 and became thereby potential converts. Taylor's Second and Third Ranks, then, represent all of God's elect whom Taylor perceived as being in need of greater assistance than those represented by the First Rank, who had moved more easily from self-examination to full communion.

Taylor's Saint in Gods Determinations represents this greater concern with encouraging those who were not in full communion that emerged in New England following the general adoption of extended baptism and half-way membership.8 Hence, when Taylor introduces Saint, he is not only showing the humble, more hesitating souls where to find greatly needed guidance but also including the full members of New England's Puritan congregations in the intended audience of his poem. By illustrating the role Saint plays in the conversion experience of the Second and Third Ranks, Taylor, in effect, admonishes New England's communicants to perform their duty, defined in the synod reports of 1648 and 1662, of assisting the spiritual growth of the entire congregation. In his foundation sermon, and probably shortly before he began working on Gods Determinations, Taylor addresses his congregation in two groups: those “Without” and those “Within a Church State” (CR 145). Taylor exhorts both groups (corresponding to all three ranks of souls in Gods Determinations) to “Enter your names among the living in Jerusalem” (CR 150). For the replenishment of the congregation, it was essential that they become full members. Taylor then charges specifically those “Within a Church State,” the saints, to “Be knit together in Love” and to perform the duties of “Gods Habitation” (CR 154); one of their duties is to “be a means & instrument of handing down this glorious intrest of Gods house unto those that shall succeed in a glorious way” (CR 156-57). Thus, during the period he was working on Gods Determinations, Taylor publicly announced the important role the saint would play in the spiritual growth of those members of the congregation who were experiencing some difficulties in their progress toward full communion. He also defines the role of the saint as it had been emphasized throughout New England since the “Propositions” of 1662.

While it is not necessary to suppose that Taylor addressed Gods Determinations directly to his particular congregation in Westfield, rather than more generally to all New England Puritan congregations, it is reasonable to suppose that Taylor's perception of his Westfield congregation significantly informed his understanding of the membership crisis throughout New England. Taylor clearly makes such a connection in his Harmony of the Gospels when he addresses both Westfield and New England in consecutive exclamations: “Oh New England see to this! Oh! Westfield see to this!” (II:543). Thus, Taylor probably viewed his Westfield congregation as not significantly different from other Puritan congregations. And, just as other Puritan ministers did (Hudson 180-82), Taylor categorized his congregation (and probably by extension the rest of New England's Puritan communities as well) in order to adapt his material more specifically to the hearers' needs. This is apparent in both his “Foundation Day Sermon” and Gods Determinations. First of all, in the founding sermon he divides his audience into two groups: those who are not full members and those who are. In Gods Determinations Taylor continues to address these same two groups, but his emphasis is on the first group, those “Without a Church State.” This group he subdivides into two smaller groups: those who will attain full membership relatively quickly (the First Rank) and those who will face more difficulty (the Second and Third Ranks).

In Westfield at this time, the full members and their offspring, approximately 31 members and 70 children, comprised about half of the village's approximately 200 residents.9 Some of these offspring were already adults but not yet communicants. The precise church status of the other half of Westfield's population is less certain, however, because of the possibility that persons who had been members of neighboring churches had neglected to become members at Westfield after moving to this new settlement. Taylor's church records suggest, however, that he enforced the requirement of the 1648 “Platform” that anyone moving from one town to another should seek formal dismission from the former congregation and formal admission to the new one as soon as possible after settling there: “Such,” Taylor writes, “hath been the practice of this Church from its beginning as Occasion hath offerd” (CR 275). It is likely, then, that Taylor viewed most of those hundred or so individuals as having essentially no church relation at all. He listed them neither as full members, nor as the children of members, nor as owners of the church covenant and thereby under “Church Watch.” Some of these, no doubt, attended few of Taylor's sermons, but most were probably regulars in Taylor's congregation and thereby subjects of his pastoral care. Thus, Taylor's congregation contained a considerable number of persons who were neither full nor half-way members, all of whom Taylor hoped to persuade to come up to Christ's terms.

The 1648 “Platform” defines a Congregational church as a “company of Saints” united “for the publick worship of God, & the mutuall edification one of another, in the Fellowship of the Lord Iesus” (Walker 205). This conception is central to the communal ideal Taylor presents in Gods Determinations. Taylor, however, adds to the Synod's description his insistence that the activity of mutual edification is not to be limited to the “company of Saints,” but extended to all in the congregation as well. Taylor's vision in Gods Determinations is of a community of God's elect all of whom either have obtained or are striving for full membership in the church, for which probable assurance of salvation is necessary. “It is a duty in all,” Taylor writes in his Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper, “to make after assurance” (156).10 In Taylor's religious community, it was an additional duty of the saints to assist the rest of the congregation (whether half-way or non-members) in the difficult task of discovering this probable assurance. In Gods Determinations Taylor addresses this entire community of God's elect: the full members, the half-way members, and the non-members. He addresses all those in attendance at his sermons, anyone in the Puritan community who might be one of the elect. By declaring the poem's concern with all of the elect, Taylor makes clear that he excludes no one from his audience except the unfortunate ones in whom the glory of God's justice (rather than His mercy) shines forth.

If one reads Gods Determinations as addressed to half-way members only, then the poem's division of elect souls into three ranks does seem “factitious” and “the experiences of the several ranks” seem “not very different.” But if one sees more accurately that the poem addresses all the elect and not only a sub-class composed of half-way members, then Taylor's reasons for distinguishing between the First Rank and the Second and Third Ranks become clear and meaningful. He does not simply cover the same material twice, the second time at greater length; he is not so inept as to leave such a major redundancy in a manuscript prepared as carefully as this one. His control is greater and his vision broader. Certainly half-way members needed to be encouraged and instructed, shown attractive, accessible ways to full communion. But to encourage them alone would be to ignore about half of Puritan New England. Since the Puritan clergy required that even non-members with no ancestral claim to the Covenant must attend sermons, they implied that these could be among the elect, and they were therefore obliged to encourage them. And further, since full members should continue their spiritual growth even after conversion and were often uncharitable in their judgments of others, there was a felt need to encourage them as well as to remind them of their duties to self and others. Taylor addresses all three segments of the Puritan population. It can thus be said that the aim of Gods Determinations is broader than its occasion.

The basic theological aim of Gods Determinations is to present a viable remedy for what Taylor perceived to be decreasing membership in New England's Puritan congregations. It is not a radical solution; it is an attempt to convince New Englanders of the second and third generations that the New England Way established by the founding generation was still adequate. The options available to Taylor for revitalizing an ailing Congregationalism were of course limited. Had it been possible, he would no doubt have rekindled in his contemporaries the militant zeal and faith of those who had experienced the European persecutions and had later come to New England on a divine mission. On the other hand, to admit to communion practically anyone willing to come who was not scandalous, as reports suggested Solomon Stoddard considered doing, might possibly have increased membership; but a church so formed would have been too far removed from Taylor's vision of a Congregational church as “Christ's Curious Garden fenced in / With Solid Walls of Discipline,” where church elders examined those requesting membership and opened “onely to the right” (1940-41, 1953 [p. 454]). Taylor's strategy was rather to stress the more liberal Puritan interpretation of what one might accept as sufficient evidence of election. He would continue to preach the basic Calvinistic doctrines of predestination and total depravity, but rather than dwell on the sins of the congregation and the dreadful possibility that they were damned, he chose to focus on the Covenant promises and on convincing the unconverted that they very likely were among God's elect. He chose to put within the reach of all in his congregation a well-grounded hope of election and then to make clear that they needed only that.

Even though New England Puritans are more noted for their strict requirements for admission to full membership, they also were aware of the Pauline doctrine that even the weakest faith is adequate to salvation: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye …” (Rom. 14:1). St. Paul's authority, of course, is Christ, who taught that “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed … nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matt. 17:20). If some Puritans were disheartened by the prospect of convincing both themselves and the church elders of their faith, others were no doubt equally encouraged by the words of Christ and St. Paul. One such Puritan in whose work this New Testament doctrine appears is the eminent William Perkins. In his commentary on the first five chapters of Galatians, for example, he elaborates on the degree of faith one might judge sufficient. The “common faith of true beleevers,” he writes, is apprehended sometimes only very slightly but is nonetheless true: “it sufficeth”; “For in this world wee rather live by hungring and thirsting, then by ful apprehending of Christ. …” In fact, he continues, the “highest degree of faith” (that is, “a full perswasion of Gods mercie”) is attainable only by “the Prophets, Apostles, martyrs; and such as have beene long exercised in the schoole of Christ” (209). The logical extreme of Perkins' discussion of faith is that God will accept even “the will to beleeve for faith it selfe, & the wil to repent for repentance” (208). Even in the Cambridge “Platform” of 1648, where the emphasis is primarily on maintaining the purity of New England's congregations rather than on liberalizing admission standards, this New Testament doctrine is referred to: “The weakest measure of faith is to be accepted in those that desire to be admitted into the church: becaus weak christians if sincere, have the substance of that faith, repentance & holiness which is required in church members. …” Full members are admonished to use “Such charity & tenderness” that “the weakest christian if sincere, may not be excluded, nor discouraged.” And the implication is that the weakest Christians have sometimes been excluded: “Severity of examination is to be avoyded” (Walker 222). The promises of covenant theology, which received greater emphasis in the 1662 Synod report, provided the rationale for the charitable view of weak faith: “Children of the Covenant … have frequently the beginning of grace wrought in them in younger years … they have Faith and Repentance indefinitely given to them in the Promise … which continues valid … while they do not reject it” (330).

The solution to the membership crisis Taylor presents in Gods Determinations, then, is not original; it does not involve any radical theological innovation. His view does, however, require a shift of emphasis. In the first decades of New England Congregationalism, the churches were often overly strict, even harsh, in their judgment of public confessions because a militant zeal led them to emphasize the need to maintain the purity of God's churches.11 Taylor, however, more readily acknowledges the inherent fallibility of human judgment in eternal matters and emphasizes the need for “Christian Charity” in such judgments. At the formal gathering of the Westfield church, Taylor warned that judgments “concerning the worke of Grace” were “fallable” because they were “made from the Appearance of things”; therefore, he advised his congregation, “appearing holiness with men, nothing appearing to the Contrary but Such humane infirmities, as are to be found in the best of Gods people doth sway our judgment to hope & therefore to pass the Sentence of Christian Charity Concerning the reallity of Such a Persons Holiness, & so to receive such for Saints, & fitt Matter” (CR 126). For Taylor, the concept of hope is crucial, as the reasoning expressed in the phrase “to hope & therefore” implies. Hope of salvation was the essential requirement for full membership at Westfield. In his Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper, Taylor makes very clear the role of hope in his view of salvation:

That knowledge is a good and warrantable ground for thy approach to the wedden feast that is a good ground for thy hope in Christ to stand upon. For a grounded hope is sufficient in this case. For it lays hold upon the promises of God. Christ dwells in the soul by hope. It is the instrument of communicating much of the love of God to the soul. Hence it makes not ashamed. Nay, by hope we are saved.


The “will to beleeve,” for Taylor, was apparently acceptable “for faith it selfe.”

In Gods Determinations Taylor dramatizes at length the theoretical effectiveness of his interpretation of what should be accepted as signs of election. He makes clear in the poem that the chief difficulty most elect souls faced was avoiding being caught in the hope-vs.-fear dilemma. It was equally sinful to presume on one's election or to despair over one's expected damnation. As Satan puts it: “You'l then have sharper Service than the Whale, / Between the Sword fish, & the Threshers taile” (505-06 [p. 404]). The main goal of the long middle section of the poem is to direct the various ranks of elect souls to a successful resolution of this dilemma through the doctrines of hope and Christian charity. The following analysis of the two distinct strategies Taylor develops in the poem to encourage the two major groups of elect souls should make clear the importance and the thoroughness of this division between the First Rank and the Second and Third Ranks.

The direct assistance begins in the first of Christ's two appearances in the poem, where he gives to all of the elect only this very general guidance: “To him that smiteth hip, & thigh, / My foes as his: Walks warily, / I'le give him Grace: he'st give me praise” (565-67 [p. 406]). In the presentation of the First Rank's experience, the advice is not much more specific because this rank represents those believers who had most successfully dealt with the hope-vs.-fear dilemma; they, therefore, are not in need of specially designed arguments or overly solicitous encouragement. The basic theological tenets suffice. Ultimately Christ rewards this rank of souls because they have committed neither the sin of presumption nor that of despair; the twin but opposing divine attributes are in appropriate balance: Christ's “wrath is full of Grace,” and he “Frowns with a Smiling Face” (879, 882 [p. 417]).

Taylor's specialized and more solicitous guidance does not appear until he presents the experience of the Second and Third Ranks because only there is it needed. These two ranks represent those groups of God's elect, whether half-way or non-members, who for various reasons fail to recognize and accept their elect condition as readily as the First Rank. When Satan ends his assaults on the Second and Third Ranks (and his appearances in the poem as well), both ranks are profoundly convinced of their unworthy and hopeless condition. This is apparent in direct statements the two ranks make (e.g., “Now Seing we no help can See, we rue,” 1173 [p. 426]), but it is also apparent in the significant adjustment of imagery Taylor makes in his depiction of the sins of the Second and Third Ranks. Christ attributes the First Rank's sins to an external source, Satan: “These faults are his, & none of thine” (901 [p. 417]); and when Taylor treats these sins directly, he depicts them as separate entities that live outside those they afflict: “Those Cursed vermin Sins that Crawle / All ore thy Soul …” (859-60 [p. 416]). By contrast, Taylor presents the sins of the Second and Third Ranks as internal and psychic complexities, far more difficult to remove. Satan describes the sins of these two ranks as existing within the heart: “Your Hearts are full of Sins …” (1055); the love of wordly “Amorous Objects” “Stuffs thy heart” (1076-77); and “sins keepe Centinall within thy heart” (1132 [pp. 426-27]). When the Second and Third Rank souls themselves discuss their sins, the imagery internalizes and treats their sins as less concrete than those of the First Rank. The dominant image is of sin as a permeating, nasty wetness: although they “Welt” and “Wallow” in it, they also “Soake in Sin” (1169).12 The Third Rank complains of being “full” of “Ulcerous Boiles” (1197-98); the Second Rank's sins are “in our Heart” (1199). In “The Soule Bemoning Sorrow rowling upon a resolution to seek Advice of Gods people,” the final poem before the second “Preface,” Taylor allows the internalizing imagery its most emphatic development. Soul (speaking for the now combined Second and Third Ranks) complains of the body that it is not “So safe, & firm a Cabinet” that it can “soaking lie in nasty wet, / And in all filthy Puddles” and yet prevent “the Pearle within” from being stained (1309-12). The body is rather “but her [i.e., Soul's] mudwalld Lodge, which wet by Sin / Diffuseth all in her that it rowles in” (1315-16 [p. 431]). By thus presenting the sins of the Second and Third Ranks as ingrained and pervasive and not as external and only superficially effective (as are the First Rank's sins), Taylor establishes the latter two ranks as facing greater difficulty and therefore needing greater assistance.

At the end of “The Soule Bemoning Sorrow …,” and immediately preceding the introduction of the Saint as agent of the special assistance provided for the Second and Third Ranks, Taylor establishes the finding of hope as the main concern of what will follow the poem's second “Preface.” In a characteristic rhetorical display, Taylor has Soul use hope nine times in ten lines (1333-42 [pp. 431-32]). Thus obsessed with finding some evidence that would allow it at least to hope that it is among God's elect, Soul enters under the tutelage of “the Pious Wise” (1340), Taylor's Saint, making the significant suggestion that “Perhaps these thoughts are blessed motions …” (1343).

Saint begins his counsel with the traditional and general statement that Soul's sins will “swim quite away / On Mercies main, if you Repenting Stay” (1371-72 [p. 434]). In order to encourage Soul, Saint now reverses the shift in imagery Taylor has made earlier for the sins of the Second and Third Ranks by describing those sins as having (like those of the First Rank) an external source; he advises Soul to “Behold / The various methods of the Serpent old!” for Satan “Wicked thoughts … in the Saints doth fling” (1435-36, 1443). Saint's suggestion is that Soul is not, after all, saturated by its sin. And Soul should be encouraged if its sins are the work of Satan since “his / He troubles not …” (1441-42). When Soul, however, claims that it lacks the grace necessary to disown its sins (“I have no Grace to do't,” 1463 [pp. 436-37]), Taylor introduces the crucial and finally persuasive point which is the basis of the special encouragement Soul receives which the First Rank did not need:

Such as are Gracious, Graces have therefore
They ever more desire to have more.
But Such as never knew this dainty fare
Do never wish them 'cause they dainties are.

(1475-78 [p. 438])

In other words, the desire for grace (i.e., election) indicates that one has grace (i.e., is of the elect); those who lack grace never desire it because they do not know what it is. The desire for grace is therefore a basis for hope and an acceptable sign of election.

Ultimately Saint's argument proves successful and Soul ceases to deny the possibility that it has grace. Saint then makes two closing points of encouragement in “Some of Satans Sophestry” and “Difficulties arising from Uncharitable Cariages of Christians.” The first poem is an elaborate demonstration of Saint's points that both despair and presumption are caused by Satan and that he fights “on both sides Grace, Grace to destroy” (1603 [p. 443]):

He tempts to bring the Soul too low or high,
          To have it e're in this or that extream:
To See no want or want alone to eye:
          To keep on either side the golden mean.

(1729-32 [p. 447])

Implying that Soul has been successfully guided through the doubts and fears from internal sources, Taylor now has Saint address the difficulties that can arise from an external source: uncharitable Christians. When Satan fails to entangle a soul in the hope-vs.-fear dilemma, Saint explains, his alternate plan is to set “One Saint upon an other” (1754). Satan prompts the uncharitable Christian to make harsh judgments concerning other Christians' spiritual conditions, judgments based solely on outward, superficial signs: if the Christian being scrutinized “no Bracelet of Graces pure / Doth ware” (1773-74), the uncharitable one wounds the other with “hard Reflections from an harder breast” (1764). And in a pattern similar to Satan's fighting “on both sides Grace,” Satan causes some saints to find fault with a “Harmless Soule” (1800) when it is serving God by accusing it of neglecting its worldly calling (1789-94); and, alternately, when the Soul attends to its worldly calling, the uncharitable saint accuses it of neglecting the service it owes God (1795-1800). These, Saint explains, are more of Satan's “Wyers, Snares, & tangling Nets, / To hanck, & hopple harmless Souls in Sin” (1803-04 [pp. 447-49]). With their fears allayed and their doubts answered, the Second and Third Rank souls emerge from Saint's counsel profoundly changed. The Second Rank rejoices that grace “Hath Suffocated Sin, & nullifi'de / Sad Griefe, as in our Souls it went” (1857-58 [p. 451]). Taylor's special persuasive strategies, in this idealized representation of them, are precisely what the froward elect of New England needed.

In the long central section of Gods Determinations, then, Taylor divides those of God's elect who are not full members of a congregation into two groups: the First Rank, captured by Mercy, and the Second and Third Ranks, captured by Justice, with Mercy's assistance in the latter case. Taylor first presents for the elect in his congregation the conversion experience they should emulate if at all possible, that of the First Rank. The First Rank's example serves as an encouragement, as a demonstration, that one can indeed move relatively quickly from doubts and fears to probable assurance and full membership in a particular church. But in case that is not possible—and Taylor knew well that many New Englanders at this time failed to make steady and constant progress in their spiritual growth—he treats then the experience of those largely responsible for what he saw as the decline of Congregationalism, the overscrupulous half-way and non-members. He presents the experience of the poem's Second and Third Ranks to encourage those whose spiritual progress is prolonged and made more difficult by persistent doubts and fears concerning their election. Because of their greater difficulty, Taylor provides them with a special “coach,” Saint, who encourages them by means of specially adapted imagery and arguments. Taylor here elaborates on the complementary beliefs that sins are the work of Satan and that temptation by Satan is evidence of election; and here he introduces his dual emphasis on the necessity and likelihood of finding hope of grace and on the accompanying need for Christians to view one another charitably in order to build for God a suitable habitation. For some of God's elect it is enough for Taylor simply to point out the path; for others he finds it necessary to show them where in that path to place each step.

It is important to note that in Gods Determinations Taylor nowhere implies that his audience is irreligious, as the Reforming Synod of 1679 does; Taylor's approach is consistently positive, optimistic. As Colacurcio points out, Taylor “grants them the highest possible motive—an awareness of their own sinfulness” (314).13 His arguments, then, especially those he develops for the Second and Third Ranks, are designed to assist the religiously scrupulous, and he does so primarily by focusing on what they might reasonably and with some confidence accept as evidence of grace; he does not dwell—as an earlier generation did—on the necessity of keeping hypocrites out of the church. His emphasis in Gods Determinations on hope and Christian charity suggests that in Westfield “severity of examination” was indeed “avoyded.” His stress is clearly on a positive belief in the promises of the Covenant and on the subsequent likelihood that most inhabitants of Westfield—and by extension in New England's Congregational churches generally—have a very good chance of discovering sufficient and acceptable evidence that they are among the elect. This strategy is an attempt, in effect, to liberalize admission standards while remaining strictly orthodox, that is, by retaining the requirement of a public relation of an action of God's spirit on one's soul.

Taylor was not, of course, the only minister to take this approach to New England's membership crisis. It is clear that others, some of whom Taylor knew very well, devised similar strategies for bringing more members of their congregations to full communion. The strategies mark a general turning away from the attempt to “save with fear” and toward an attempt to save with hope. In his discussion of the general amelioration of strict predestinarianism in New England, Lewis cites as examples Samuel Willard, the pastor of Taylor's long-time friend Samuel Sewall, and Increase Mather, whom Taylor had known for many years. In Willard's presentation of predestination, Lewis writes, “the doctrine shifted from a magnification of the beneficent nature of God and the vile depravity of man to a celebration of the fact that God indeed had chosen one for salvation in spite of one's openly confessed unworthiness” (53). Increase Mather, Lewis explains, “significantly liberalizes the doctrine of predestination as formulated by Calvin, from the latter's righteous denunciation, to a theological focus which, while it does not deny predestination, aims at convincing the unconverted that they are very possibly among God's elect” (56). Since this is precisely Taylor's strategy in Gods Determinations, the poem in its theology seems to be representative of a general adjustment of theological focus made in New England in the last decades of the seventeenth century.14

The immediate reason Taylor and other ministers felt it necessary to make this adjustment was their belief in a general decline in church membership, but they were also motivated by their awareness that the alternative to a more liberal approach to acceptable signs of grace was a policy of open admission. For Taylor, Solomon Stoddard provided a nearby reminder of this unacceptable alternative. Before Taylor's church was formally gathered, Stoddard had already begun to advocate allowing half-way members access to the Lord's Supper and no longer to require a public account of an act of saving grace on the soul.15 On the day of the church's founding, with Stoddard present, Taylor demonstrated his willingness to defend the New England Way by devoting nearly one-quarter of his foundation day sermon to a series of proofs that the public relation of saving grace was necessary before one could enter a church state (CR 128-37). Such a relation was essential, in Taylor's view, because it provided the only possibility in a natural, fallen world of keeping out unregenerate souls and thereby building a suitable habitation for God. Thus, Taylor's emphasis in Gods Determinations on hope and Christian charity marks the continuation of these concerns and his efforts to obviate Stoddard's proposals. Following the lengthy encouragement of God's elect, Taylor concludes Gods Determinations with a description of a Congregational church that clearly includes a required public relation: “Christ's Curious Garden” is “fenced in / With Solid Walls of Discipline” (1940-41), and on “these Walls there Stand / Just Watchmen Watching day, & night, / And Porters at each Gate, who have Command / To open onely to the right” (1950-53 [p. 454]). Taylor thus closes Gods Determinations with his idealized vision of what New England's Congregational churches had to become. All of his hope for New England rested on successfully convincing God's elect there that the original design was still viable.


  1. The clergy's perception on this point, however, was wrong. Pope points out that in the last three decades of the seventeenth century the number of communicants in Massachusetts actually increased (235-37; 279-86).

  2. The date of composition for Gods Determinations appears to be around 1680-81, between the gathering of the church in Westfield and the beginning of the Preparatory Meditations in 1682. Thomas M. Davis judges Taylor's handwriting in the manuscript of Gods Determinations to be that of “the early 1680s, perhaps even earlier” (Edward Taylor's Minor Poetry xvi; hereafter cited as MP). Dean G. Hall dates the poem “sometime between the end of King Philip's War in 1676 and the beginning of the Meditations in 1682” (135). Stanford conjectures that Taylor was composing Gods Determinations “By about 1682” (“Edward Taylor” 312). The only date Johnson suggests is “probably before 1690” (DAB[Dictionary of American Biography]). Grabo mistakenly gives 1685 as Johnson's estimate (159-60).

  3. For Taylor's dates see his Diary (35, 39). Pope discusses the First Church schism (152-84); on Mather's change of heart, see Pope (182-83).

  4. Thomas M. Davis discusses the evidence for Taylor's personal misgivings of the early 1670s in his introduction to Edward Taylor's “Church Records” and Related Sermons (xiii-xiv and 449-51, n. 6; hereafter cited as CR).

  5. I cite from my own edition of Gods Determinations (Taylor, “Critical Edition”). I am grateful to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University for permission to publish material from Taylor's “Poetical Works” manuscript. Line numbers in parentheses refer to my edition. I have numbered the lines continuously through the entire poem. For convenience, I provide in square brackets page numbers to corresponding passages in Stanford's edition (Taylor, Poems).

  6. The First Rank receives 412 lines (605-1016 [pp. 407-21]), the Second and Third Ranks 908 lines (1017-1914 [pp. 421-53]).

  7. See Powell (52); also the 1648 “Platform of Church Discipline” points out that the “ignorant or Scandalous” were “required by wholsome lawes to attend” public sermons (Walker 200).

    This breakdown of a Puritan community's population is based on Miller (114).

  8. The emergence of this concern is also apparent in differences between the documents drawn up by the Synods of 1648 and 1662. The 1648 document emphasizes maintaining the purity of the church and the undesirable consequences of not doing so. The 1662 document, however, the “Propositions Concerning the Subject of Baptism and Consociation of Churches,” while in essential agreement with the 1648 “Platform,” places a much stronger emphasis on the extension of the Covenant promises to the offspring of the faithful and on the great need to train and educate these young people within the church environment (See Taylor, “Critical Edition” xx-xxi).

  9. Statistics concerning Westfield's population and the church status of persons are based on Taylor's admission and baptismal records in CR 159-73 and 243-74) and on Powell's Appendix B, “List of Inhabitants, Town of Westfield: 1679, 1689, 1699, 1729” (401-22).

  10. On the sufficiency of “probable assurance,” see 157-59.

  11. See, for example, Morgan, Visible Saints (106-08).

  12. Although Second Rank Soul once uses an image for its sins similar to the externalizing imagery used by the First Rank, it treats the image more abstractly by implying that the sins are not visible: “But if you Saw / Those ugly Crawling Sins that do us knaw” (1183-84 [p. 426]).

  13. For the possibility that “an extraordinary religious scrupulosity,” rather than mere irreligion, figured significantly in the failure of many Puritans to become full members of a congregation in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century New England, see Morgan, “New England Puritanism”; further evidence is in Pope (135-36); in David D. Hall (251-56); and in Holifield (197, 204-06). In addition see the list of readings relating to “scrupulous melancholy” supplied by Gatta (141, n. 6).

  14. See Holifield's important analysis of this late seventeenth-century shift in theological emphasis (197-224).

  15. See Thomas M. Davis' introduction to Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard (8).

Works Cited

Colacurcio, Michael J. “Gods Determinations Touching Half-Way Membership: Occasion and Audience in Edward Taylor.” American Literature 39 (1967): 298-314.

Davis, Thomas M. Introduction. In Edward Taylor's “Church Records” and Related Sermons. Ed. Thomas M. and Virginia L. Davis. Boston: Twayne, 1981. xi-xl.

———. Introduction. Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard: The Nature of the Lord's Supper. Ed. Thomas M. and Virginia L. Davis. Boston: Twayne, 1981. 1-61.

———, and Virginia L. Davis, ed. Edward Taylor's Minor Poetry. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

Gatta, John, Jr. “The Comic Design of Gods Determinations touching his Elect.Early American Literature 10 (1975): 121-43.

Grabo, Norman S. Edward Taylor. New York: Twayne, 1961.

Hall, David D. The Faithful Shepherd: A History of the New England Ministry in the Seventeenth Century. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1972.

Hall, Dean G. “Edward Taylor: The Evolution of a Poet.” Diss. Kent State Univ. 1977.

Holifield, E. Brooks. The Covenant Sealed: The Development of Puritan Sacramental Theology in Old and New England, 1570-1720. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1975.

Hudson, Roy Fred. “The Theory of Communication of Colonial New England Preachers, 1620-1670.” Diss. Cornell Univ. 1953.

Johnson, Thomas H. “Edward Taylor.” DAB [Dictionary of American Biography] (1944).

———. “Edward Taylor: A Puritan ‘Sacred Poet.’” New England Quarterly 10 (June 1937): 290-322.

Lewis, Stephen C. “Edward Taylor As a Covenant Theologian.” Diss. New York Univ. 1971.

Miller, Perry. The New England Mind: From Colony to Province. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1953.

Morgan, Edmund S. “New England Puritanism: Another Approach.” William and Mary Quarterly 18 (April 1961): 236-42.

———. Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea. New York: New York Univ. Press, 1963.

Perkins, William. A Commentarie or Exposition Upon the Five First Chapters of the Epistle to the Galatians. In The Workes of that Famous and Worthy Minister of Christ, in the Universitie of Cambridge. London, 1613. II: 153-432.

Pope, Robert G. The Half-Way Covenant: Church Membership in Puritan New England. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969.

Powell, Walter L. “Edward Taylor's Westfield: An Edition of the Westfield ‘Town Records.’” Diss. Kent State Univ. 1982.

Stanford, Donald E. “Edward Taylor.” In American Colonial Writers, 1606-1734. Ed. Emory Elliott. Detroit: Gale, 1984. 310-21.

Taylor, Edward. “A Critical Edition of Edward Taylor's Gods Determinations.” Ed. J. Daniel Patterson. Diss. Kent State Univ. 1985.

———. The Diary of Edward Taylor. Ed. Francis Murphy. Springfield, Mass.: Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, 1964.

———. Edward Taylor's “Church Records” and Related Sermons. Ed. Thomas M. and Virginia L. Davis. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

———. Edward Taylor's Harmony of the Gospels. Ed. Thomas M. and Virginia L. Davis, with Betty L. Parks. Delmar, N.Y.: Scholar's Facsimiles and Reprints, 1983.

———. Edward Taylor's Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper. Ed. Norman S. Grabo. East Lansing: Michigan State Univ. Press, 1966.

———. The Poems of Edward Taylor. Ed. Donald E. Stanford. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1960.

Walker, Williston. The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism. New York, 1893; rpt. Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1960.

Jerome D. DeNuccio (essay date March 1989)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2116

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 toward the overriding purpose of God's glorification. He also recognized, however, that, as a fallen being, he lacked the capacity to perform his duty adequately, no matter how ardently he desired to do so. His best efforts were doomed to fall short of their object; God's glory simply shone far beyond the ability of merely mortal man to manifest it. Consequently, the devout Puritan struggled between the poles of knowing and doing, intention and execution.

For Edward Taylor this conflict presented itself largely as a linguistic dilemma. He knew, as Charles Mignon has noted, that “God is unpraisable both because of the untravellable gap between fallen man and God, and because of the fallen nature of the materials themselves”—words.1 How, as a poet, could he find the words to embody the magnificence of divinity and convey it sufficiently? What metaphors, rhymes, and meters could he employ to translate his cognitive and affective experiences of God's majesty into palpable expression? How could he frame a language of praise that did not already contain within it the seed of failure? Would he not succeed only in disserving God and, thereby, in discrediting himself? Seemingly, the only alternative to such a bleak prospect was to remain silent; yet, to forego the endeavor, to cease writing, comprised, as Karl Keller argues, a violation of what Taylor saw as his “human duty” to use “language as a means of meditating on meaning” within the context of religious destiny.2 It is to this linguistic impasse that Taylor's “Preparatory Meditation 1.22” addresses itself. In it Taylor analyzes his problem, proposes a solution, and, by virtue of a mystical vision, confirms that solution. At its most basic level, then, the meditation functions as a way to manage the anxieties and self-doubts generated by the paradox of man's obligation to praise an unpraisable God.

Taylor uses the first four stanzas to delineate his poetic inadequacy and to examine it from several perspectives. When the “Bright Beams” of God's glory “strike” his “Eye,” he can only “Chide” himself “out right” for his inability to profit by, and improve upon, the experience.3 The verb “strike” is well chosen, for it denotes the forceful nature of God's glory—it can neither be missed or dismissed. Despite the force of this experience, Taylor confesses that his “Hide bound Soule … stands so niggardly / That scarce a thought gets glorified by't” (3-4). Like the miser suggested by “niggardly,” he is self-absorbed; as a result, he has become “Hide bound,” a dull, intractable, and limited creature who, while he can acknowledge divine majesty, finds himself incapable of responding to it appropriately. He sees, in other words, but cannot use what he sees as a spur to appropriate action. And for Taylor, action means writing poetry; thus, his “Quaintest Metaphors,” his best efforts to assimilate God's glory and embody it in verse, “are ragged Stuff,” so trivial and unsuccessful that, by comparison, they make “the Sun seem like a Mullipuff” (5-6)—a dirtball, bedimmed through the medium of his language rather than presented in its striking actuality.

The tension between knowledge and ability assumes the added dimension of desire in stanza two. “Its my desire,” Taylor asserts, that God “be glorifi'd”; however, when that

… Glory shines before mine eye,
I pardon Crave, lest my desire be Pride.
Or bed thy Glory in a Cloudy Sky.


Taylor both experiences God's glory and fervently desires to act upon it, to manifest it through his poetry. But even the combined force of knowledge and intention prove inadequate to the task. In effect, a disjunction exists between mental and physical function; he is divided against himself. Moreover, Taylor suspects his desiring self, fearing that his persistence in ineffective poetic effort, besides diminishing God's glory, also masks a lurking, deep-seated vanity. The result is a double-edged guilt for which he can only beseech pardon. And, as if to put his inadequacy in sharp relief, Taylor observes that before God's “Shine,” “The Sun grows wan; and Angells paleface'd shrink” (11-12). The highest level in the orders of nature and created beings, both dazzlingly glorious in their own right, pale before the insurpassable glory of God. The sun and the angels act appropriately; unhampered by vanity, they become proper contexts for God's “Shine,” allowing it to reveal its full splendor. Taylor, on the other hand, consistently fails as a context for divine majesty. He attempts to depict God's glory through the alembic of his poetry, but finds he can only “besmeere” it “with Inke” (12).

Taylor's inadequacy, furthermore, is reflected not just in the highest levels of being; the lowly creatures of nature also attest to it. He notes that birds “sing forth” God's “Praise,” and even “The little Bee” presents “her thankfull Hum” (13-14). By comparison, in fact, their actions constitute a particularly cogent example of his ineffectuality: unlike him, they act without the motivating powers of knowledge and desire—they do not see, as he does, God's “shining Glory fall / Before mine Eyes” (15-16). Furthermore, their mode of successful praise—song—is the very mode in which Taylor finds himself striving so unsuccessfully. In contrast to the birds' song and the bees' hum, and despite his singular experience of “shining Glory,” he can only “stand Blockish, Dull, and Dumb” (16), unable to evince in his song—his poetry—the praise such glory merits. Taylor consequently stands ensnarled in a seemingly insoluble linguistic conflict: “Whether I speake, or speechless stand, I spy, / I faile thy Glory” (17-18). If he writes, he fails; if he doesn't write, he also fails.

Having reached the nub of his linguistic dilemma, Taylor promptly proposes a solution to it. Though his “Rhymes do better suite / Mine own Dispraise than tune forth praise” to God, and though he fails in his duty “whether Consonant, or Mute,” he nonetheless will “force my Tongue to tattle” (19-21). His words may be nothing more than insignificant chatter when compared with the magnificence of their object, but still he will persist; he will not succumb to passivity but instead will act, realizing, as Perry Miller has pointed out, that “activity is the essence of a Christian life.”4 To attain its end of glorifying God, however, such activity involves a self-emptying: “That I thy glorious Praise may Trumptet right, / Be thou my Song, and make Lord, mee thy Pipe” (23-24). Only through such an emptying process can he be filled by God; only by opening himself absolutely and totally to the potent influx of God's “Bright Beams” can he be made a fit instrument for action, capable of making God his “song” and of conveying it forcefully and loudly in his “Rhymes.” In short, Taylor's meditation on his linguistic inadequacy has led him to the essential paradox of Puritan faith: to be fulfilled, he must first be empty; to act, he must first relinquish his self.

E. F. Carlisle, in his examination of the underlying structures of Taylor's poetry, notes the recurrence of what he terms the “ascending form,” a movement from a sense of “limitation” and “division” to “a prayer for or a vision of grace or salvation”5 Such a movement begins in stanza five, where Taylor leaps from rigorous self-examination to a mystical vision of the Judgment Day. At the day of judgment, God's “bright Glory” will split the sky, making “a Pass” for his descent to earth, a descent that will render God's immeasurable glory immediately and universally visible, for every angel in Heaven will attend upon him, effectually “Draining the Heaven much of Angells dry” (26-30). Moreover, God's glory will appear in the flaming “Light” of his “Judgment Seate,” and in the “Glorious Righteousness” by which he will reward or punish each man “after his Works done here” (31-34). Finally, the potency of God's glory will manifest itself in a double-edged execution of judgment: “Saints With Angells thou wilt glorify”—the regenerate, like the angels, will share his glory, will partake of his essence and, thus, be bound in intimate relation to him;6 that same divine glory, however, will “burn Lewd Men, and Divells Gloriously” (35-36).

Taylor's emphasis on “Works done here” as the basis of divine judgment does not reflect an Arminian bent; rather, it follows naturally from the linguistic dilemma whose contours he has attempted to chart. His concern throughout “Meditation 1.22” has been the work of glorifying God through poetry, of using language to establish his fruitfulness in God's service. Taylor thus stresses “Works” because, in the final analysis, it is the trying, the endeavor, that are paramount. The impossibility of glorifying God adequately simply cannot be used as a convenient hook upon which to hang one's indifference, indolence, or, even worse, despair. Such a course precludes the reception of empowering grace which, as Miller indicates, was prized in Puritan theory for “its practical operations in the individual.”7 Striving for the unreachable end of God's glorification, therefore, represents a presumptive sign of one's faith. For Taylor, then, whose tools were words, the act of poetic production becomes more important than the end result; process, not product, testifies to his faithful service to God. As Karl Keller states, Taylor's life, through Taylor's writing, assumes a dynamism, a “‘spiritual momentum,’” and “without such a process, the product (his life, his poem) is worthless.”8

Taylor's vision of the Final Judgment ultimately confirms his earlier decision to “force my Tongue to tattle.” The final stanza records the practical result of his mystical experience; like a typical Puritan sermon, it outlines consequences for action.9 His “glimps” of the “bright Judgment day / And Glory piercing through, like fiery Darts, / All Divells” provokes his earnest prayers “For filling Grace” (37-40). Only through the filling effluence of the grace that will attend upon his devoted poetic effort can he free his “Hide bound Soule” and become a fitting “Pipe” for sounding the “Song” that is God. Only through self-emptying and the subsequent reception of “filling Grace” can he establish and maintain the circuit by which “man and God's grace perfectly and completely interact.”10 Indeed, Taylor resorts to hyperbole to convey the strength of his desire for the fullness of grace: he will pray for the amount of grace that would imbue him “had I ten thousand Hearts,” and would gladly pass “through ten Hells to see thy Judgment Day / Wouldst thou but guild my Soule with thy bright Ray” (40-42). In effect, Taylor seeks to exchange his “Hide” covered soul for one overlaid with the gold of God's glory, to cast off his constricting captivity to self for the liberating potency of devotion to the work of praising God's majesty. Such an exchange is, finally, the only possible way to conjoin linguistic desire with linguistic action, for by striving through his “Works done here” he can eventually hope to merit a share of God's glory, and, like the angels, thereby find the words to “Trumpet right” the “glorious Praise” of God. The possibility that he will himself become a perfect poem, a totally harmonious embodiment of divine glory exists only in the arduous, persistent work of writing poetry.


  1. Charles W. Mignon, “A Principle of Order in Edward Taylor's Preparatory Meditations,Early American Literature, 4.3 (1970): 112.

  2. Karl Keller, “The Example of Edward Taylor,” Early American Literature, 4.3 (1970): 15.

  3. Edward Taylor, “22. Meditation. Phil. 2.9. God hath Highly Exalted him,” The Poems of Edward Taylor, ed. Donald E. Stanford (New Haven, 1960), p. 36, ll. 1-2. All subsequent references will be made by line number in the text.

  4. Perry Miller, “The Marrow of Puritan Divinity,” Errand Into the Wilderness (1956; New York, 1964) 88.

  5. E. F. Carlisle, “The Puritan Structure of Edward Taylor's Poetry,” American Quarterly, 20 (1968): 152.

  6. Evan Prosser suggests that such a communion of God and man grows naturally from Taylor's theology, which postulates a “closed world” where “man and God necessarily interact at close quarters” (376). For this reason, the “container theme,” or images of enclosure, appear repeatedly in Taylor's poetry. See “Edward Taylor's Poetry,” New England Quarterly, 40 (1967): 375-98.

  7. Miller, 79.

  8. Keller, 16.

  9. The order of movement in “Meditation 1.22”—from self-examination, to contemplation, to application—is, according to C. W. Mignon, a structural principle in many of Taylor's meditative poems, an outgrowth of his “persisting vision of communion with God,” 115.

  10. Prosser, 391.

John Gatta (essay date 1989)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11873

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.]


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 presumed antithesis of joy: the traditional problem of religious melancholy. Taylor's practical concern with spiritual infirmities related to melancholy, as experienced personally and as observed in members of his congregation, is demonstrably related to his practice of verbal wit. To appreciate just how the problem of despondency figures in his writing, we need to recall something of the moral and medical background of humoral psychology.

At the time Taylor began to write his poetry, the physiology originally supporting the Renaissance theory of bodily humors was already becoming outmoded. In fact, the final blow to the medical principles behind humoral psychology had been struck by William Harvey's discovery of blood circulation in 1628. Yet the psychological concept of melancholy continued to draw interest through the English Renaissance and beyond Taylor's lifetime. Everyone recognized the symptoms of pathological melancholy, and the representation of character types based on the various humors was a commonplace in dramatic literature. In writers such as Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and John Donne, the literary uses of this traditional concept of melancholy could be highly complex.1 But even for the less gifted authors of theoretical treatises, melancholy was a word rich in physical, psychological, and spiritual meaning.

That Taylor could have been unaware of this tradition or could have remained conceptually unaffected by it is thus inconceivable. Going no further than the books in his library, he would have found the topic discussed by authors like Thomas Shepard, Benjamin Colman, William Ames, and Cotton Mather. He also owned a collection of Anne Bradstreet's poetry with its long poem “Of the four Humours in Mans Constitution.” As practicing physician for the Westfield community, he was familiar with Lazerius Riverius's Practice of Physick (translated by Nicholas Culpeper), which featured an elaborate diagnosis of melancholy from the medical standpoint together with assorted herbal prescriptions for its cure. It should come as no surprise, then, that Taylor's poetry often alludes to melancholy or mentions terms that a contemporary audience would have immediately recognized as symptomatic of the splenetic illness.

The Practice of Physick describes in simplest terms how to recognize the disease caused by an excess of melancholic humor, associated with black bile: “Melancholy is a Doting or Delerium without a Fever with fear and sadness.”2 Among its more obvious symptoms were a sullen, morose temperament, a sustained inclination toward grief, and morbid fear. Authorities as diverse as Riverius and Richard Baxter agreed that “overmuch sorrow” might be either a symptomatic result or a chief cause of the sickness. This ambiguity explains some of the complication in attitudes Taylor and other Puritans would adopt toward melancholia.

Two other ways of interpreting the melancholic state arose to challenge Galen's medical scheme, which came into much favor during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The first, drawing heavily on Aristotle, tried to set the melancholic condition in a favorable light. What had been pathological in the Galenic formulation became, in this scheme, a heroic virtue: melancholics were persons inspired by a kind of superior madness similar to Plato's idea of divine frenzy. A second way of interpreting the passions connected with melancholy derived from the medieval habit of placing them under the rubric of moral philosophy. Consequently, “overmuch sorrow” came to be regarded as a sin—particularly, the sin of acedia. This approach, highlighting ethical and philosophical rather than clinical considerations, found expression in a variety of expository books produced around the turn of the seventeenth century.

The ideological focus of still another brand of treatise fell somewhere between the two extremes of Galenic materialism and moralized instruction. Affirming melancholy to be at least as much a disease as a vice, these books projected a mainly clinical and sympathetic attitude toward it. At the same time they rejected the notion of heroic melancholy and often insisted that the entire matter be considered within a theological framework.3 It is this mixed, medical-cum-theological strand of the tradition that contributes most to an understanding of Taylor's imaginative response.

A prominent early example of the “middle way” of understanding melancholy is Timothy Bright's Treatise of Melancholy (1586), which takes pains to distinguish melancholy proper from remorse of conscience. Bright found the scrupulous—those whose “heartes are … overtender and rare”—to be especially liable to affliction by melancholy's dark fumes. Although he lent such victims his consolation and encouragement, Bright also felt compelled to point out the moral “disadvantage of the melancholicke complexion.” If not sinful in itself, the humoral malady offered Satan an occasion to effect the downfall of godly souls. For a melancholic was naturally predisposed toward despair, which Bright considered not merely the converse of spiritual presumption but its logical consequence. Morbid self-doubt bred presumptive curiosity, which could lead in turn to despair. Contemplatives and scholars were asking for trouble, then, unless they took care to keep their speculations firmly grounded in the scriptural Word.4

That “overmuch meditation” and “too importunate enquiry” might precipitate despairing melancholy was likewise a lesson of Robert Burton's famous Anatomy of Melancholy. To be sure, Burton's flamboyant and expansive Anatomy takes a less consistently disparaging view of the melancholic state than does Bright's Treatise. For the most part, though, Burton endorsed the prevailing view of melancholy as a disease with spiritual ramifications. The first to identify a distinct species of “Religious Melancholy,” he attributed the perturbation of religious scrupulosity not only to physiological imbalance but also to unhealthful conduct and, ultimately, to supernatural forces. “The principal agent and procurer of this mischief is the Devil,” he wrote, whose “ordinary engine … is the melancholy humour itself, which is the Devil's bath.” Accordingly, Burton prescribed a mixture of cures. Neither “sole physicke” nor “good advice alone” was accounted a sufficient remedy.5

Although Burton was of course no Puritan, his sense that melancholy “is a disease of the soul on which I am to treat, and as much appertaining to a divine as to a Physician” sums up a typically Puritan attitude toward melancholy and toward spirituality in general. That a divine was first and foremost a “physician of the soul” had been a central assumption of English Puritanism from its earliest days.6 Indeed, the metaphor of the theologian as spiritual physician arose so naturally from evidences of interconnection between soul and body that for some Puritans it was scarcely a metaphor. And in his Bonifacius, a book Taylor owned, Cotton Mather's well-known psychosomatic musings led to the counsel that physicians cultivate “the art of curing by expectation” and “consolation,” pursuing the useful question of “what the mind will do toward the cure of the body.”7

Conversely and more crucially, the Puritan stress on subjective religious experience encouraged many learned theologians to play physician, to minister to the symptoms of physical and especially of mental disease as a way of promoting the cure of spiritual afflictions. Thus, a whole literature of the genre known as “cases of conscience” enjoyed a tremendous vogue during the seventeenth century.8 If these writings were devoted only in part to prescribing solace for souls troubled by melancholy, scrupulosity was nonetheless a favorite “case of conscience” in the treatises of such eminent writers as Ames, Baxter, William Perkins, and the Anglican Jeremy Taylor. In his Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience, Perkins devoted special attention to the problem of “ministering and conveying … comfort to the mind of him, that hath confessed his sinnes” and yet remained “in Distresse of Mind.” Ames, whose Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof was in Taylor's library, added further distinctions in response to the question, “What is to be done when the conscience is scrupulous?”9

Unlike these works by Perkins and Ames, Baxter's Preservatives against Melancholy and Over-much Sorrow addressed itself almost exclusively to the problem of an oversensitive conscience. Granting that this form of humoral disease had physical causes, Baxter felt certain also that the Devil had a hand in cases of “overmuch Sorrow.” It was in Satan's interest to cast the righteous into melancholic illness to seduce them first “to Overmuch sorrow and fear,” then “to distracting Doubts and thoughts,” and finally “to murmur against God, and to despair.” Like his predecessors, Baxter earnestly charged those susceptible to melancholy to avoid exercising their “Thoughts now too deeply nor too much” since “long Meditation is a Duty to some, but not to you.” Rumination, as Baxter perceived, sets the stage for melancholic self-absorption: “As Milstones wear themselves if they go when they have no Corn; so do the thoughts of such as think not of better things than their own Hearts.” The victim of overserious self-regard could hope to escape his dungeon only by forcing the mind toward higher things—if, that is, he still had “any Power of … [his] own Thoughts.”10

Here precisely was the rub. Those vexed by internal demons had little chance of curing themselves through a simple act of self-will. Understanding as much, Baxter made several recommendations to those caring for distressed melancholics. If the melancholic could not divert his or her thoughts from the old round, another person might. This second party might read grieving melancholics “informing comforting Books, and live in a loving cheerful manner with them.” It was absolutely imperative that the patient be “pleased, delighted,” distracted from “sad and troubling words and things.” In short, the melancholic's sadness somehow had to be replaced by delight and “Godly Cheerfulness.”11

Implicit in Baxter, then, is a suggestion that delight might be an appropriate anodyne to melancholy. The same thought informs Bright's recommendation that melancholics embrace “all cheerful sights” and delightful impressions while keeping “good cheere … in Christ,” or Cotton Mather's command that counselors raise for them “as bright thoughts as may be, and scatter the clouds.”12 If mirth was only one of the medicines capable of raising therapeutic delight, it would seem an altogether predictable one. Moreover, the view that mirth is an acceptable means of countering symptomatic melancholy finds direct support in contemporary sources inside and outside the Puritan tradition.

Burton, for example, held that comic wit was a singularly effective means of producing that healthful state of delight and spiritual “good cheere” recommended by writers like Timothy Bright. For Burton the therapeutic force of gaiety could scarcely be exaggerated. Because of its capacity to “expell grief,” mirth was prescribed by physicians “as a principal engine to battle the walls of melancholy, a chief antidote, and a sufficient cure of itself.” Among the approved varieties of therapeutic mirth in Burton's formulary were “jests, conceits,” and “merry tales.”13

Though Taylor may not have seen Burton's Anatomy, which was read in colonial New England, he would have encountered similar sentiments in his copy of a treatise by Benjamin Colman, The Government and Improvement of Mirth. Colman stressed the preventive more than the restorative powers of mirth. He saw “regular Mirth” and “the Habit of Chearfulness” as contributing greatly to the spiritual health of Christians, whereas “Melancholly People commonly make drooping Christians, to the disadvantage of Religion.” So long as it was “sober” and “decent,” mirth helped engender the spiritual joy God intended for his children. Working from this premise, Colman combed the Scriptures to find evidence of heaven's blessing on jocularity when applied toward virtuous ends. He pointed to Solomon, who said “I commended Mirth”; to the Apostle's injunction to “Rejoice evermore”; to Sarah's confession that “God has made me to laugh … so that all who hear will laugh with me”; to the repeated call of the New Testament to “Be of good cheer”; and to the many calls to joyousness echoed throughout the psalms. It was “Davids Sanguine Temper,” after all, that “lead him to his Psalmody.”14

In offering scriptural proofs for his moral argument against gloom, Colman was following well-established precedent. Baxter had prefaced Preservatives against Melancholy with the words of Psalm 42, “Why art thou cast down, O my Soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?” Others had similarly confirmed that spiritual joy defined the normative disposition of Christian believers. And several Puritan writers in England had been willing to endorse properly restrained mirth as a refreshment for mind and spirit. With due qualification, Perkins's Direction for the Government of the Tongue according to Gods Word (1593) even stressed the duty of the human race to exercise its divine gift of laughter.15

After Perkins's example, Colman went beyond many of his predecessors by insisting on “not only the Lawfulness, but the Loveliness and Obligation of Civil Mirth.” Christians who failed to show mirthful delight in their religion gave poor witness to the unregenerate while opening the way to melancholic depression in themselves. Though this good cheer was never to replace Christian earnestness, “'Tis a gross Opinion to think the Gravity, Sobriety, Moderation and Mortification to the Word, which agrees to the Christian character, cannot consist with Occasional Mirth, or with Habitual Chearfulness.” Yet the serious demeanor of the biblical Christ and his repute as the lamb of affliction threatened to belie Colman's thesis on the duty of mirth. Undaunted, Colman came up with an apology recalling one we have already encountered in Taylor's Christographia:

Indeed there was nothing Morose and Sour in the Conversation of our Lord: and I wish we could learn from thence, and always remember it, that Evangelical Holiness and Mortification do require no such thing of us. He was Courteous, Obliging, Affable to all that sought unto him; only severe & inexorable to mens Sins. 'Tis true, we read of his Tears, but never of his Laughing; and his Style was—A Man of Sorrows: Yet we know also he did not shun Mirth on proper Occasions, nor censure it in others. I have already observ'd, how he honour'd the Joyful Solemnity in Cana with his Presence; wherein he sufficiently countenanced Regular Mirth, and indeed Sanctify'd it; for it would be silly to question whether the Guests were Merry there; there was the Joy of the Bridegroom, and his Friends rejoyced to hear his Voice.16

One could cite other complaints against melancholy even from the vast, mostly sober expanse of Puritan prose. It may be enough to remember John Bunyan's “Apology” to The Pilgrim's Progress. Introducing a book that features a graphic image of the Slough of Despond, Bunyan calls out to his prospective reader, “Wouldst thou divert thyself from melancholy?” And in the secular sphere, a belief that mirthful stories helped “purge melancholy from the minde, and grosse humours from the body” was commonly invoked to justify the circulation of entertaining popular literature and jestbooks. “Doctor Merryman” is a potent foe of melancholy in more than one piece of seventeenth-century writing. And the worth of cheerful play in expelling depressive humors is a familiar theme in English playwrights like Shakespeare, Jonson, Thomas Heywood, and John Marston. Even within the domain of Puritan New England, as Samuel Eliot Morison discloses, the extracurricular reading of students at seventeenth-century Harvard featured plentiful drafts of witty, erotic, and scatalogical verse, including one collection bearing the revealing title, “Witts Recreations augmented, with Ingenious Conceites for the Wittie, and Merrie Medecines for the Melancholie.”17

From the picture given so far one might almost suppose the Puritans to have been thoroughgoing apostles of mirth. If therapeutic wit could laugh Puritan Everyman out of his ill humor, how could one fail to endorse its exercise as a godly and needful thing? Yet each of the previously cited proponents of mirth also made sure to outline the evils of carnal gaiety. There was an impious splenetic form as well as a sanguine form of laughter: Bright called them, respectively, “false” and “true” laughter. Perkins quoted Solomon's “laughter is madness,” warned against setting one's heart even on lawful recreations, and indicated deep suspicion of mirth “so farre forth, as it hath not the feare and reverence of the Name of God to restraine it.” Among the sins forbidden by the third commandment, as interpreted by the Larger Catechism, were actions that involved “in any way perverting the word, or any part of it, to profane jests.”18

Even as Ames defended words “uttered in jest or sport, or by way of merriment” because “they may have a lawfull and honest use,” he admitted the jesting could be evil if its application were otherwise. Baxter showed more suspicion of ill-directed mirth and recreation. After all, the Devil's cure for melancholy is to drink and play it away, and “the end of that Mirth is incurable Sorrow.” Similar cautions against “the foul abuses” of mirth toward “vice and carnality” appear in Colman, who is careful to distinguish “Carnal and Vicious Mirth” from its worthier counterpart. Even the decidedly un-Puritan Burton, who listed the sight and touch of a beautiful woman among his cures for melancholy, reproved some versions of hilarity. He found little to praise in those content simply to play their lives away: like grasshoppers who enjoyed the summer but gave no thought to the winter, they would “for a little vain merriment … find a sorrowful reckoning in the end.”19

But the idea of embracing mirth met with still deeper oppositions in the Puritan soul than these selective cautions would indicate. In short, the challenge of curing scrupulous melancholy would not have received the attention it did from Reformed theologians if the disease had not become in some manner endemic to Puritan belief. There were reasons why the New Englander's Old English cousin so often filled the role of malcontent on the Elizabethan stage, and there was perhaps some basis in fact for that aura of Puritan “gloom” with which Hawthorne surrounded his acutely earnest ancestors in fiction. As Samuel Morison remarked, “There was much opportunity for love and laughter in colonial New England, though not as much as there should have been.” The greater part of Puritan writing may indeed betray what Perry Miller called the “interminable high seriousness” of a people “who lived far too uninterruptedly upon the heights of intensity.”20

In large measure the Puritans inherited their fretting humors along with their Protestantism. Though scrupulosity presented itself throughout the literature of the Catholic Middle Ages, it grew to new, epidemic proportions with the Protestant Reformation. Familiar mechanisms of piety were swept away, and with them the objectifying psychology that lent stability to the strivings of many an intense Christian. Human exertions still mattered after Wittenberg, but in less apparently predictable ways. At the cost of obscuring the evangelical doctrine of Christian liberty, the legal system of popular Roman Catholicism had enforced a commonsense doctrine of mental security with a wisdom of its own. But as the rule of sola fides—or, in the Calvinist scheme, sola gratia—came to be more rigorously applied, and as the uncertainties of personal election loomed up more forbiddingly in the path of sanctification, crises of self-centered anxiety were inevitable. Interior frustration would seem the all-too-natural consequence of believing that one must ferret out the signs of election without effecting the desired New Birth. The problem of assurance, with its concomitant anguish of self-analysis, was not unique to the Puritan conscience, as the career of Martin Luther clearly illustrates. In practice, few heirs of the Reformation found predestination the “comfortable” doctrine Calvin supposed it to be. Among those knowledgeably committed to living after Reformed precepts, it would have been the rare acrobat who could walk the narrow line between despair and presumption without falling or feeling the strain.

In the Puritans, however, the introspective habit could become so fully and methodically developed as to constitute an obsession. Sacvan Bercovitch has fixed on “the dilemma of Puritan identity” wherein the endless strivings toward radically passive and humble self-denial become coextensive with the self-assertion of a heavily subjective spirituality.21 These contradictory pressures, added to the duty of pursuing regular and vigorous self-examination without the release of sacramental confession, were bound to produce melancholic symptoms. Divines like Thomas Hooker and Thomas Shepard fully expected the regenerative process to be long and painful. Indeed, the usual morphology of conversion required candidates for visible sanctity to relate their firsthand experience of deep remorse, of the piercing grief that seized them when they came to know the reality of sin. The first of “two basic stages of repentance” represented in New England conversion narratives involves display of the heart wound suffered under legal fear. In his “Spiritual Relation” Taylor describes similar youthful impressions provoked by his sister's rendition of the creation and nativity narratives.22

Intense grief over the “true sight of sin” was supposed to engulf the soul only during the various preparatory phases of the conversion process—in Taylor's scheme, that period of “Conviction” and “Aversion” encompassing “Contrition” and “Humiliation.” By the time the journeying soul passed into “Conversion” proper, which Taylor classifies as the second part of “Repentance,” it ought to be registering vivid sensations of joy and delight. Nonetheless, it was often hard to tell where godly remorse shaded into pathological depression; it was easy to “get stuck” in the preliminary stages. Dutiful introspection bore a troubling likeness to that ruinous rumination leading to neurotic self-absorption. Then too, the mortal self was never quite done with experiencing “Conviction”; in his relation Taylor confesses he does “dayly finde something” in his heart by way of “Soule abasement” (UW [The Unpublished Writings of Edward Taylor. Edited by Thomas M. Davis and Virginia L. Davis. 3 vols. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981.], 1:97).

Whereas the conditional assurances of the preparationist doctrine widely taught in New England helped to mitigate certain doubts, they seem to have spawned or prolonged others. Even when the Puritan preacher assured his congregation that “assurance” may indeed be theirs, he will be found to refer only to a reasonably grounded hope—not, as we might suppose, to a full-blown certainty. To offer this last would smack of presumption. The practice of sifting through one's personal motives may have been more pronounced among the second and third generation of American Puritans than it was at the founding, but a rumination conducive to melancholy was the continuous plague of the New England conscience from the time of Thomas Hooker's earliest writings in the Old World through the era of Jonathan Edwards, a self-confessed melancholic.23

On balance, then, the mood of American Puritanism might be described as more pervasively melancholic than comic. Or at least the comic spirit did not hold visibly dominant sway. Yet we have already observed how the traditions of Reformed theology sustained in New England offered distinctive encouragements for an imagination of wit, humor, and play. Harrison T. Meserole reminds us also that early New Englanders were often university trained and “the inheritors of a well-established Renaissance tradition of wit.”24 Neither was Taylor the only writer in Puritan New England willing to expose a playful wit. Comic ingenuity found expression in scores of seventeenth-century anagrams and acrostics, becoming a curious staple of Puritan elegiac verse. Beyond these verbal displays by poets such as John Fiske, John Wilson, and John Saffin, a few other notable cases come to mind: rollicking satire from the pen of Nathaniel Ward, mock-epic levity from Benjamin Tompson, occasional whimsy and comic hyperbole from Anne Bradstreet.25 Yet the major poems of a popular writer like Michael Wigglesworth, together with the Meditations of Philip Pain and even the “Charracteristicall Satyre” of John Saffin, are pretty serious business. Compared with other New England writing of its time, Taylor's poetry emerges as unusual if not unique in the manner and extent to which it exploits comic principles.

Since Taylor's Meditations speak repeatedly of a melancholic's yearning for sanguine piety, one should not expect the differences between Taylor and less comic Puritan writers to derive from any immunity to melancholy on Taylor's part. Rather, as someone acquainted with the depressive state, this poet would have grown sensitive to its symptoms and attentive to methods of relieving it, including jocular wit. It makes paradoxical sense to find him especially attuned to the comic spirit while especially susceptible to melancholy. As Kierkegaard, another self-confessed melancholic, opined in his Journals, “It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite,” so that “the melancholy man has most sense of the comic.” No wonder the Concluding Unscientific Postscript tries to puzzle out links between the religious truths of existential suffering and the comic sense.26

And no wonder the Meditations abound with complaints that the poet's soul is “dull,” “sad,” “lumpish,” or “lowring.” “Let some thing spoute on me,” Taylor prays in “Meditation 1.37,” “Then I shall in a better temper bee.” Often this chronic depression shows itself in recognizable symptoms of pathological melancholy. Thus, the poet's spiritual maladies make him “leaden,” cause him to groan and sigh. He is afflicted by “Clouds of Dumps” and “bitter gall,” a “befogg'd Dark Phancy” and “Clouded minde.” When clutched by the sickness he finds himself “All black” and “Not sweet.” Time and again he asks to be drained of all “ill Humors” and thereby cured of his “griefe.” At other times he dares to mention the illness by name:

Dull! Dull! my Lord, as if I eaten had
          A Peck of Melancholy: or my Soule
Was lockt up by a Poppy key, black, sad:
          Or had been fuddled with an Hen bane bowle.
          Oh, Leaden temper! …


But Taylor knows there is more to do than simply to bewail his state. He tries to argue himself out of the ill humors, exhorting himself to “cheer up, Soule” (2.93) while supplicating heaven for release:

Then why shouldst thou, my Soule, be dumpish sad,
          Frown hence away thy melancholy Face.
Oh! Chide thyselfe out of this Frame so bad
Seing Christs precious bowells thee Embrace.
One flash of this bright Gem these bowells bring
Unto thyselfe, may make thy heart to singe.


Let some, my Lord, of thy bright Glories beams,
          Flash quickening Flames of Glory in mine eye
T'enquicken my dull Spirits, drunke with dreams
          Of Melancholy juyce that stupify.


Fortunately too, the poet's resolution to compose sacred verse is already a first step toward dispelling the clouds of melancholy:

I do constrain my Dumpishness away
          And to give place unto a Spirituall Verse
Tund on thy glorious joys and to Conveigh
          My notes upon the Same, and my heart seirce
          From all such dross till sweet tund prais pierce
          Those Clouds of Dumps to come thy throne unto.


But for the choicest therapy Taylor looked to the sanguine vitality of wit exercised in the poems themselves. Regularly urging his congregation to get and maintain the “festival frame of spirit” requisite to feasting on the Lord's Supper, ordering them to “be not morose,” he used the Meditations to play out the rhetorical challenge of exciting the right mood of affections in his representative soul. Harnessing wit for its power as a medicine no less than as a bait of pleasure, he aimed to stir up a mood of delighted anticipation of the feast. The prospect of the sacred meal is set before the soul's gaze in such an attractive, winsome light that one would press to realize it in experience and to attain the regenerative condition it demanded. Any melancholic distempers hindering acceptance of the banquet might be relieved. The comic spirit was well suited to inspiring hopeful expectation and the “true sight” of eschatological joy. It was therefore one of Taylor's more potent “motives to move” souls toward the life-nourishing benefits offered in the symbolic elements of the Supper. It was one way of raising the soul's hunger for a taste of the divine:

Stir up thy Appetite, my Soule, afresh,
          Here's Bread, and Wine as Signs, to signify
The richest Dainties Cookery can Dress
          Thy Table with, filld with felicity.
          Purge out and Vomit by Repentance all
          Ill Humours which thy Spirituall Tast forestall.


Taylor's sponsorship of “a festival frame of spirit” was no invitation to that worldly frivolity reproved by Colman under the label of “Carnal and Vicious Mirth.” Like the Samuel Hooker limned in elegy, Taylor's ideal Christian was “Grave” but not “Morose,” ready to “attend the Sacred Writ with joy” (Poems, 478-79). Still, Taylor's persistent call to “be not discouraged,” to be “of good cheer” (TCLS, [Edward Taylor's Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1965.] 221), stands out against the contemporary background.27 At the contrary extreme, Michael Wigglesworth filled his diary with confessions of scrupulous melancholy yet frowned on nearly all forms of mirth and recreation, much less the idea that merriment could be spiritually beneficial. And in another autobiographical piece written while a tutor at Harvard, he rejects the counsel of someone who had spoken “in Commendation of seasonable laughter and Merriment, as that which may be a means to Recreate ones tired Spirits, and prolong ones Life.” “Let me rather live a Melancholy Life all my days,” he exclaims, “than by Merriment run into a course of provoking my God.”28

Though not so mirthless as Wigglesworth, Taylor's opponent Solomon Stoddard also believed there were better ways to banish impious humors than to laugh them away. “Many young persons … give themselves up to Mirth and Jollity,” he complained, “and neglect the opportunities of Salvation.” They ignore the sober warnings of their elders because “they hate to live a Moping Melancholy Life, to be confessing their Sins, and crying to God for Pardon; but if they were afraid of Hell, that would make a mighty change in their Carriage, a sense of Hell-Fire would soun feare them out of those Humeurs.”29 Conversely, Stoddard did not hesitate to complain that his ministerial colleague to the south was provoking needless fear and grief over Sacrament days.

It is at least true enough that Taylor considered every Christian duty-bound to the painful rigors of introspection. Despite the risk of triggering despondency, God demanded an earnest scrutiny of the soul's estate: “Thou bidst me try if I be in the Faith” (“2.155”). But there was a drop of consolation even in the bitter gall of melancholy, so long as it came in limited season and quantity. For mental anguish was most likely to seize the deeper, “twice-born” soul. In this minor sense, where melancholy could almost be seen as a mark of peculiar favor, remnants of the heroic melancholy tradition survived to influence Taylor's outlook.

More essentially, Taylor's symbolic scheme in the Meditations presumes an ameliorative progress from splenetic torpor to sanguine delight. Thus “Meditation 2.32” passes from the poet's initial “dulness” of melancholy, his “Leaden Whistle,” to a “song of Love … full of glee.” The disease of melancholy—not the scrupulous form, always, but melancholy in general—signifies all that blocks the fervor of raised affections otherwise set on the enjoyment of glory. If Taylor's diagnosis and cure of the humoral malady are not the controlling principle of the Meditations, the poems do suggest a pattern of equivalence between depravity and the leaden disposition, between grace and sanguinity. The relevant background can often help to explain the imagery of individual poems. One connotation of the blood imagery introduced in many Meditations, such as “Meditation 1.1,” is the sanguine contrary to black bile. And in Gods Determinations, Taylor offers a full-scale treatment of scrupulous symptoms linked to the pathology of meditative melancholy.


Though one form of self-indicting introspection might contribute to Puritan melancholia, Taylor also conceived of meditation as a conjunctive act leading toward holy joy. Through meditation one looked to achieve a practical unification between heart and mind, between the self and God. For Taylor, the essential purpose of meditation was to conjoin a soul situated in the phenomenal world with the divine will revealed in Scripture. As such, the poet's meditative process of pondering the scriptural Word found a natural expression in the conjunctive activity of verbal wit.

Earlier scholarship tended to link Taylor's mode of meditation with formal patterns of Catholic spirituality established before the appearance of Richard Baxter's Saints' Everlasting Rest (1650). More recently, Barbara Lewalski has stressed its pervasively Protestant character.30 Taylor's digressive spontaneity and peripatetic mood nonetheless transcend the usual sectarian categories of Catholic and Protestant, reflecting a style most aptly labeled “Augustinian.” These same qualities are reflected in the verbal techniques of the poet's wit. Yet the biblical propensities in Taylor's meditative method do signal a Protestant allegiance and are combined with a recognizably Puritan investment in covenant theology. Both Taylor's practice of meditation and his language of wit converge in the intertextuality of Scripture. Two other traditional subjects of meditation—the self and the creatures—appear in variant combinations throughout his writing. But the organizing focus of the written meditations, as well as the main source of their figures, is the canonical Word. Meditation on the Word was for Taylor, as for other leaders of Protestant devotionalism, the cornerstone of personal spirituality and sacred art.

The Reformed emphasis on fidelity to the Word sometimes took the form of Levitical literalism. Unlike Luther or Richard Hooker, Puritan “precisians” were apt to regard the Bible as all-sufficient and authoritative in every matter of worship, doctrine, and church government, not merely in the truths necessary for salvation. Those of such a literalist persuasion insisted the church could approve no practice lacking explicit warrant in Scripture.31 But as a group the Puritans were something other than uniformly literalistic in their approach to the Bible. This point surely applies to the case of American Puritans, particularly in matters of evangelical piety as distinct from those of institutional or civil legality.

Puritans believed the Bible contained the Word of God and in a thoroughly real sense was that Word. Yet they were not willing to equate the Word unequivocally with the words printed across the page. They taught neither “fundamentalism” nor “verbal inerrancy” in today's sense of the terms. For all their attachment to the canonical writings, they knew that these too could shape themselves into the new idols of Reformation religion. Of course sacred writ was to be read, devoutly and often, in public and private. Yet the dynamic power of the Word would never be released through a bare repetition of the words. The text had to be opened, turned, and applied before it would speak forth the Word. It was only by the inward testimony of the Spirit, not by any amount of gazing on or intoning from the tangible book, that the Word unleashed its generative power. And it was a major responsibility of the Puritan preacher to turn and break open the Word, pouring out its liberating essence onto receptive hearts.32

The same principles obtained in private meditation, Baxter's “preaching to oneself.” To release the living Word contained in Holy Writ, one had to turn the written letters, bend and play with them, break them inwardly upon the recalcitrant soul. “Words are no such trifles as trifling Persons make them,” Taylor urged, yet special effort was needed “to minde, Weigh, meditate, & ponder this greate Word; the Lord Christ” (Harmony, 1:282, 7). Here was no place for blockish passivity. Thomas Hooker's well-known discourse in The Application of Redemption certifies it to be a matter of vigorous spiritual exercise, relentless search, a tenacious “coasting of the mind and imagination into every crevis and corner.” Meditation was, in short, hard work.33 As a resolve to dig out the roots of personal sin, the object circumscribed in this discourse, Hooker's meditation could be painful, even melancholic, work.

It could also be play. In Hooker a lively and adventurous movement of the meditative mind gave ample purchase to the imagination, mitigating the laborious rigor of self-examination typically (in both senses) emblematized as a spiritual “chewing of the cud.” Often too narrowly defined on the basis of its treatment in the one section of The Application of Redemption, Hookerian meditation could elsewhere offer a more joyous prospect, a more direct focus on the Word of promise contained in Scripture, a more conspicuous concession to verbal and mental play. In The Soul's Vocation Hooker advises the uncertain soul to search out and lay hold of the biblical promises just as a child finds the mother's breast after “muzzling about a dry chip,” or as one discovers the sweet marrow inside a bone. The promises are full of consoling comfort so far as “you … chew them, break them, and bestow thy heart on them” through meditation. Particularly for the convicted believer, meditation thus becomes a lively roaming after truth, an experimental turning of the Word, an interior motion led by an adventurous intellect. Herein it resembles what John Dryden called the “nimble Spaniel” of wit, which ranges restlessly through the field of memory till it finds its quarry in “delightful imaging.” The promises strike fire as love and joy only after a meditating soul allows its holy desire to wander freely, like the Spouse in Canticles, “from this thing to that thing, from this place to that place,” never ceasing “to see if it can gain notice of Christ.”34

This principle of digressive spontaneity lay at the heart of Puritan resistance to set prayers and homilies. It also helps to explain the restlessly probing quality of Taylor's poetry. To release the Spirit from the otherwise dead letter of Scripture, one had to follow its untutored leadings, albeit within certain specified bounds. Those bounds, reflected in the formal divisions of a Puritan homily, likewise curbed the imaginative options in meditation—such as the re-creation of scenes from Jesus' earthly ministry—that had appeared more widely in Catholic methods. Sober attention to categories of exegetical understanding was apt to replace the sensuous visualizations of place featured in Ignatian meditation.

At the same time, Protestant meditative theory gave fresh encouragement to other sources of literary imagination and, as Baxter illustrates, found room to endorse at least some applications of sensuous imagery. Compared with the Ignatian regimen, the Reformed approach could better claim to capture the shifting winds of the Spirit by virtue of its broader field of biblical subjects opened to meditative perusal, its rejection of a rigid time frame for the exercises, its freer response to spontaneous discovery in the form of what Joseph Hall called “occasional meditations.” Even within the more regulated format of “deliberate meditation,” Hall objected to schemes that left the mind “too much fettered” in its search. Above all it is the mood of darting curiosity, of free-wheeling search through the great magazine of Scripture, that links Taylor's distinctive style of poetic wit to the meditative traditions in which he was steeped.35

As Louis Martz has demonstrated, those traditions derived in the main from meditative teachings set forth by St. Augustine centuries before the Reformation. In contrast to the Ignatian method, the Augustinian manner favored “tumbling” meditations, exploratory sallies or digressions of mind designed to recapture and focus glimpses of the divine illumination mirrored in the human soul.36 This iterative approach and sense of interior illumination influenced Catholic writers as well as Protestants; on the Catholic side it bore some affinities to Salesian meditation. And since St. Augustine is common property of Catholic and Protestant traditions, it seems more accurate to characterize Taylor's meditation of exploratory wit as “Augustinian” than as “Protestant.” In any case, the several schemes of Christian meditation shared a sense of quest for loving union with God, realized as the soul unified its powers of memory, understanding, and will. A purely cerebral and trivial wit, one that failed to draw forth the affections and to engage the larger self, could not contribute to the spiritual discipline of meditation. In this pejorative sense Thomas Hooker denied meditation to be “a flourishing of a mans wit.” But in this same discourse on meditation Hooker's darting movements of mind, his boldly conceitist imagery bordering on the humorous, all disclose a good deal of wit. Like meditation and in consort with meditation, sacred wit enacted an integrative process that promised to repair part of the damage sustained in the Fall.37

Taylor's reliance on the conjunctive power of meditation does show a distinctly Puritan cast in its involvement with the federal theology. A central purpose behind Puritan meditation was to establish whether the covenant promises of grace did indeed apply to oneself, whether the general decree of Election had a claim in the first-person singular. The project could be excruciating, but to judge from the Meditations Taylor's doubts were generally outnumbered and supplanted by verifying signs. Without reaching to affirm universal salvation in the technical sense, the writings of divines like Taylor and Thomas Hooker—notably, Taylor's 1694 sermons on the Lord's Supper—carried an assumption that the promises would finally obtain for any soul earnestly drawn to embrace them. For the Lord's promises were “Rich, Quick'ning things” (2.12), and to believe less was to risk calling God a liar:

Dost thou adorn some thus, and why not mee?
          Ile not believe it. Lord, thou art my Chiefe.
Thou me Commandest to believe in thee.
          I'l not affront thee thus with Unbeliefe.


The ingenious turn of logic evidenced here begins to suggest the larger role of wit in Taylor's meditative quest for assurance. The work of redemption had already been achieved through God in Christ and became accessible through the promises held out in the Covenant of Grace. The Elect soul could do no more by way of saving work; yet it still had to lay hold of the covenant by aligning its personal destiny and will with the truths spelled out in divine Revelation. A prospective saint like Taylor's speaker in the Meditations had to look into the Word, finding his name written there; at the same time he had to consult his own soul to find the corresponding stamps and badges marking him as Christ's own. As a meditative poet, Taylor committed himself to seeking out tokens of the New Covenant congruence in semiotic configurations of word and image, a technique that one critic calls an enactment of the Covenant of Grace through “Metaphors of Promise” and that another describes as “a language of correspondence” developed out of metaphor, typology, and allegory.38

Lacking intrinsic merit, the fortuitous analogies produced from the “game” of wit were nonetheless “ernest” vehicles by which the soul could discover its comparable consonance with the Word. In vulgar terms, the wit of composition accomplished a sort of matching exercise; on the sacred plane, it tried to release the Word stored in Scripture, creation, and church ordinance in such a way that Revelation could find the self and vice versa. When the poems manage to make good on this experience of “Mutuall propriety,” they convey an unmistakable impression of exuberance and joy that chases away melancholy.39 It is as though Taylor has suddenly struck the answer to a comic riddle on finding that he truly is the glass, the purse, the lily, the “Golden Angell” of God, that he has been as good as tucked inside the leaves of Sharon's Rose, bedded all the while in the “Circumcisions Quilt” of Christ. And beyond its relevance to Puritan categories, the shock of joyous recognition bears a religious kinship to the familiarly witty conclusion of a gospel parable or a Zen koan.

To invite the crucial episodes of consonance that imparadise the soul, Taylor allowed wit to circle freely around the objects it encountered in the world. The phenomenal world served less as the poet's central dwelling place than as a colossal playhouse to be ransacked for whatever signs of earnest congruence it might present. In several respects, to be sure, the Meditations are set in carefully ordered patterns; and a rigidly predictable scheme determines the choice of subject matter in sequences like the typological poems in “Meditations 2.1-2.30,” “2.58-60[B],” “2.70,” and “2.71.” Taylor's wit nonetheless claimed a space for unpredictable movement, for play. It is precisely on account of this digressive spontaneity in Taylor, a quality related to his erotic zeal and his “roughness,” that Donald Stanford once observed the meditative structure of his poetry to be looser and more irrational than that of earlier English verse written in the great meditative tradition.40 Likewise in Karl Keller's analysis it is neither Taylor's selection of sources nor his theological interpretations that render him unusual as a New England typologist. It is rather his wit of meditation, his irrepressible urge to play with the conventional types to underscore their delightful import and to draw out their personal applications.41

Although much useful attention has been given to Taylor's poetic handling of typology, the wit of his meditation on the Word extends beyond his manipulation of persons, rituals, and events from the Old Testament to demonstrate their prefigurement of the Gospel. For when Taylor explored the typological interplay between the two testaments in figures of shadow and fulfillment, he was presuming the essential unity of the Scriptures; and the special character of his presumption had important literary consequences. As William Jemmat explained, “The same Testator made both Testaments, and these differ not really, but accidentally; the Old infolding the New with some darknesse, and the New unfolding the Old with joyous perspicuitie.” Meditative wit helped to reconstitute the perceived unity of the Scriptures by dissolving all “accidental” boundaries into the undivided radiance of Christ, by running after the saving Word and drawing it to the surface wherever it might lie in the biblical text and however it might have been obscured in the shadows of human corruption. But Taylor's poetry shows as well a distinctive awareness that each testament possessed an endlessly self-reflexive texture of its own. Enfolded into every book of Scripture were the imagistic keys to any number of other books, in both testaments. As George Herbert marveled, “This verse marks that, and both do make a motion / Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie.” The Meditations exploit a fertile image like that of food or light not only by setting out the expected typological parallels but also by gathering up the rich variety of relevant allusions scattered throughout the several parts of each testament.42

As subsequent perusal of individual poems can demonstrate, Taylor was intrigued to find a chosen Old Testament type pointing not only directly forward to its new covenanted antitype but also laterally to other types, which in turn reached to invoke still other New Testament figures. Moreover, the scriptural figures suggested further analogies with types visible in the world: Taylor exclaims over “The glory of the world slickt up in types” (2.1). Thus, though “The glory of all Types doth meet” in Christ, the narrative of Christ as “Pend by the Holy Ghost” in Scripture is anything but one-dimensional. It is the story compounded of all others, a flame of wonder “fan'd / From evry Chaff, Dust, Weedy Seed, or Sand” (“2.79”).

The larger effect of Taylor's rippling style of allusion is to dramatize the unity-in-complexity of biblical revelation without violating Reformed teachings on the “one sense of Scripture.”43 Described in tropes Taylor might have appreciated, the Bible comes out looking less like the classic medieval terrace with its several distinct levels of meaning and more like an elaborately interstitched tapestry, woven of many colors and brighter in one hemisphere than another but drawn into a continuous circle. Beyond the usual temporal dialectic generated by its typological structures, Taylor's poetry often conveys a rarer sense of “spatial form” through its wit of multiplying allusion. This quality of associative spontaneity, exemplified most notoriously by a poem like “Meditation 2.78,” or by the bizarre, overwhelming confluence of mundane and speculative exegesis in The Harmony of the Gospels, also distinguishes his better work. It has much to do with his penchant for leaping abruptly from one conceit to another.

In its experimental eclecticism, Taylor's meditative wit becomes at least as absorbed in reflection upon secondarily derived doctrine as upon the immediate biblical text.44 His sermons advise meditation on the doctrine of the church, the doctrine of God in Christ as defined by the hypostatic union, the doctrinal significance of the Lord's Supper, and the “mystery of redemption” (C,[Edward Taylor's Christographia. Edited by Norman S. Grabo. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.] 316, 102-3; TCLS, 203, 138). In fact, the art of theologizing is itself a form of “play”: the theologian is one who spins out provisional human abstractions beyond the revealed text of Scripture. Taylor capitalized on this insight through his custom of developing a fantasia of tropes around favorite points of doctrine.

Taylor's writing also shows eclecticism in the formal methods and genres of meditation it embraces. Beyond their immediate generic identity as meditations from Scripture, the poetic Meditations often satisfy as well the traditional category of meditation from the self. In addition they often qualify, together with Gods Determinations, as a form of Baxter's “heavenly meditation.” And in the poems on selected “occurrants,” Taylor records his practice of meditation from the creatures.

Synthetic in its meditative method, the poetry reflects the Ignatian temper (also associated with Donne and, more selectively, with Thomas Hooker) in its imagistic violence, its sporadic discourse, its engagement with interior struggle and holy fear, and reflects the Salesian in its homeliness, its loving intimacy with God, its externalized rituals of holy “entertainment” and peace.45 It pursues Baxterian foretastes of heaven as well as Augustinian fits of heavenly recollection, seizing moments in the past—like that celebrated in “The Experience”—when the soul temporarily recovers visible possession of the divine image.

It is not even safe to fix Taylor's method uncritically within the current broad-gauged definitions of “Protestant Meditation.” For if Protestant meditation on Scripture is supposed to apply the Word to the self rather than the converse, such is not always Taylor's practice. As several commentators point out, Taylor often inserts himself into a previously established typological setting.46 He may begin a poem focusing on some biblical event or personage he develops to apply to his own state; he is also apt to follow something like the reverse procedure. One cannot always tell whether the Scripture is being applied to the self or vice versa because Taylor wished above all to demonstrate their joint communion in the Spirit, their interpenetration. Taylor's meditative method identifies itself as “Protestant” by virtue of its conspicuously close kinship to the poet's preaching, its fascination with exploring verbal nuance over sustained visual impression. But as the prevalence of container and tabernacle imagery suggests, the larger Catholic principle of mystical indwelling takes precedence over the more didactic “uses” of Protestant homily. All in all, the relatively freewheeling and eclectic method of Taylor's meditation in verse seems closest in spirit to the Augustinian example of digressive wit. This same wit extends a roaming imagination of compound allusion throughout Scripture.

Neither does the poet's specific attachment to Puritan doctrine inject as much anguished uncertainty into his meditative awareness as may first appear. Behind the stylized exorcising of presumption in the hypothetical ending of most Meditations is a barely disguised confidence in the speaker's redeemed status.47 Imitating well-known scriptural paradigms, the if/then structure of such a conclusion enacts the everlasting claim of the covenantal promises as grasped provisionally from the human side and as inclined toward their necessary completion in the age to come. For the Meditations to end where they do is to acknowledge, with entire aptness, that we are still living in a “preparatory” stage of becoming, within the earthly sphere of wit and movement and change. From God's side, the covenant relation nonetheless persists changeless and unquestionable. Sometimes, in fact, Taylor allows his last word in a Meditation to sound more openly declarative than conditional, as in “Meditation 1.2”: “I have enough. Enough in having thee.” And in “Meditation 2.138” Taylor shows how the grinding labor of meditative discipline, paired to true faith in Christ, is bound to yield delight. Drawing on figures from Canticles, he first sets down analogical links between meditative wit and the pleasant sight of lambs in “leaping play and joy” and then illustrates more overtly how the digestive process of meditation distributes “Choice Spirituall Cheer / Through all the new man by its instrument.”

The poet assigned the ultimate source of this saving “Cheer” to God, for neither meditation nor its vehicle of verbal wit produced any new nourishment for the soul. From one theological angle, moreover, the Puritans insisted on the passive condition of the will in conversion. Still, the passivity in question never precluded exertions, whether internal or external, by which the soul responded to God's gracious influences. Indeed, activities like wit and meditation expressed a human initiative of desire necessary in all true lovers of God. A worldly confirmation of this principle appears in the way Puritans favored “games of wit” over “games of hazard” because “games of wit” gave fuller play to humanity's divinely endowed powers of intelligence and purposeful invention.48 Though as a Puritan Taylor considered himself incapable of inventing new metaphysical truths, such a limitation was not so remarkable, so unreasonable, or so inhibiting to creative imaginings as has been supposed.49 He would have thought it more than sufficient merely to discover what he might learn of God's truth, to declare and celebrate God's joyous marriage to humankind. No less than Richard Crashaw's, Taylor's was thus a “witt of love”50—that is, a meditative dedication with no pretense to independent worth or originality of essence.


  1. The topic is discussed in Lawrence Babb, The Elizabethan Malady: A Study of Melancholia in English Literature from 1580-1642, and Bridget G. Lyons, Voices of Melancholy: Studies in Literary Treatments of Melancholy in Renaissance England. Most of my general background information is drawn from these two works.

  2. Lazerius Riverius, The Practice of Physick, 48.

  3. Lyons, Voices of Melancholy, 3-5, 7-10.

  4. Timothy Bright, A Treatise of Melancholy, 188-89, 190, 192, 199, 207.

  5. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. Floyd Dell and Paul J. Smith, 29, 938, 940-41, 959.

  6. Ibid.; see chapter 1, “Physicians of the Soul,” in William Haller's The Rise of Puritanism, 3-48.

  7. Cotton Mather, Bonifacius: An Essay upon the Good, ed. David Levin, 103-4.

  8. See Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century, 1:263. John T. McNeill discusses Puritan spiritual healing in its wider historical context in A History of the Cure of Souls, 263-67, 275-77, and Perry Miller remarks on the attention American Puritans gave melancholia in The New England Mind, 2:233.

  9. William Perkins, The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience, 55, 113; William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof, 19.

  10. Richard Baxter, Preservatives against Melancholy and Over-much Sorrow, 84, 28.

  11. Ibid., 70-71, 78, 86.

  12. Bright, A Treatise, 242, 222; Mather, Bonifacius, 104.

  13. Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, 481.

  14. Benjamin Colman, The Government and Improvement of Mirth, 20-26, 33-35.

  15. Raymond A. Anselment, ‘Betwixt Jest and Earnest’: Marprelate, Milton, Marvell, Swift, and The Decorum of Religious Ridicule, 13-14.

  16. Colman, Mirth, 20, 36-37, 91. Taylor nonetheless stood at odds with Colman over the question of standards for admission to the Lord's Supper.

  17. Louis B. Wright, Middle-Class Culture in Elizabethan England, 405-17; Lyons, Voices of Melancholy, 15, 53-63; Baab, Elizabethan Malady, 14-15; Morison, Harvard College, 1:127. Helen C. White cites a passage from Arthur Dent's The Plaine Mans Pathway to Heaven recommending use of “merrie bookes” as a “speedy remedy” for the “dumpishnesse” of melancholy, in English Devotional Prose: 1600-1640, 232.

  18. Perkins, Cases of Conscience, 349; The Confession of Faith; the Larger and the Shorter Catechisms, 170.

  19. Ames, Conscience, 97; Baxter, Preservatives, 96; Colman, Government, A4; Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, 486.

  20. Samuel Eliot Morison, The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England, 24; Perry Miller and Thomas Johnson, eds., The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings, 1:59.

  21. Sacvan Bercovitch, The Puritan Origins of the American Self, 18-21.

  22. Patricia Caldwell, The Puritan Conversion Narrative: The Beginnings of American Expression, 67. Taylor's “Spiritual Relation” appears in UW, 1:97-104. In addition to Caldwell's book and Perry Miller's writings, standard accounts of New England theologies of conversion are to be found in Edmund S. Morgan, Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea; Norman Pettit, The Heart Prepared: Grace and Conversion in Puritan Spiritual Life; and Darrett B. Rutman, American Puritanism: Faith and Practice.

  23. See Austin Warren, The New England Conscience, 7-27; Gail T. Parker, “Jonathan Edwards and Melancholy,” 193, 201, 203.

  24. Harrison T. Meserole, “‘A Kind of Burr’: Colonial New England's Heritage of Wit,” in American Literature: The New England Heritage, ed. James Nagel and Richard Astro, 11-28.

  25. Beyond the article cited above, the general topic of wit and humor in colonial New England receives mention in Austin Warren, Rage for Order: Essays in Criticism, 5-6; Harrison T. Meserole, Seventeenth-Century American Poetry, xxx-xxxi; Larzer Ziff, Puritanism in America: New Culture in a New World; Miller and Johnson, The Puritans, 2:392-93; Robert D. Arner, “Wit, Humor, and Satire in Seventeenth-Century American Poetry,” in Puritan Poets and Poetics: Seventeenth-Century American Poetry in Theory and Practice, ed. Peter White, 274-85; Jeffrey Walker, “Anagrams and Acrostics: Puritan Poetic Wit,” in Puritan Poets and Poetics, 247-57; and Stephen Fender, “Edward Taylor and the Sources of American Puritan Wit,” 228-34. Fender takes the case for cultural receptivity further than I should care to by arguing that “witty writing was the rule rather than the exception in American colonial literature” (228-29).

  26. The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard, ed. and trans. Alexander Dru, 90, 387; Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postcript, trans. David Swenson and ed. Walter Lowrie, 390-468.

  27. Though most prominent in TCLS, Taylor's commands to “Cheer up” under the “Cheering & Comfortable” influence of grace appear as well in Harmony, 1:65-66, 99; 2:475; 4:48-50.

  28. The Diary of Michael Wigglesworth, 1653-1657, ed. Edmund S. Morgan, 27, 46, 69, 77, 80, 91; citation in Morison, Harvard College, 1:123.

  29. Solomon Stoddard, The Efficacy of the Fear of Hell, 21.

  30. Barbara Lewalski, Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric, 388-426.

  31. See Horton Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans; Miller and Johnson, The Puritans, 1:41-55.

  32. See Ziff, Puritanism in America, 29; John T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism, 310; and John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, 1:liv, 79-81, though on several questions of exegesis Calvin's approach differed from what came to be the dominant “Puritan” one. Luther restricted the authoritative essence of the Bible to a smaller trostbuch within it. Samuel T. Coleridge, especially in Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit [printed 1840 and ed. H. Hart, 1853], later argued that it was best to think of the Bible as containing the true Word of God “in reference to its declared ends and purposes” rather than as constituting the Word of God “in all parts unquestionable” (68).

  33. The Hooker selection appears in Miller and Johnson, The Puritans, 1:304.

  34. Thomas Hooker, The Soul's Vocation, Doctrine 3 and Doctrine 7, in Salvation in New England: Selections from the Sermons of the First Preachers, ed. Phyllis Jones and Nicholas Jones, 85, 95-96; The Works of John Dryden: Poems 1649-1680, ed. Edward Nildes Hooker and H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., 1:53.

  35. The Works of Joseph Hall, 1:114. Theories of Protestant meditation have been examined in several studies, whose main findings are drawn together in Lewalski, Protestant Poetics, 146-67. See also Louis L. Martz, The Poetry of Meditation: A Study in English Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century, 153-65; U. Milo Kaufmann, The Pilgrim's Progress and Traditions in Puritan Meditation; and Ronald J. Corthell, “Joseph Hall and Protestant Meditation.” Informative studies of meditative theory and practice as developed in colonial America include two pieces by Norman S. Grabo: “Puritan Devotion and American Literary History,” in Themes and Directions in American Literature, ed. Ray B. Browne and Donald Pizer, and “Catholic Tradition, Puritan Literature, and Edward Taylor.” See also Ronald A. Sudol, “Meditation in Colonial New England: The Directives of Thomas Hooker and Ebeneezer Pemberton”; Louis Martz's older but excellent treatment in his foreword to the 1960 Poems of Edward Taylor, ed. Donald E. Stanford; and the illuminating account, with special attention given to Taylor, by Ursula Brumm, “Meditative Poetry in New England,” in Puritan Poets and Poetics, 318-36.

  36. Louis L. Martz, The Paradise Within: Studies in Vaughan, Traherne, and Milton, 16-31. The Augustinian traits in question are generally deduced from Book 10 of The Confessions together with several sections of De Trinitate

  37. Ernest B. Gilman, The Curious Perspective: Literary and Pictorial Wit in the Seventeenth Century, 234, alludes to seventeenth-century belief in the ability of wit to help repair the alienating effects of the Fall.

  38. Michael North, “Edward Taylor's Metaphors of Promise”; Parker H. Johnson, “Poetry and Praise in Edward Taylor's Preparatory Meditations.

  39. Such is likewise the conclusion of Johnson, “Poetry and Praise,” 92, and of North, “Taylor's Metaphors,” 15.

  40. Donald E. Stanford, Edward Taylor, 18.

  41. Karl Keller, “‘The World Slickt Up in Types’: Edward Taylor as a Version of Emerson,” in Typology and Early American Literature, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch, 175-90. Less theoretically, Karen E. Rowe, Saint and Singer: Edward Taylor's Typology and the Poetics of Meditation, 48, 118, 125, 248, offers many sensitive readings that expose Taylor's “clever wordplay,” “piquant humor,” playful manipulations, and effort “to insert himself humbly, nimbly, even wittily into the figural equation.”

  42. William Jemmat's dedicatory epistle to Thomas Taylor's Christ Revealed; Or, The Old Testament Explained, A2, A3; cf. Gordon E. Slethaug, “Edward Taylor's Copy of Thomas Taylor's Types: A New Taylor Document”; The Works of George Herbert, 58. As Herbert's expression suggests, Edward Taylor was not alone in perceiving the self-allusive texture of Scripture, an insight with precedent in Augustine's hermeneutics, among other places. Taylor was nonetheless unusual in the manner and creative intensity with which he exploited the insight in his poems.

  43. The practical significance of “one sense” hermeneutics is discussed by Kaufmann, Puritan Meditation, 27-41. On the Protestant assimilation of spiritual elements and figural extensions of the literal sense into the notion of a “compound sense,” see Lewalski, Protestant Poetics, especially 85, 121, and Raymond Anselment, introduction to Christ Revealed, by Thomas Taylor, viii, xx n. 6.

  44. The point is conveyed by the full title of the Preparatory Meditations, in which Taylor identifies his poems as written “Chiefly upon the Doctrin preached upon the Day of administration” of the Lord's Supper.

  45. Martz contrasts the Ignatian and Salesian temperaments in Poetry of Meditation, 144-49; Sudol, “Meditation in Colonial New England,” extends the distinction to an American context.

  46. Keller is the main expositor of this point in “‘Slickt Up in Types,’” though Lewalski's Protestant Poetics and Anselment's introduction to Thomas Taylor's Christ Revealed illustrate that Edward Taylor was not unique in seeking a personal appropriation of the types.

  47. For an exposition of how Taylor's confidence may be associated with “full assurance” according to Calvin's theory of spiritual growth, see Michael Schuldiner, “The Christian Hero and the Classical Journey in Edward Taylor's ‘Preparatory Meditations. First Series.’” Schuldiner believes that stages in Taylor's developing assurance can be identified quite precisely with poems in the First Series of Preparatory Meditations and that Meditations 1.40-41 mark attainment of the final stage.

  48. William Perkins, “Concerning Recreation,” in English Puritanism from John Hooper to John Milton, ed. Everett H. Emerson, 159-66.

  49. The hypothesis that a Puritan belief in cosmic predeterminations left no room for tension, drama, or paradox in Taylor's poetry is ably refuted by Sargent Bush, Jr., “Paradox, Puritanism, and Taylor's Gods Determinations.

  50. Martz, Poetry of Meditation, 62-64.


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———. “Puritan Devotion and American Literary History.” In Themes and Directions in American Literature, edited by Ray B. Browne and Donald Pizer. Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Studies, 1969.

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———. The Soul's Vocation. In Salvation in New England: Selections from the Sermons of the First Preachers, edited by Phyllis Jones and Nicholas Jones. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977.

Johnson, Parker H. “Poetry and Praise in Edward Taylor's Preparatory Meditations.American Literature 52 (1980): 84-96.

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Kierkegaard, Soren. Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Translated by David Swenson and edited by Walter Lowrie. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941.

———. The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard, edited and translated by Alexander Dru. London: Oxford University Press, 1938.

Lewalski, Barbara. Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.

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McNeill, John T. The History and Character of Calvinism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

———. A History of the Cure of Souls. New York: Harper, 1951.

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———. The Poetry of Meditation: A Study in English Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century. 2d ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.

Mather, Cotton. Bonifacius: An Essay upon the Good. Edited by David Levin. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1966.

Meserole, Harrison T. “‘A Kind of Burr’: Colonial New England's Heritage of Wit.” In American Literature: The New England Heritage, edited by James Nagel and Richard Astro. New York: Garland, 1981.

———. Seventeenth-Century American Poetry. 1968. Reprint. New York: W. W. Norton, 1972.

Miller, Perry. The New England Mind: From Colony to Province. 2 vols. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1939-1954.

Miller, Perry, and Johnson, Thomas, eds. The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings. 2d ed. 2 vols. New York: Harper and Row, 1963.

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———. The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1956.

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———. The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience. London, 1611.

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Lincoln Konkle (essay date November 1990)

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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 literary influences upon its composition, and the textual manifestations of Edward Taylor's purview and rhetorical intention. Scholars who have taken up the issue of Gods Determinations' generic status have agreed, for the most part, that it does not qualify as literal drama: “But a dramatic analysis—satisfying and informative though it may be—belies the fact that Gods Determinations is not a play.”1 However, if Gods Determinations is read without the narrow preconceptions of genre which continue to dominate academia even this late in the twentieth century, if it is read instead with a knowledge of theatre and drama broad enough to recognize that the Aristotelian aesthetic represents only one choice on the menu of dramatic styles (albeit the most common choice), then it can be seen that Edward Taylor, a Puritan writing in the second half of the seventeenth century, indeed wrote a play.

There are several reasons why it has been difficult for scholars to conceive of Gods Determinations as a play. First, as a literary artist Taylor is known to us primarily as a lyric poet, having produced two long series of preparatory meditations, as well as many individual lyrics and other works in verse. Gods Determinations is composed of thirty-six titled sections written in various meters, rhyme schemes, and stanza forms, but it hardly needs to be pointed out that in both ancient Greece and medieval Europe, as well as during the Renaissance, plays were written wholly or partially in verse. What previous studies have de-emphasized is that Gods Determinations imitates divine and human actions, and that dramatic dialogue is the predominant vehicle for representing those actions. Of Gods Determinations' 2,132 lines, 1,354 (or 64٪) are in dialogue form, 320 (or 15٪) are in monologue form (as soliloquy, prayer, and choral interlude), and 458 (or 21٪) are the narrator's exposition of events. Undeniably, Gods Determinations is an amalgamation of literary forms: drama, epic, lyric, allegory, sermon; my argument is that the drama genre subsumes the others.2

Another reason scholars have been unwilling to read Gods Determinations as a play is that they do not think it would be performable: “It could not conceivably be acted: narrative and dialogue are jumbled together; Taylor depends too much upon the titles of the individual poems; the central character ‘man’ assumes a constantly shifting role; and the speeches are tediously long” (Grabo 165). First of all, given that Taylor did not publish his poetry and was adamant that his family not publish it after his death, it is a reasonable assumption that he considered Gods Determinations to be closet drama. Even so, to classify a story written in dialogue as a play does not depend on the work's potential for stage performance.3 But even if performability were a definitive feature of all drama, none of the characteristics of Gods Determinations cited by Grabo preclude theatrical production. One can see performed today many classical, Renaissance, and twentieth century plays that contain all the elements Grabo thinks are unperformable.4

The infamous Puritan aversion to drama also makes it difficult to believe that a minister as conservative in matters of doctrine and devotional practice as Taylor was would have attempted to write, of all things, a play; however, this stereotype of the Puritan attitude toward drama is not altogether accurate.5 We know for a fact that university-educated Puritans including Taylor, read drama, as Donald Stanford has pointed out: “In grammar school [Taylor] had studied and perhaps acted in the Latin comedies of Terence and Plautus, and he had probably read various dialogues in Latin based on Bible stories.”6 There were also at least two Puritans who wrote dramatic works of which Taylor most likely would have been aware: Arthur Dent, an English Puritan divine, cast his best-selling devotional manual in dramatic form;7 and of course, John Milton, the most famous of all Puritan authors, wrote drama both early and late in his career.8 Finally, Taylor himself wrote, in addition to Gods Determinations, two metrical paraphrases of the Old Testament book Job, which is constructed mostly as a series of dialogues framed and occasionally interrupted by narration. In sum, there was ample precedent of Puritans appropriating drama for their own purposes to make plausible the present study's claim that Taylor chose to work in that genre.

The major reason scholars have been of the opinion that Taylor either did not write a play, or failed miserably in the attempt, is that their assessment is based upon a limited, monolithic paradigm of drama: “All the dramatic elements necessary for a play are present, but Taylor did not take advantage of them” (165). By this, Grabo apparently means Taylor did not assemble the elements into a play; however, if Taylor were working from an aesthetic of loose assemblage in which the parts retain a degree of independence while making up the constructed—rather than the organic—whole, then Taylor may have arranged his dramatic elements more artistically than Grabo realized.

The dramatic elements present in Gods Determinations are four major actions initiated by four characters (thus four candidates for protagonist): one, God creates the world and (assisted by his representatives Justice, Mercy, and Christ) salvages it after Man's fall; two, Satan tempts the elect away from Christ; three, the elect (“Soul”) seek assurance of election from the pious wise (“Saint”); and four, the narrator (an unidentified first person singular voice that speaks the prologue and narrates some of the action) strives to offer praise that does justice to God's greatness. None of these characters “hold the stage” long enough to unify the plot into one action. God and other divine agents exit after “Christs Reply”; Satan enters in “Satans Rage at them in their Conversion” and last appears in “The Third Rank Accused,” obviously functioning as antagonist to God and his representatives; Soul metamorphoses into plurality after Saint's sermon in “Difficulties arising from Uncharitable Cariages of Christians”; and though the narrator begins, interrupts, and ends Gods Determinations, it isn't always clear if the first person singular voice that speaks the segments praising God is a continuation of the narrator who invokes the Christian muse in “the Prologue” or if it is Soul. Granted, Gods Determinations does not fit the conventional notion of drama in terms of its plot construction and representation of characters, but in considering Gods Determinations' generic status it makes sense to draw upon the full range of dramatic theory and practice, for there has always been more than one aesthetic of playwriting.9

In the Poetics, which was still regarded as the definitive critical study of drama even as late as the seventeenth century when Taylor composed Gods Determinations, Aristotle favors the kind of play that features one protagonist, a single coherent plot, and—at least according to the Renaissance reading of the Poetics—a high degree of mimesis (i.e., verisimilitude) over the kind of play that has several protagonists, an episodic plot, and openly acknowledges its artifice. The less mimetic, more fragmented style of drama is commonly referred to by theatre/drama artists and scholars today as “epic theatre,” a term made famous by German playwright and director Bertolt Brecht, though he did not claim to have invented the concept or the practice: “From the standpoint of style, the epic theatre is nothing especially new. In its character of show, of demonstration, and its emphasis on the artistic, it is related to the ancient Asian theatre. The medieval mystery play, and also the classical Spanish and Jesuit theatres, showed an instructive tendency.”10 To clearly distinguish between the two poles of the dramaturgical spectrum, it is worthwhile to quote from Brecht at length:

Even by Aristotle's definition the difference between the dramatic and epic forms was attributed to their different methods of construction, whose laws were dealt with by two different branches of aesthetics. The method of construction depended on the different way of presenting the work to the public, sometimes via the stage, sometimes through a book; and independently of that there was the “dramatic element” in epic works and the “epic element” in dramatic. The bourgeois novel in the last century developed much that was “dramatic,” by which was meant the strong centralization of the story, a momentum that drew the separate parts into a common relationship … The epic writer Döblin provided an excellent criterion when he said that with an epic work, as opposed to a dramatic, one can as it were take a pair of scissors and cut it into individual pieces, which remain fully capable of life.


To briefly confirm Brecht's reading of the Poetics, Aristotle himself said “by an epic plan I mean a fable composed of many fables.”11

Brecht's reading of the Poetics in relation to both Western and non-Western dramatic tradition constitutes a history of world drama in which epic theatre—though always an alternative aesthetic—was nonetheless available to Taylor in both theory and practice if he had sought, as artists are wont to do, a precedent or paradigm after which to model his play. Although no direct evidence exists that Taylor read the Poetics specifically, it is quite possible that he studied it along with Aristotle's other works while he was at the university in England or America or both.12 From the Poetics Taylor could have derived, at least in the abstract, the form he needed for a specifically Puritan play, one that would suit the minister's didactic purpose and that—as a dramatic representation of Divine and human will and action—would not violate the Second Commandment.13

Taylor might also have learned about the kind of dramatic structure he used in Gods Determinations from medieval and renaissance plays which Brecht—or a scholar employing Brecht's anatomy of drama—would classify as epic theatre.14 Even if Taylor did not personally witness a theatrical performance, he might have known enough about the purpose and form of The Castle of Perseverance or Everyman from conversation or correspondence with those who had seen the plays acted or from the Puritan writings which described the subjects of their attack to have modeled his own Puritan morality play after them, as suggested by Nathalia Wright in one of the earliest studies of Gods Determinations' dramatic qualities.15

The dramatic from indigenous to the late Renaissance that best qualifies as epic theatre is the masque. Masques were most often court allegories and thus more abstract than mimetic in characterization, and their narrative construction was episodic, due, in part, to frequent interruption by songs praising the sovereigns for whom the masque was written and performed. However, the masque was not always a piece of decadent entertainment or propagandistic pageantry; it could manifest a spiritual theme as well, as did Milton's “Puritan masque,” Comus.16 In fact, Comus could very well have been Taylor's dramatic model for Gods Determinations. Although a close textual comparison might not result in enough concrete similarities to prove that Taylor was directly influenced by Milton's earlier work to any great degree, a number of analogies in character, action, and purpose do exist between the earlier famous Puritan masque and the later obscure one.17 If even pre-twentieth century critics described Comus in language similar to Brecht's definition of epic theatre—

Perhaps it would be useful to take Dr. Johnson seriously and ask if, as he called it, Comus is not “a drama in the epic style” … A drama written in epic style would first of all flow like a narrative poem, and secondly it would be a drama raised above the requirements of realistic decorum to a level of inspired, prophetic, or epic voice18

—then this much is certain: Taylor employed a dramatic style that was, so to speak, in the English aesthetic air before he emigrated to America.

Call Gods Determinations a masque, a morality play, or what you will; but if most plays are constructed in accordance with either the Aristotelian or epic theatre dramaturgy, it is the latter to which the only known example of New England Puritan drama belongs. An analysis of the formal characteristics of Gods Determinations in relation both to the tenets of Puritanism and to the specific rhetorical purpose inscribed in the text, as identified in previous studies, will demonstrate that Taylor's choice of the dramatic style that has come to be known as epic theatre was the perfect mating of form to content and intent.19

German drama theorist Peter Szondi's description of the alternative aesthetic made paradigmatic for the twentieth century by Brecht is especially applicable to the design of Gods Determinations:

The most successful of these Szondi calls “epic,” a term he applies to a wide range of experimentation of which Brecht is only one example. Such works point outside themselves, present a “microcosm representing a macrocosm” which is explained and set forth by an “epic I,” a creative presence that acknowledges an audience to whom this demonstration is directed.20

From the outset the narrator of Gods Determinations avows the quintessential audience for this Puritan “demonstration”—God. However, one example of where Taylor's play points outside itself and acknowledges its human audience, thus calling attention to its own artifice vis-a-vis epic theatre, rather than disguising its artifice vis-a-vis Aristotelian or fourth-wall naturalistic theatre, occurs near the end of “A Dialogue Between Justice and Mercy” as Justice and Mercy shift their references to Man from third to second person. That is, suddenly they begin to address the “Humble and Haughty Souls” directly. Mercy says, presumably to the discouraged half-way members, “Though simple learn of mee; I will you teach / True Wisdom for your Souls Felicity.” Justice says, perhaps to those full members who presume their election, “You that Extenuate your sins, come see / Them in Gods multiplying Glass: for here / Your little sins will just like mountains bee,” followed by this final tender appeal from Mercy: “My Dove, come hither, linger not, nor stay.”21 Is this just a slip of composition, Taylor lapsing momentarily into the direct address of the sermon, or is it the same kind of playing to the audience that occurs in such morality plays as Everyman and Mankind?

Prior studies have described Gods Determinations structure in a variety of ways,22 but none have analyzed it by the procedure modern actors, directors, and playwrights employ in breaking down a play's action into smaller units (“beats” being the smallest) by determining which characters embody the plot-driving volition. Using this method, Gods Determinations divides into two sections of supernatural and human actions, which, thus, might as well be called acts. In the first act, God and his divine representatives (Justice, Mercy, Christ) battle with Satan for the soul of Mankind until Christ's final appearance on stage in “Christ's Reply,” in which he exorts Soul to “fight on” (64), and Satan's final speech in “The Third Rank Accused,” in which he makes a last ditch attempt to waylay Soul. Following this scene, there are no divine characters, either allegorical or literal, to urge Soul on, and there are no more external sources of temptation and doubt. In the second act, beginning with “A Threnodiall Dialogue between the Second and Third Ranks,” what happens in the narrative is the result of Soul's volition (his desire for salvation and his nearly paranoid fear of presumption of election). Such a shifting of the limelight from the supernatural to human protagonists can be read as a manifestation in narrative form of New England Covenant theology.23

One can understand why Puritan lay men and women might be anxious about the destiny of their souls, given their Calvanistic beliefs; however, the New England Puritans, especially, found a way to humanize an impervious and sovereign God's predestination of the elect by means of a legalistic interpretation of the Covenant of Grace, as Perry Miller has discussed in his seminal works.24 In Gods Determinations, what Taylor offered his half-way members who were not assured of their election was a dramatization of the Covenant in action; or, rather, the dichotomous structure of the action of Gods Determinations is itself a representation of Covenant theology, which one Puritan understood as follows: “that God had done His part and it was up to him now to do his” (Miller 387). By arranging their respective actions earlier and later in the plot, Taylor dramatized both God and the Elect holding up their respective ends of the bargain.

Epic theatre also allowed Taylor to represent the Puritans' understanding of the analogous relationship between providential and personal progress by combining the panoramic scope of epic and the psychological close-up of drama—“a microcosm representing a macrocosm.” As Leopold Damrosch says of John Bunyan's plot construction in The Pilgrim's Progress, which exhibits many of the same formal attributes for concretizing Puritan beliefs as New England Puritan narratives, “the biographical subplot is conflated with the cosmological main plot, and this frees the self from unescapable anxiety about election. Heilsweg is harmonized with Heilsgeschichte, the individual journey of the spirit with the universal history of God's elect.”25 On the macrocosmic level, the plot of Gods Determinations depicts, in order, God creating the universe, mankind falling and the personified Man blaming it on his mate (following, obviously, the allegory of Adam—Man—in Genesis), Justice and Mercy devising a plan to redeem Man, Satan tempting and Christ encouraging the elect, and the elect making progress toward heaven as full members in the church. “Epic tends to confirm the order of history” (Damrosch 119), but historical progress was God's responsibility; the individual Puritan's duty was to concern himself with his own spiritual development one day at a time.26

Epic theatre effectively represents the microcosmic level of the Puritan purview as well. The episodic structure of Gods Determinations appears most obviously in the titles of the thirty-six segments which comprise it. However, these divisions do not always correspond to the units of action. A single scene between two characters may extend through several titled segments (for example, the six segments in which Satan tries to comfort and preaches to Soul); or several events may take place in one titled segment (for example, “The Effect of this Reply [by Christ] with a fresh Assault from Satan”). Another indication of the divisions of the four major lines of action are the following recurring conceits: for God—a courtroom debate and a royal couch to fetch the invited guests to a feast; for Satan (and Christ)—military battle; for Soul—a pilgrimage and flowers grown in a garden; for the narrator—the apprentice musician striving to play well. These extended metaphors occur too frequently throughout the play and identify the characters and their actions too exclusively in some scenes to be granted lyric status only.27 Each conceit represents progress on the human scale, but also relates analogously to the cosmic scale. “History is a narrative, but the narrative is built up out of timeless symbols” (Damrosch 62); surely vegetative growth, military battle, a pilgrimage, a coach ride and a feast, learning to play a musical instrument, even a courtroom debate are timeless symbols. Using the litmus test for epic theatre Brecht cited, one could disassemble Gods Determinations along these conceits, and not only would each one stand by itself structurally and thematically, it would also still express the macrocosmic theme of Gods Determinations in microcosmic form.

The episodic conceits in Gods Determinations also serve Taylor's didactic intention toward the half-way members of his congregation. Of the effect of epic theatre on the audience, Brecht says, “By means of a certain interchageability of circumstances and occurances the spectator must be given the possibility (and duty) of assembling, experimenting and abstracting” (60); in other words, the audience should be able to interact existentially with different aspects of the text. Taylor similarly invites the individual half-way member to respond to whatever metaphor of spiritual progress that will persuade her or him to become a full-fledged member of the church. He was saying, in effect, does it give you assurance to comprehend election as a courtroom debate and verdict? Do you want to see it as winning a military battle? As a flower growing? As an apprentice musician learning to play and praise? As riding in a coach to a great man's feast? However you see it, just be sure you do see it and come into full membership.

The crucial question for the consideration of Gods Determinations as a play is, in choosing what is normally the most public and mimetic of genres for his literary response to the crisis of the half-way covenant, did Taylor achieve dramatic effects, at least on the stage of his mind, that would not have been possible with other genres? The answer is yes. As both Colacurcio and Gatta have demonstrated, Gods Determinations is the most humanistic and empathetic of Puritan texts. Taylor achieves that relationship to his audience by the dramatization, however abstract, of not just the ideas of Puritan belief but also the emotions that accompany the attempt to live according to those beliefs. For example, In “A Dialogue between Justice and Mercy,” a personification allegory of contradictory concepts within Christian doctrine (if not within the divine nature itself), this exchange occurs:

I'le take thy Bond; But know thou this must doe:
          Thou from thy Fathers bosom must depart,
And be incarnate like a slave below,
          Must pay mans Debts unto [the] utmost marke
          Thou must sustain that burden, that will make
          The Angells sink into th' Infernall lake.
Nay, on thy shoulders bare must beare the Smart
          Which makes the Stoutest Angell buckling cry;
Nay, makes thy Soule to Cry through griefe of heart,
All this I'le do, and do it o're and o're,
          Before my Clients Case shall ever faile.
I'le pay his Debt, and wipe out all his Score,
          And till the pay day Come, I'le be his baile.


Taylor's choice of dramatic rendition over narration proves effective in this scene by vividly illustrating the doctrine that Christ is himself a divine personification allegory: “the word made flesh” (this scene dramatizes that the word is mercy). But the exchange between Justice and Mercy is not just point-counterpoint; it is, in dramatic form, a heated debate. The dialogue of these personified concepts is moving precisely because of the passion of their speeches, which manifest a slight sense of characterization. In order to reassure the doubting half-way member, Taylor dramatized not only “God's determinations” but also God's determination to redeem fallen Man.

The scene with which Taylor reaps the most benefits from the drama genre is “A Threnodiall Dialogue Between the Second and Third Ranks.” If there were any tone one would least expect to find in a Puritan text it would have to be farce, yet in this scene Taylor lampoons the too-humble half-way members of his congregation by representing Second and Third Ranks' exaggerated self-doubts in stichomythic dialogue:

There's not a Sin that is not in our Heart,
And if Occasion were, it would out start.
There's not a Precept that we have not broke,
Hence not a Promise unto us is spoke.
Its worse with us: The Preacher speaks no word,
The Word of God no sentence doth afford;
But fall like burning Coals of Hell new blown
Upon our Souls, and on our Heads are thrown.
Its worse with us. Behold Gods threatonings all;
Nay, Law and Gospell on our Heads do fall.
Both Hell and Heaven, God and Divell Do
With Wracking Terrours Consummate our Woe.
We'le ne're believe that you are worse than wee,
For Worse than us wee judge no Soul can bee.
We know not where to run, nor what to doe;
Would God it was no worse with us than you.
Than us alas! what, would you fain aspire
Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire?


The verbal slapstick continues, each Rank trying to top the other in laying claim to supreme unworthiness of grace. The choice of a gently mocking caricature of the half-way members, rather than a pulpit-thumping, Juvenalian lashing of those uninitiated Puritans for whom it had been necessary to devise a half-way covenant in the first place, testifies to Taylor's compassion. He implicitly acknowledges here and explicitly acknowledges later in the Soul-Saint scene that the Puritan way to salvation is hard. Taylor does not, however, apologize for nor deviate from the requirements of Puritan doctrine regarding church membership. A subtle cause of the half-way members' arrested spiritual development is revealed by this one-upmanship debate: their pride even in self-abasement. Again, the humorous affect and the didactic effect would have been reduced had Taylor chosen to narrate the conversation rather than to let the characters speak for themselves.

Taylor's use of comic techniques in Gods Determinations to uplift the spirits of his half-way members has been thoroughly analyzed by John Gatta, though perhaps he goes too far in his attempt to demonstrate tonal unity in Gods Determinations by reading humor into virtually every scene.28 What even Gatta has failed to acknowledge is that Taylor's choice of a dramaturgy which allows so much variation in tone, characterization, and action represents a sophisticated solution to the particular aesthetic challenges presented by his Puritan beliefs and rhetorical intention. Only a paradigm of drama which does not require homogenity of parts, such as epic theatre, accurately describes Taylor's technique in Gods Determinations.

If my attempt to settle the issue of Gods Determinations' generic status once and for all has been successful, i.e. if it can be agreed that Taylor's work can and should be read as an actual play which embodies the doctrines of the New England version of Puritanism, then—at the very least—any future references to Gods Determinations' generic status should have no quotation marks around the term drama. Of course, where there is literal drama, the question of performance invariably arises. Given that no record of a production of Gods Determinations exists, that public performance was precisely the aspect of theatre which Puritans thought violated God's decree against imagemaking, and that Taylor, as far as we know, was without exception a closet artist, any speculation about a staging or oral reading of Gods Determinations—even under the auspices of a dramatic sermon, of which a few examples are known and have been discussed by scholars—would be unsupportable.29

However, the probability that Taylor did not produce Puritan Epic Theatre does not preclude the possibility that in composition he intended Gods Determinations to be a Puritan Everyman, especially since his rhetorical purpose—to encourage the half-way members of his congregation to become full members—is so dramatically inscribed in the text, as Colacurcio's, Gatta's and the present study have shown. No absolute evidence can be found to support this speculation either, except that, as has been demonstrated here, Gods Determinations is—more than anything else—a play. Perhaps, then, it would not be going too far to suggest that histories of the American drama will have to be revised to give credit to Edward Taylor, whose artistic genius we are still learning to appreciate, as the author of the first play written on the North American continent.


  1. Norman Grabo, Edward Taylor (New York: Twayne, 1961), 163. Grabo's comments quoted here and elsewhere are representative of previous scholarly considerations of Gods Determinations' dramatic form in that they entertain the possibility that Gods Determinations is a play but then retreat from that idea, assigning Taylor's work instead to a genre more commonly found in Puritan writing. For other studies besides Grabo's which have straddled the fence on the issue of Gods Determinations' generic status, see Willie T. Weathers, “Edward Taylor, Hellenistic Puritan,” American Literature, 18 (1946): 18-26; Austin Warren, New England Saints (Ann Arbor: U Michigan P, 1956); Roy Harvey Pearce, The Continuity of American Poetry (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1961); Jean L. Thomas, “Drama and Doctrine in Gods Determinations,American Literature, 36 (1965): 452-62; Robert Arner, “Notes on the Structural Divisions of Edward Taylor's Gods Determinations,Studies in the Humanities, 3 (June 1973): 27-29, Karl Keller, The Example of Edward Taylor (Amherst: U Massachusetts P, 1975); John Gatta Jr., “The Comic Design of Gods Determinations touching his Elect,Early American Literature 10 (1975) 121-43; and Lynn Haims, “Puritan Iconography: The Art of Edward Taylor's Gods Determinations” in Puritan Poets and Poetics: Seventeenth-Century American Poetry in Theory and Practice, ed. Peter White (University Park: The Pennsylvania UP, 1985): 84-98.

  2. Most studies of Gods Determinations' generic status have resolved the issue by labeling the work as a literary hybrid, but the difference between prior classifications and the present study's is one—and it is an all-important one—of emphasis. Where Thomas describes Gods Determinations as “dramatic homily,” I propose “homiletic drama”; where Pearce and other scholars regard Gods Determinations as a “dramatic poem,” I prefer “poetic drama” or “drama in verse”; where Haims emphasizes the “allegory or emblem” form, I subordinate it as “allegorical or emblematic drama,” and so on.

  3. Most handbooks (for example, John Russell Taylor, The Penguin Dictionary of the Theatre. Baltimore: Penguin, 1966; Jack A. Vaugh, Drama A to Z: A Handbook. New York: Ungar, 1978; C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature. 4th ed. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1980) either do not define drama as a genre requiring performability or the authorial intention of performance; or if they do mention performability as a criterion, then in practice throughout the handbook they do not actually use “play” in that sense. I maintain that the term play should be applied to Gods Determinations because, unlike the more general terms “drama” or “dramatic work” which can describe novels, narrative poems, etc., play makes clear that Gods Determinations is a work in which action occurs in the present and is represented primarily in dialogue without speaker tags or description of characters' appearances.

  4. The use of a theatrical narrator to set the scene, bridge a span of time, report action which has occurred off-stage, etc. dates back to classical drama. Just as dialogue does not disqualify a work as a novel or narrative poem and make it a play, neither does narration disqualify a work as a play and make it something else. For example, in Our Town the Stage Manager's narration constitutes a higher percentage of the text than do the lines of the narrator in Gods Determinations, yet no one denies that Wilder's work is a play. The Stage Manager also assumes different roles in the story, and though some of his speeches are quite long, Wilder's poetic prose, especially when spoken by a gifted actor, need not be tedious. Both Brecht and Wilder have employed scene titles on cards or projection screens in productions of their plays.

  5. In Puritanism in America: New Culture in a New World. (New York: Viking, 1973), Larzer Ziff says, “Opposition to the theater was not opposition to drama but rather to the falsification to the point of obscenity of what was to be acted out by each man in his own person rather than by a class of men in assumed roles. Drama, indeed, as Wigglesworth and Thompson among others demonstrate, was of the essence of life” (168).

  6. Edward Taylor. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1965, 26.

  7. The Plain Mans Pathway to Heaven (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1975, reel 1376) reads more like Socratic dialogue than narrative drama, but Dent was aware of the similarity between his work and a play, as he explains in his “Epistle to the Reader”: “I am in a dialogue, not in a Sermon … For this Dialogue hath, in it, not the nature of a Tragedy, which is begunne with joy, and ended with sorrow: but of a Comedie, which is begunne with Sorrowe, and ended with joy.” Dent was writing at a time (1601) when Shakespeare and Elizabethan drama were at their zenith; it is significant, therefore, that he echoed the language of Aristotle's definition of tragedy from the Poetics, which was well-known in the Renaissance. The Plain Mans Pathway to Heaven even represents a human action and thus could be said to have a comic plot in that Philagathus undergoes “repentance, and true conversion unto God” (392) as the result of his dialogue with Theologus, a Puritan minister he meets on the road. One could not, however, make the same argument regarding generic classification for The Plain Mans Pathway to Heaven that the present study is making for Gods Determinations since Dent's devotional manual was book-length (398 pages), and was published in approximately 30 editions during the 17th century in a format obviously designed for personal use as a reference work (all but the last three titles in the six-page table of contents are discursive rather than narrative; a minimum of 20 of Gods Determinations' 36 segment titles describe actions rather than ideas, and Taylor did not write a table of contents).

  8. “Arcades” (1633), Comus (1634), Samson Agonistes (1671). Like Dent, Milton makes direct reference to the Poetics in his preface to Samson Agonistes.

  9. Among previous studies, John Gatta's discussion of Taylor's comic techniques comes the closest to identifying Gods Determinations literally as a play, but even Gatta could make the following statement only if he were working from a preconception of drama similar to Grabo's: “is it simply because Taylor lacks theatrical sense that so much of the work seems to be, at best, only half-way drama? … Yet it is possible that Taylor, aware of the crudity of his theatrics, is more often playing on the notion that his performance is nothing more than a comparatively inept staging of a very real and momentous drama … Granting this possibility, one finds an animating purpose behind the construction of dialogues and situations that may, on the surface, resemble shabby play-acting more than fully developed drama” (139-40, emphasis added).

  10. Brecht on Theatre, John Willett, tr. (London: Methuen, 1964), 312. Subsequent references will be cited parenthetically.

  11. Aristotle's Politics and Poetics, B. Jowett and T. Twining, trans. (New York: Viking, 1957), 246. As we shall see, Gods Determinations is a fable composed of many fables.

  12. In the preface to The Poems of Edward Taylor (New Haven: Yale, 1960), Donald E. Stanford says, “In his sophomore year [at Harvard, Taylor] reviewed Hebrew, Greek, logic, and Rhetoric” (xl-xli), and Harvard's reproduction of Cambridge's curriculum included “A smattering of Classical belleslettres” (xli). As noted by Michael Colacurcio, “Gods Determinations touching Half-Way Membership: Occasion and Audience in Edward Taylor,” American Literature 39 (1967): 298-314, “For Taylor, as for all Puritans, poetry was a branch of rhetoric” (313), and thus any study of rhetoric may well have included the Poetics. In The Curriculum at Early Seventeenth-Century Cambridge (Cambridge: Harvard, 1958), William Costello says, “Rhetoric, the art of eloquent communication, included, informally, history, poetry, drama, epistolary prose, classical geography, ethical dialogues, and readings in sacred scripture, in so far as these were the sources of ideas and the models of phraseology which the eloquent man must muster” (39). Later, Costello says, “As examples of student proficiency in Greek, one may turn to a series of commonplace books kept in Trinity. … All of them are jammed with excerpts from the Greek of Aristotle particularly” (63). As noted above, we know of at least two other Puritans, Arthur Dent and John Milton, who were familiar enough with the Poetics to echo the language of passages on tragedy.

  13. Lynn Haims notes, “In Gods Determinations we observe the struggle of the artistic sensibility to create within the confines of scriptural prohibitions against imagemaking” (85), and she also cites “The deliberately rough form of Gods Determinations” (96, emphasis added). Similarly, Roy Harvey Pearce says, “His Puritanism, like [his peers'], obliged him to put Art below Nature, and both below God, in the scale of being. Yet for that very reason, his Puritanism forced him to find—dare one say create?—an ‘artless’ art, one which in the hands of a master like him is art indeed” (54). Perhaps Taylor's obedience to the commandment to not hold up “graven images” accounts for his giving dialogue to every character in Gods Determinations except God, whose speeches are represented only through indirect discourse by the narrator.

  14. Although Brecht mentioned the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as periods exhibiting epic or instructional theatre or alienation effects, he did not cite (or his editor-translator did not include) specific medieval, Elizabethan or Jacobean plays he regarded as examples of the aesthetic. However, morality plays—with their obvious didacticism, their abstract representation of character and action, their epic and episodic narratives—are undoubtedly what Brecht had in mind. In the Renaissance, presentational plays in which the chorus or prologue figures addressed the audience and narrated action (for example, The Spanish Tragedy, Henry V, Pericles) and metafarces, heroic plays, or tragicomedies in which there were multiple, episodic, or disjointed lines of action (for example, Knight of the Burning Pestle, Tamburlaine, A Winter's Tale), while not qualifying as pure examples of this type, do make use of epic theatre techniques.

  15. In “The Morality Tradition in the Poetry of Edward Taylor,” American Literature 18 (1946): 18-26, Wright made the point that Taylor may have modelled Gods Determinations after morality plays, which, she claimed, were still being performed in the seventeenth century near where Taylor was born and raised. In “Drama and Doctrine in Gods Determinations,” Thomas counter-argues (453) that all such performances had ceased by the time of Taylor's childhood and that he wouldn't have seen them anyway since they were of Catholic origin. Again, the extremity of the stereotype of the Puritans as iconoclasts in their religion prevents an open-minded assessment of their art. Besides, scholars have observed traces of Catholic devotional themes and forms in Puritan devotional practices (see, for example, Charles Hambrick-Stowe's The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth-Century New England (Chapel Hill: North Carolina, 1982) 48-51).

  16. See M. C. McGuire, Milton's Puritan Masque (Athens: U Georgia P, 1983).

  17. For example, the plot of Comus does correspond in the abstract to the overall plot of Gods Determinations: “Milton's dramatic vision of life found vivid expression in the central device of the masque—the journey.” As Maynard Mack suggests, the masque depicts a spiritual pilgrimage: it is “clearly in some sense an emblem of the perplexity and obscurity of mortal life which constitutes God's trial of the soul” (McGuire 67). The journey or pilgrimage references in Gods Determinations occur less frequently and have less substance than other representations of spiritual progress, but there are at least six instances of the Elect or Soul described as being on a journey; for example, “At my journies end in endless joyes / I'l make amends where Angells meet” (67). There is also an analogous relationship between the main characters of the two plays: Comus to Satan, The Lady to Soul, her two brothers to Second and Third Ranks, the Attendant Spirit to Saint. Finally, certain scenes in the two works have similar individual actions which also have similar relationships to their respective overall plots. For example, scene five in Fletcher's plot summary of Comus (168-75), the temptation of the Lady by Comus, reads quite a bit like and functions analogously to the scenes in Gods Determinations in which Satan rhetorically attacks and tempts Soul and Second and Third Ranks.

  18. Angus Fletcher, The Transcendental Masque: an Essay on Milton's “Comus” (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1971), 148, 150 (emphasis added).

  19. Colacurcio was the first Taylor scholar to demonstrate that Gods Determinations is, in fact, an occasional work: “The implied audience of the poem is precisely the half-way member of the Puritan congregation” (299). For those unfamiliar with the crisis of declining membership in Puritan congregations during the latter part of the seventeenth century and the attempted solution the half-way covenant represents, see, for example, Chapter Seven, “Half-Way Measures,” in P. Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Cambridge: Harvard), 1953. In brief, a half-way member was a Puritan man or woman who had not publicly testified to the experience of converting grace in his or her life, which would signify his or her status as one of the elect entitled to full participation in the devotional practices of the church. John Gatta further established that in this one work, at least, Taylor did not merely write with himself or God as the audience.

  20. From Theorie des modernen Dramas, paraphrased in Marvin Carlson's Theories of the Theatre: A Historical and Critical Survey, from the Greeks to the Present (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1984), 430.

  21. Gods Determinations touching his Elect … in Poetical Works; subsequent references are cited parenthetically.

  22. In dramatic terms, Grabo noted (162) five acts and Haims (84) four. Other schematics of Gods Determinations'structure have included conversion morphology (G. Sebouhian, “Conversion Morphology and the Structure of Gods Determinations,Early American Literature (1981): 226-40), Christian paradox (S. Bush Jr., “Paradox, Puritanism, and Taylor's Gods Determinations,Early American Literature 4 (1971): 48-66), and the Jawbones image (W. J. Scheick, “The Jawbones Schema of Edward Taylor's Gods Determinations,” in Puritan Influences in American Literature, ed. E. Elliott. Urbana: Illinois, 1979, 38-54).

  23. Scholars acknowledged the presence of Covenant theology in Gods Determinations long ago, but they detected it primarily in expository passages and legal metaphors. For example, T. Johnson says in his preface to Poetical Works, Taylor “did not purpose to give epic effects to Chaos, Heaven, and Hell, but to justify Covenant theology by way of poetic exposition in highly wrought imagery” (20). My claim is that Taylor did purpose to give epic effects to Covenant theology, in part to justify it, but more importantly to reassure his half-way members of their election. For other comments on this, see Haims, Wright, Barbour, Keller, and Colacurcio.

  24. In The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard, 1954), Miller says, “They achieved this remarkable feat without dethroning His omnipotence, without circumscribing His sovereignty, by the plausible device of attributing the instigation of the deal to Him” (379).

  25. God's Plots and Man's Stories: Studies in the Fictional Imagination from Milton to Fielding (Chicago: U Chicago P, 1985), 119. Damrosch derived his title from a sermon by the New England Puritan minister, Thomas Shepard.

  26. As Damrosch explains, “A traditional Anglo-Catholic philosophy [sees time] as a coherent structure with an Aristotelian beginning, middle, and end. But Puritan thought, in its quest for the epiphanic moment and its suspicion of human interpretation, is committed to admiring the grace that rescues each separate instant from the void, rather than tracing the pattern that connects one instant with another in temporal sequence” (60).

  27. Addressing the genre issue, Damrosch also sees the boundary between narrative and lyric as nebulous: “The novel, far from occupying a position diametrically opposed to the subjective lyric, is in a certain sense its expanded expression” (13). One could substitute Taylor for Bunyan in the following statement and Damrosch's point would accurately describe the epic theatre design of Gods Determinations: “Bunyan's special genius is expressed in a union of emblem with mimesis that has as many affinities with lyric intensity as with novelistic breadth” (185).

  28. For example, I read “The Third Rank Accused” as a chilling portrayal of Satan's subtlety, not the “comic reduction from his traditional epic stature” in the utterance of “wry quip[s]” (132, 133) as Gatta characterizes it

  29. See, for example, Jean Thomas's general remarks (452-53) regarding dramatic aspects within the homiletic tradition; Charles Hambrick-Stowe's brief description (121-22) of a sermon Thomas Shepard preached as a wedding in which he, as minister, married the congregation to Christ, thus dramatizing the Biblical metaphor and Christian doctrine that Christ is the bridegroom and the church the bride; and Sargent Bush Jr.'s similar, though less radical argument than the present one, about Thomas Hooker's sermons: “Hooker, always the devout Puritan, plays the role of incipient dramatist, substituting narrative description for the actions and speeches of full-fledged stage creations. For the Puritans the imaginative, creative preacher could provide—probably without either his or his audience's realization—a substitute for other available forms of entertainment which for them were outlawed” in The Writings of Thomas Hooker: Spiritual Adventure in Two Worlds (Madison, WI: U Wisconsin P, 1984), 182.

Catherine Rainwater (essay date 1991)

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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 theory.1 Such holistic views of medicine prevailed in Edward Taylor's era (c. 1641-1729), despite the fact that the late seventeenth century was rapidly shifting away from an animistic cosmology, which stressed vital connections between matter and spirit, toward a Cartesian and mechanistic view, which posed few links between matter and spirit. Culpeper's and other hermetically based herbals were the primary sources of medical information during Taylor's lifetime, but the trend was increasingly to abandon the mystical underpinnings of the medical theory and to emphasize the practical, curative effects of the remedies upon the corporal “machine.” Indeed, most branches of “natural philosophy” were discounting their metaphysical dimensions and becoming modern empirical sciences. The abandoned metaphysical territories eventually became the exclusive provinces of religion.

Taylor lived during an age of numerous mind-boggling challenges to the scientific status quo; the new science often generated bitter disputes, not only between science and religion, but frequently among the proponents of the new science themselves. Many of these controversies derived from arguments over factual detail, such as, in astronomy, whether the moon emitted or reflected light. But generally, controversy centered around the relative acceptance or rejection of the medieval “vitalist” cosmology. Vitalism posited an animate universe of “correspondences” between macro- and microcosm, spirit and matter, nature and humanity. During the late seventeenth century, the Cartesian mechanical model of the universe augured eighteenth-century rationalism and began to make inroads into vitalist theories. Consequently, many scientific theories were constructed upon a shifting epistemological ground; proponents of these theories attempted to retain part of the religious and mystical foundations of knowledge, and yet to develop inductive, empirical sciences.

These and other intellectual disputes of the era received much attention at Harvard College in America, where Taylor matriculated in 1668. Indeed, Samuel Eliot Morison has shown that Harvard students, far more than their British counterparts, were encouraged to acquire the most current scientific information, which they favored over the ancient, authoritative views.2 For example, when the tutor of Taylor's class of 1671 required his students to read Physiologiae Peripateticae (1610), Johannes Magirus's outdated cosmological treatise, their response was to lock him into a closet.3 Infused by the new scientific spirit of the late Renaissance, the students complained that Magirus's work held no information “about the universe that Dante didn't know.”4 Indeed, as historian of science Herbert Butterfield has observed, the new science had challenged much more than ideas about the arrangement of the heavens; it had also “changed the character of men's habitual mental operations even in the conduct of the non-material sciences, while transforming the whole diagram of the physical universe and the very texture of life itself.”5

Taylor later deplored his part in the little insurrection of his class, but he did so less because he accepted Magirus's views than because, as a conservative Puritan, he regretted the disrespect for authority the students had shown. Beyond this respect for authority, Taylor maintained a nostalgic fondness for the old, aesthetically appealing ideas of order that Magirus's text represented, even though the text was no longer valid. Thus, despite Taylor's up-to-date knowledge, poems in the Preparatory Meditations often depend for their internal structure upon medieval concepts of macro- and microcosmic design. Other poems, however, especially in the Second Series of the Meditations, reveal Taylor's intellectual predisposition toward the new science that was fostered in Harvard's free academic environment,6 and that over the years he came to see as likewise aesthetically appealing. 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. Unlike some other religious poets of his era (such as John Donne in England, who complained that the new science had “disproportion[ed]” the “pure forme” of the universe7), Taylor never railed against the systematic destruction of the old cosmic diagram. Instead, his works often display a spirit rallying to the new scientific challenge to the design of the universe. Though a modest colonial physician and minister spending most of his life in the remote frontier settlement of Westfield, Massachusetts, Taylor nevertheless shows a progressive attitude toward change resembling that of the great innovators of his era. Announcing the advent of the “Great Instauration,” one such innovator—Sir Francis Bacon—remarked early in the seventeenth century: “I am certain of my way but not certain of my position.”8 Taylor displays Baconian confidence in the new scientific method even if, like Bacon, he is uncertain where such methodology might take him. Taylor's conservative Puritan vision repeatedly accommodates the revisions of heaven and earth that are now known collectively as the Scientific Revolution.9

Taylor came of age during this revolutionary time of scientific ferment and confusion. In some fields, such as astronomy, thinkers employed modern empirical methods; other fields, including medicine, remained medieval. In medicine, disputes arose between older theorists, inheritors of Galen, who believed in the humors, and the Paracelsians and post-Paracelsians, who applied new, but still not empirical, methods. These Paracelsians understood disease as the invasion of the body by foreign substances rather than as a result of humoral imbalances, and they advocated chemical cures, but they still insisted upon “spiritual” or “metaphysical” dimensions of the healing arts. This tradition proved stimulating for Edward Taylor as preacher-poet-physician, for as physician he interprets the physical signs of illness as spiritual signs. These signs are “read” by the physician just as biblical texts and poems are read. In his three-part role as poet-physician-minister, Taylor is always primarily an interpreter, who imitates the tripartite role of Christ as ultimate Physician, Embodiment of the Word, and Interpreter. Thus, language becomes one of the poet-minister-physician's essential tools. Taylor had a holistic understanding of illness and a holistic understanding of his three-in-one roles. In playing these roles, he wrote a poetry full of multiple meanings and complex puns. In fact, it is in light of the several roles that we can understand the nature of his verse forms, style, and underlying poetics, a poetics that always reveals Taylor's need to synthesize and reconcile disparate information. Perhaps ironically, it is owing to the uncertainties of Taylor's age that he was compelled so carefully to systematize and account for his own certainties.

If uncertainty characterized the age, so did philosophical and epistemological inconsistency. Butterfield remarks that “even the greatest geniuses who broke through the ancient views in some special field of study … would remain stranded in a species of medievalism when they went outside that chosen field.”10 Taylor's scientific understanding mirrors the inconsistencies of the day. His era was one in which more advances had been made in astronomy and mechanics than in any other field. Consequently, while Taylor sometimes reveals in his works a Copernican view of the universe, he also displays a variety of medieval views of other sciences, such as optics and chemistry, for example, which lagged behind in their development.

Another such scientific discipline late to modernize was medicine. Though some historians of science argue that, at least in the biological sciences if not in actual medical practice, a “revolution” occurred through the “chemical philosophy” of Paracelsus (Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493-1541), the anatomical studies of Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), and the physiological discoveries of William Harvey (1578-1657), Michel Foucault demonstrates in his study of the history of medical perception that modern medicine with its intense “rationality” and “empirical vigilance” has “fixed its own date of birth … in the last years of the eighteenth century.”11 Foucault also investigates the differences in medical discourse before and after the period of modernization and suggests some of the ways in which pre- and post-eighteenth-century medical vision derives from separate hermeneutical systems. Premodern medical vision grew out of the physician's assumption of a metaphysical relation between visible symptoms and invisible conditions (hence Culpeper's statement cited earlier: “a physitian cureth not only the body but the mind”); the modern vision, according to Foucault, stresses the accuracy of the trained physician's eye in reading the phenomenal signs—signs that are not of the disease, but that are themselves the disease. Although as early as the first half of the sixteenth century, Paracelsus and other physicians proposed “ontological” or nonmetaphysical theories of the sources of some diseases, Foucault reasonably concludes that only after the eighteenth century, as a general consensus, is there “no longer a pathological essence beyond the systems.”12

For Taylor, as physician and minister, such a “pathological essence beyond the symptoms” was always an assumed part of disease, which the physician-minister treated as a phenomenon of the spirit as well as of the flesh. Taylor died in 1729, several years before the “birth” of modern medicine as Foucault identifies it. However, he certainly witnessed the numerous controversies in medical science that some historians regard as “revolutionary” moments that, according to Foucault, culminated in its modernization in the later eighteenth century. Though medical developments in general ran far behind those in astronomy and mechanics, medical science in Taylor's day was no static or complacently medieval discipline. Sanctus Sanctorius (1561-1636) had drawn insights from mechanical science and invented devices for studying temperature and respiration and for measuring pulse rate; William Harvey applied to cardiology a variety of mechanical principles; Giovanni Alfonso Borelli (1608-1679) employed mechanistic theory in his study of muscular movement; and Robert Boyle (1627-1691), whose ideas were highly regarded by the Mathers, had incorporated mechanistic concepts into his corpuscular theory of the universe. During Taylor's era, subjects of continual debate concerned the validity of Galenic and scholastic medical theories as opposed to the “new medicine” or “iatrochemical” studies of Paracelsians, as well as to the ideas of those such as Boyle, who advocated a relatively empirical study of chemistry divorced from its alchemical background.13

In short, medical science, like the other sciences, was struggling with the impending epistemological shift to rational empiricism. Thus, Taylor was heir to myriad and radically disjunctive influences in all areas of scientific inquiry, both between and within the disciplines. Sometimes only incipient, and sometimes overtly present in all these disputes was the tendency for what Foucault calls the invisible “essences” to disappear from the scientist's purview. Despite Taylor's scientifically progressive attitude (and perhaps encouraged by the Cambridge Platonists who probably influenced him while he studied in England14), he maintains a unifying vision in his works in constant resistance to the “new scientific” tendency to divorce matter and spirit. Apparently, Taylor did not accept the need for divorcing matter and spirit, for when he reconciled the new data with Puritan theology, such data only reinforced Taylor's sense of the coherence of God's design.

Such a state of affairs could reasonably have led Taylor to produce a body of literary works marred by confusion, and, indeed, some of Taylor's critics see only inconsistency and incoherence in his art. However, other scholars have discovered significant unities in Taylor's thought and artistry.15 I intend to show how Taylor's overarching typological hermeneutic enables him to reckon with the confusion of his age; more specifically, I will demonstrate, through an analysis of Taylor's medical vision, how he developed a hermeneutic system that allowed him to employ the most recent medical concepts within the orthodox theology reflected in his poetry.

The identification of medical and ministerial roles had long antecedents, both historical and religious. Moreover, Taylor's dual role of minister and physician was by necessity a quite common one in early America. During this time, hardly anyone in the colonies had formal training in medicine, so ministers and magistrates frequently served as “physician, surgeon, and apothecary.”16 Benjamin Tompson's “A Funeral Tribute” (1676) to John Winthrop, Jr., suggests how deeply ingrained in the colonial imagination was this combined function of physician with magistrate or minister. Tompson depicts the colonies as bleeding patients aware of the loss of their Christian physician.17

Like his colonial contemporaries, Taylor lacked formal training in medicine, but he probably began to gather much knowledge while growing up in England on a farm in Sketchley, Leicestershire. Not much is known about Taylor's early life, but rural people of the time usually were their own physicians, and so knew quite well the medicinal properties of plants. One reason so few colonists had formal training is that in seventeenth-century England, medicine was not an established part of any university curriculum. Harvard College had no medical curriculum either, for the efforts of President Henry Dunster in 1647, and later of Jonathan Mitchell in the 1660s, to acquire medical faculty and materials for the school failed.18 Thus we know that Taylor could not have studied medicine at Cambridge or at Harvard. Whatever he knew from common experience, however, he clearly augmented by independent study and reading throughout his life. The books in his library included a number of medical volumes: John Woodall's The Surgeons Mate (1617), Joseph Galeanus's Epistola Medica (1648), and Nicholas Culpeper's London Dispensatory (1649), among others. Moreover, Taylor's friendships with men such as Samuel Lee and Increase and Cotton Mather provided a channel for the exchange of current scientific information as well as opportunities to borrow books, from which Taylor often copied long passages.19

Taylor read widely in all the sciences and tried always to resolve intellectual conflicts between science and theology without distorting science or Puritan doctrine.20 Taylor seemed nearly compulsive in his drive toward a unifying typological vision, unlike his contemporary and friend, Cotton Mather, for example; Mather apparently accepted a greater divergence between secular and religious life and seemed less preoccupied than Taylor with the dualisms of his era.21 Consequently, such works as the Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) sometimes propose a theory of earthly experience controlled by a constantly intervening Calvinistic God, and at other times exhibit a rationalistic stance heralding an eighteenth-century mechanistic view of the universe.22 For Taylor, however, all significant experience eventually came to fit into the Puritan typological scheme. At first it seems curious that conservative Puritan typology could accommodate new scientific information, which frequently contradicted theological paradigms. Indeed, Taylor's typological hermeneutic was drawn from the most conservative of exegetical writers, especially Samuel Mather (The Figures or Types of the Old Testament, 1683) and Thomas Taylor (Christ Revealed, 1635).23 But the great number of typological poems in the Second Series of the Preparatory Meditations reveals Taylor's steady development of just such an accommodating vision; over the years, Taylor more and more confidently interprets the new and strange phenomena of a revised Book of Nature as signifiers in a system circumscribed by a constant Book of God. Taylor's medical knowledge affords him one of many opportunities to read the signs of nature, and his unified vision prevails despite the “bewildering spectrum of medical … views” of his era.24

At the center of this “bewildering spectrum” of views lies an epistemological conflict: are the body and its ailments the mere outward signs of a spiritual condition, or are diseases mere malfunctions of the corporal mechanism that houses but does not “correspond” to the soul? In the medical disputes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we see the gradual demise of notions of correspondence between spirit and matter, an epistemological shift that Marjorie Hope Nicolson calls “the breaking of the circle.”25 Proponents of the ancient views of Galen, Hippocrates, scholasticism, and medieval alchemy found themselves at odds with the new views of Paracelsians, post-Paracelsians, anatomists, and chemists, who were rapidly transforming medicine into a science based on empirical observation and analysis rather than upon scholastic paradigms that posited knowledge of matter based on metaphysical assumptions.

The new medical theories were available to Edward Taylor from a wide variety of sources. Among these were medical compendia compiled by Daniel Sennert, Charles Morton, Nicholas Culpeper, and others. Books by Jean Baptiste Van Helmont (1577-1644), Robert Boyle, and William Harvey were also generally accessible. Taylor's notebooks contain passages from other well-known sources, such as William Salmon's Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (1685), Lazare Riviere's The Practice of Physick (1672), and Nicholas Culpeper's Dispensatory (1654). Taylor's “Meditation 1.4” reveals his knowledge of yet another herbal that he neither owned nor apparently copied—Gracia D'Orta's Coloquious dos simples e drogas e sonsas medicinas da India (1653).26 Like Culpeper's and other pharmacopoeia, D'Orta's herbal emphasizes the practical effects of remedies. Indeed, D'Orta repudiates ancient authority in the Paracelsian manner and declares, “I am only going to say what I know to be true.”27 D'Orta's attitude follows the example set by the authors of medical compendia and by the London College of Physicians, who in 1589 had advocated compromise in the disputes between ancient and modern medical theories.28

Taylor likewise seems to think in a synthetic, eclectic fashion. His works are replete with Galenic terminology, and they suggest that he knew the difference between Galen's and Harvey's notions about circulation; his works especially evince Paracelsian alchemical concepts. Although this slough of nomenclature could cause confusion, careful scrutiny of Taylor's work reveals that he maintains primarily a Paracelsian vision, which harmonizes well with Puritan typology.

The foremost harmony between Paracelsian philosophy and Puritan theology lies in their mutual acceptance of the “two book” universe: rational, careful observation of the Book of Nature, subordinated to proper insights derived from the Bible, leads to truth. Paracelsus himself was driven by motives as much or more religious than scientific, though he was an early advocate of the scientific method of empirical observation. His seventeenth-century followers were even more rigorously scientific in their approaches, though they too shared significant, if diverse, religious motives. The seventeenth-century Paracelsians included Culpeper, Van Helmont, Robert Fludd, John Webster, and John Woodall, among those who directly and indirectly informed Taylor. Besides the Culpeper texts, Taylor owned Webster's Metallographia: An History of Metals (1641), and the 1617 edition of Woodall's The Surgeons Mate, a widely circulated work that was expanded and reprinted twice before Taylor's death in 1729.29 Fortified by the many scientific developments of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, these Paracelsians surpassed Paracelsus in their knowledge of chemical properties of plants and metals, and they conjoined this knowledge with the older, Christian alchemical notions about the metaphysical “essences” of these substances.30

Though authorities on Paracelsian alchemy trace its origins in Platonic, Aristotelian, and Gnostic philosophy, the Christian tradition central to Paracelsian thought seems more particularly Augustinian; this feature of Paracelsianism largely accounts for its easy reconciliation with Puritan theology.31 The Augustinian notion of how God's Being pervades nature accounts for why the Paracelsians cannot properly be termed pantheists, even though they sometimes appear to be so. Though seventeenth-century Paracelsians were not a philosophically or theologically unified group, they variously defended “natural magic,” while they denied pantheism for reasons that Van Helmont explains throughout his works. His argument follows Augustinian lines in proclaiming that, although there is no gap between the corporal and the spiritual, nature is not divinely immanent. Instead, it contains something approximating a receptivity to, or even a yearning toward, the “Life Spirit,” which comes from God. Paracelsus himself had referred to the “archei” within the incipient forms of nature that are responsible for transforming “prime matter” (God's force) into “ultimate matter” (particular forms). These “archei” constitute that part of matter that retains a divine origin. Van Helmont later revised Paracelsus's notion of “archei” in a manner that precluded all arguments for a pantheistic universe.32 An Augustinian concept of divine presence that is not immanence underlies Puritan theology as well, and Edward Taylor's thought in particular.33 Taylor, who is no pantheist, declares in “Meditation 2.17” that “Being Being gave to all that be.” That is, deistic “Being” permeates nature—nature partakes of the order of grace, but nature is not divine. Moreover, when Taylor repeatedly refers in his poems to the “aqua vitae” that flows from God throughout all nature, he likewise refers to God's love (for St. Augustine, synonymous with Being) and recalls the alchemical fascination with water as the element pervading all matter.34

Considering this common thread of Augustinian philosophy uniting both Paracelsian and Puritan traditions, one can more clearly appreciate Taylor's ease in assimilating Paracelsian medicine into a Puritan typological scheme; his understanding of God's grace dispensed throughout nature comports with the Paracelsian notion of a non-pantheistic natural magic. As Taylor explains in the seventh sermon in the Christographia, “The Influences that flow from Christ are Nature's disposing influences. He Wealds nature as he pleaseth. … All the influences in naturall things come forth from him as to their flowrishing and glory. So all those Influences that actuate Nature Preternaturally, or not in a naturall way, are from him, Whether they are Contranatural [or] Supernatural.”35

Always maintaining this notion of the unity of matter and spirit, Taylor in his poems depicts the source of physical illness as spiritual malady, despite whatever immediate material causes seem apparent. Such illnesses yield to the pharmacopoeian remedies because these remedies are the vehicles of Christ's “disposing influences.” That is, they are ordained channels for spiritual healing through grace.

Despite some ostensibly Galenic terminology, “Meditation 2.67B” exhibits Taylor's Paracelsian medical vision at work within this larger, encompassing theological view. As usual, illness stems from spiritual sickness: “Consumptions, Fevers, Head pains: Turns. / … Lythargy … Apoplectick Strokes: / … Surdity, / Ill Tongue, Mouth Ulcers, Frog, the Quinsie Throate” and a gallery of other diseases result from “Ill humors” of the spirit. The speaker in “2.67B” several times refers to “humors”: “O! Sun of Righteousness Thy Beams bright, Hot / Rafter a Doctors, and a Surgeons Shop. / … So rout Ill Humors: And thy purges bring.” Though these references to “humors” at first recall Galen's theory, one must remember that Taylor owned a copy of Woodall's The Surgeons Mate, in which the author paraphrases and otherwise reports on the ideas of French Paracelsian Joseph Duchesne, who revised humoral theory within a Paracelsian context.36 Instead of an inconsistent use of Galenic and Paracelsian ideas in “2.67B,” Taylor's lines demonstrate his familiarity with contemporary medical texts, some of which synthesized old and new concepts.

Thus, we see that in this poem, as in all of Taylor's poems concerning medicine, disease is a postlapsarian condition responsive to “purges,” which Paracelsians, in contrast to Galenists, prescribe for ridding the body of invasive impurities and poisons. This notion of disease as the overt presence of foreign substances in the body rather than as internal humoral imbalance is the primary distinguishing feature between Galenic and Paracelsian theory. Paracelsus himself, in fact, like such Puritans as Taylor, equated the primary separation of nature and divinity—the Fall—with the “separation” of the body from health that is caused by an intrusive substance and that calls for purgation.

For Taylor, illness is spiritual in origin, and a true cure is a purging or clearing of the channels of divine grace between God and nature; grace flows through Christ (the ultimate Physician) to the human patient. In “The Reflexion,” for example, the speaker requests “Med'cine” to help clear a passage for grace to his soul: “Had not my Soule's thy Conduit, Pipes stopt bin / With mud, what Ravishment woulds't thou Convay?” Likewise, in “Meditation 2.68B,” the poet asks for a “heavenly Alkahest”—probably Van Helmont's coinage for the universal solvent in alchemy—to cure his maladies by filling him with grace. In “2.149,” the alchemical remedy reconciles spirit and matter: the womb of the Bride in the song of Solomon and the altar of the Church (type and antitype) are “basons” in which “Spirits Chymistrie” occurs.

In Taylor's poems, healing not only cures the patient but also allows for the glorification of God. As the speaker says in “2.67B”: “When with these Wings thou does mee medicine / I'st weare the Cure, thou th' glory of this Shine.” Christ the Healer's refining fire descends and cures, and then reflects back to glorify its source. Once again Taylor conjoins Augustinian and Paracelsian notions: Augustinian tradition anticipates the spiritualization of nature and humanity when the reception of grace brings completion to all that remains incomplete (cut off from its origins) in fallen nature; Paracelsian alchemy similarly looks forward to the gradual refining of the universe through alchemical transformation of matter.

“Meditation 2.67B” draws together Puritan theology and Paracelsian medicine in yet another way which demonstrates Taylor's synthesizing vision as well as his impressive verbal dexterity:

Doe Fables say, the Rising Sun doth Dance
          On Easter Day for joy, thou didst ascende.
O Sun of Righteousness; tho't be a glance
          Of Falshoods Spectacles on Rome's nose end?
          And shall not I, furled in thy glorious beams
          Ev'n jump for joy, Enjoying such sweet gleams?
What doth the rising Sun with its Curld Locks
          And golden wings soon make the Chilly world
Shook with an Ague Fit by night shade drops,
          Revive, grow brisk, Suns Eyebright on it hurld?
          How should my Soule then sick of th' Scurvy
          When thy sweet medicating rayes come in?
Alas! Sweet Sun of Righteousness, Dost shine
          Upon such Dunghills, as I am? Methinks
My Soule sends out such putrid sents, and rhimes
          That with thy beams would Choke the aire with
          And Nasty vapors ery where, whereby
          Thy rayes should venom'd be that from thee fly.
The fiery Darts of Satan stob my heart.
          His Punyards Thrusts are deep, and venom'd too.
His Arrows wound my thoughts, Words, Works, each
          They all a bleeding ly by th'stobs, and rue.
          His Aire I breath in, poison doth my Lungs.
          Hence come Consumptions, Fevers, Head pains:
Yea, Lythargy, the Apoplectick Stroke:
          The Catochee, Soul Blindness, Surdity,
Ill Tongue, Mouth Ulcers, Frog, the Quinsie Throate
          The Palate Fallen, Wheezings, Pleurisy.
          Heart Ach, the Syncopee, bad stomach tricks
          Gaul Tumors, Liver grown; spleen evills Cricks.
The Kidny toucht, The Iliak, Colick Griefe
          The Ricats, Dropsy, Gout, the Scurvy, Sore
The Miserere Mei. O Reliefe
          I want and would, and beg it at thy doore.
          O! Sun of Righteousness Thy Beams bright, Hot
          Rafter a Doctors, and a Surgeons Shop.
I ope my Case to thee, my Lord: mee in
          Thy glorious Bath, of Sun Shine, Bathe, and
So rout Ill Humors: And thy purges bring.
          Administer in Sunbeame Light, and Heate.
          Pound some for Cordiall powders very small
          To Cure my Kidnies, Spleen, My Liver, Gaul.
And with the same refresh my Heart, and Lungs
          From Wasts, and Weakness. Free from Pleurisy
Bad Stomach, Iliak, Colick Fever, turns,
          From Scurvy, Dropsy, Gout, and Leprosy
          From Itch, Botch Scab. And purify my Blood
          From all Ill Humors: So make all things good.
Weave, Lord, these golden Locks into a web
          Of Spiritual Taffity; make of the same
A sweet perfumed Rheum-Cap for my head
          To free from Lythargy, the Turn, and Pain,
          From Waking-Sleep, Sin-Falling Mallady
          From Whimsy, Melancholy Frenzy-dy.
Thy Curled Rayes, Lord, make mine Eare Picker
          To Cure my Deafeness: Light, Ophthalmicks pure
To heate my Eyes and make the Sight the Quicker.
          That I may use Sins Spectacles no more.
          O still some Beams. And with the Spirits fresh
          My Palate Ulcerd Mouth, and Ill Tongue dress.
And ply my wounds with Pledgets dipt therein.
          And wash therewith my Scabs and Boils so sore,
And all my Stobs, and Arrow wounds come, bring
          And syrrindge with the Same. It will them Cure.
          With tents made of these Beams well tent them all.
          They Fistula'es and Gangrenes Conquour shall.
Lord plaster mee herewith to bring soon down
          My Swellings. Stick a Feather of thy Wing
Within my Cap to Cure my Aching Crown.
          And with these beams Heale mee of all my Sin.
          When with these Wings thou dost mee medicine
          I'st weare the Cure, thou the glory of this Shine.

The poem corroborates Thomas Taylor's notion about illness as expressed in Christ Revealed, and through a pun on the word “Turns,” introduces Edward Taylor's unique interpretation of the Paracelsian doctrine of “signatures”—the theory that the best remedy for an illness is the one that, in essence or in literal physical form, most resembles the affected bodily part or the offending material agent of the disease. Thus, eyebright cures optical problems; orchid cures maladies of the male genitalia; liverwort cures hepatic ailments, etc.37 (This idea about the similarity between ailment and cure, incidentally, contrasts directly with the Galenic notion that a disease demands a cure made from a substance opposite in character to the malady.) Thomas Taylor's theory of illness is essentially a “like-cures-like” proposition: physical illness adumbrates spiritual affliction and offers the best opportunity for spiritual healing. Here Taylor recalls the generally held Puritan notion that one cannot be fully healed by Christ without first becoming very sick. Disease of the body leads in some cases to death and redemption or to conversion and salvation, both cures for all sickness.

In “Meditation 2.67B,” one of the many diseases that plagues the speaker is “Turns,” a brain disease causing dizziness. Given the Puritan concept of physical disease as possibly leading to spiritual salvation, one can see that Taylor's punctuation of line twenty-four and his placement of the word “turns” therein suggests that all diseases lead up to “Turns”: “Consumptions, Fevers, Head pains: Turns.” That is, all diseases, with their spiritual origins, amount to “dizziness” or postlapsarian disorientation. But they might also lead to “turns” of the heart, the most significant step in the Puritan conversion process. Disease thus provides an opportunity for salvation, as suggested in Christ Revealed; one “turn” cures another, just as in the Paracelsian tradition, an adeptly administered poison heals the sickness caused by that poison. God, the ultimate Adept, administers physical “Turns” that produce “turns of the heart.”

Some of Taylor's most fascinating poems in the Preparatory Meditations are those in which he draws together biblical types and Paracelsian medicine. His Rose of Sharon poems provide examples (“Meditation 1.4” and “The Reflexion,” particularly),38 as does “Meditation 2.61,” a poem in which the central emblem or conceit is at once the hermetical symbol of the physician—the caduceus—the brazen serpent staff of Moses in Numbers, the crucifix upon which Christ suffered, and the seventeenth-century place of physical healing, the surgery or “Doctors Shop.”

My Mights too mean, lend your Angelick might
          Ye mighty Angells, brightly to define.
A piece of burnisht brass, formd Serpent like
          To Countermand all poison Serpentine.
          No Remedie could cure the Serpents Bite
          But One: to wit, The brazen Serpent's Sight.
Shall brass the bosoms poison in't Contain
          A Counter poison, better than what beds
In Creatures bosoms? Nay, But its vertue came
          Through that brass Shapt from God that healing
          Its Vertue rode in th' golden Coach of th' eyes
          Into the Soule, and Serpents Sting defies.
So that a Sight of the brazen Serpent hung
          Up in the Banner Standard of the Camp
Was made a Charet wherein rode and run
          A Healing vertue to the Serpents Cramp.
          But that's not all. Christ in this Snake shapt brass
          Raist on the Standard, Crucified was.
As in this Serpent lay the only Cure
          Unto the fiery Serpents burning bite,
Not by its Physick Vertue, (that is sure)
          But by a Beam Divine of Grace's might
          Whose Vertue onely is the plaster 'plide
          Unto the Wound, by Faith in Christs blood di'de.
A Sight of th' Artificiall Serpent heales
          The venom wound the naturall Serpent made.
A Spirituall Sight of Christ, from Christ down steals.
          A Cure against the Hellish Serpents trade.
          Not that the Springhead of the Cure was found
          In Christs humanity with sharp thorns Crownd.
This Brazen Serpent is a Doctors Shop.
          On ev'ry Shelfe's a Sovereign remedy.
The Serpents Flesh the Sovereign Salve is got
          Against the Serpents bite, gaind by the eye.
          The Eyebeames agents are that forth do bring
          The Sovereign Counter poison, and let't in.
I by the fiery Serpent bitt be here.
          Be thou my brazen Serpent me to Cure.
My Sight, Lord, make thy golden Charet cleare
          To bring thy remedy unto my Sore.
          If this thou dost I shall be heald: My wound
          Shall sing thy praises: and thy glory sound.

Taylor bases “Meditation 2.61” on the story of Moses who, in Numbers 21:6-8, must deal with his ungrateful charges in the desert. They have complained of having only manna to eat, and their lack of faith and gratitude has brought upon them a pestilence of stinging insects. God instructs Moses to raise a brazen serpent upon a wooden pole. This serpent, looked upon with the eye of faith, is the only cure for the painful stings, which are the earthly manifestations of the original “sting” of Satan. Both Samuel Mather in The Figures or Types and Thomas Taylor in Christ Revealed devote considerable space to an exegesis of this brazen serpent type, and Edward Taylor's poem is clearly predicated upon their interpretation, especially Thomas Taylor's.

In stanza one, Taylor refers to the brass of which the brazen serpent is made, and begins to suggest a Paracelsian remedy for affliction that is also the scriptural prescription. The cure for the bite of Satan, the real serpent, is the sight of the brass serpent coiled around the wooden pole. Thus one serpent heals the ailment caused by another; moreover, this Old Testament brazen serpent, in addition to being the type for Christ who hangs upon the wooden cross to “cure” sin, is a version of the caduceus, the hermetical sign of the physician.

Taylor's next four stanzas account for how the cure works. The poem equates brass, a strong alloy of tin and copper, with Christ, God's stronger alloy of divinity and humanity. Brass in itself contains no “Counter poison, better than what beds / In Creatures bosoms” (grace is the counter poison in the heart, which can turn toward God); neither does Christ in his human form contain any such remedy: “Not that the Springhead of the Cure was found / In Christs humanity with sharp thorns Crownd.” Moreover, just as Christ is free of sin, the “Artificiall Serpent” is likewise free of the real serpent's venom. Both Christ and the brazen serpent are conduits of God's grace. God chooses to send “vertue” or healing power through brass rather than gold, and through his Son incarnate rather than through a purely divine being, because “lowly” instruments prevent idolatry; they focus human attention properly upon the source of grace. (Emphasizing this same notion in “Meditation 1.39,” Taylor refers to Christ as “Nails made of heavenly Steel,” an alloy “more Choice than gold.”) God's “vertues” are Paracelsian, for they are remedies made of the same substance as that which causes the disease: one serpent cures the ills caused by another, and Christ's assuming a lowly human form redeems humanity from its fallen state. God's cure is also the “Sovereign remedy,” for it ministers at once to body and soul. The “brass shapt from God” is the brazen serpent that healed Moses' charges in the desert and also is Christ, the “Sovereign” healer of all humanity.

Through a pun on the word “Beam” in the fourth stanza, Taylor yokes Old Testament, New Testament, and Paracelsian references. The “Beam Divine” is grace, the wooden pole on which the brazen serpent hangs and the wooden cross on which Christ hangs. Just as conventional seventeen-century religious poets often depict God's grace as descending upon “beams” from heaven, Paracelsians likewise regard the rays and beams of light from stars and heavenly bodies as bearing God's “breath,”39 or healing power. In the sixth stanza, this grace flows through the “eyebeams” into the physician-poet and his “Doctors Shop.” Here Taylor breaks the closed hermeneutic circle of conservative typology to suggest that, allegorically at least, earthly phenomena fulfill the typal foreshadowings in the Bible: “This Brazen Serpent is a Doctors Shop.”40 That is to say, the “beams” of grace descending through Christ, and figuratively through the caduceus that signifies the “Doctors Shop,” can heal the physician-poet's “wound” and reflect back to glorify their sources in the ultimate Physician. Thus is the microcosmic earthly realm uplifted and transformed through a heavenly alchemy.

Taylor's Paracelsian poems show us how his medical and theological visions coalesce. Moreover, they demonstrate his vision of himself as an instrument in the healing and redemptive process; his conception of himself as poet (user of words) and as reader-interpreter (of the Word) is synonymous with his sense of himself as physician, as reader-interpreter of the Book of Nature who looks for the earthly signifiers of spiritual conditions and cures. For Taylor, all signifiers (words and phenomena of nature) are contained within the Logos, which is Christ, who is both the ultimate Physician and the ultimate Interpreter.41 Consequently, language becomes one of the poet-physician's essential tools, since it can be another conduit of grace. Doubtless following Samuel Mather's advice to biblical exegetes to seek “Spiritual Wisdom to accommodate and apply Things rationally and spiritually,”42 Taylor begins “Meditation 2.61” with a request that the “mighty Angells” help him “brightly to define” the type of the brazen serpent. The speaker considers his “Mights too mean,” that is, inferior; however, he also makes a pun here on the word “mean.” He asks help “to mean,” that is, to define, to signify properly, in the manner that Mather advocates. One effect of the cure the speaker seeks is the brightening of his poetic powers, for according to Puritan convention, the language of sermons and religious meditation can at any time be “Wealded” to bear Christ's “disposing Influences.”43 Poet, physician, and minister, Taylor intends his words to act as conduits for the Word as healing grace.

“Meditation 1.7,” another of Taylor's Paracelsian poems, even more emphatically stresses the connection between Logos and medicine. Here Taylor depicts Christ as a distillery of “Heavenly Choice drugs” and requests grace and redemption from fallen speech to flow to him from Christ's Word:

Thy Speech the Liquor in thy Vessel stands,
          Well ting'd with Grace a blessed Tincture, Loe,
Thy Words distilld, Grace in thy Lips pourd, and,
          Give Graces Tinctur in them where they go.
          Thy words in graces tincture stilld, Lord, may
          The Tincture of thy Grace in me Convay.

In the final stanza, the physician-poet depicts himself as a medicine “bottle” to hold the heavenly remedy for postlapsarian speech. Moreover, he asks God to effect the final alchemical transformation by filling him with “Liquid Gold”:

And Dub with Gold dug out of Graces mine
          That they [the poet's words] thine Image might
          have in them foild.
          Grace in thy Lips pourd out's as Liquid Gold.
          Thy Bottle make my Soule, Lord, it to hold.

Though he is probably the last in the Paracelsian tradition, Taylor is one of the first of American literary figures who is also a physician. After Taylor and his writer-physician contemporaries such as John Winthrop, Jr., and Cotton Mather, among others, there are in the eighteenth century Benjamin Rush and two Connecticut Wits, Mason Fitch Cogswell and Lemuel Hopkins; in the nineteenth century, physician-writers include Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Gates Percival (obscure now, but honored in the 1820s as America's chief poet);44 and in the twentieth century, the number of writers who are also medical doctors is even greater: William Carlos Williams, Walker Percy, Lewis Thomas, Oliver Sacks, Richard Selzer, and Gerald Weismann. Poet Robinson Jeffers attended medical school. Of all these personalities, Richard Selzer perhaps most eloquently expressed the affinities between writing and healing. He speaks of the “rich, alliterative language of medicine” and remarks upon the similarities between surgery and writing, both delicate searches for what is elusive and ineffable. He sees the surgeon as a kind of “reader” of the “self-absorbed” and “revelatory” language of the body, and he believes, like the holistic physicians of the Renaissance, in something resembling an “essence” beyond the symptoms. For the physician-as-reader, “comprehension [of this essence] is instantaneous, despite the absence of what we call words to clarify it.” For the “reader” of the body, the body's language becomes “a detonation in the mind until the reader feels” what the other feels.45

Though separated by hundreds of years and different scientific traditions, both Selzer's essays and Taylor's poems share a mutual sense of the sacramental dimension of healing that is also a dimension of the writer's art. Such resonance suggests that despite the persistent efforts of empirical science to abandon the metaphysical territories that science once occupied, some central mystery of speech and existence prevents any such absolute separation. Exploring some of the overlapping concerns of religion, science, and art, well-known literary critic and theologian Walter J. Ong declares that all three of these disciplines attempt to “‘open up,’ or to ‘open out,’ to explicate and unfold” this central mystery.46 The tradition of writer-physicians who variously perceive this metaphysical link corroborates Ong's insight and suggests that despite the positivist and empiricist heritage of the twentieth century, “a physitian cureth not only the body but the mind in some manner.”


  1. A New Method of Physick; or, A Short View of Paracelsus and Galen's Practice; In 3 Treatises (London, 1654) is Culpeper's translation of Simeon Partlitz's Latin text. It is reprinted in part in F. L. Poynter's “Nicholas Culpeper and the Paracelsians,” in Allen G. Debus, ed., Science, Medicine and Society in the Renaissance, vol. 1 (New York: Science History Publications, 1972), 201-20. Culpeper's text appears as item number 147 in Thomas Johnson's inventory of Taylor's library; see The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor (New York: Rockland, 1939).

  2. See Samuel Eliot Morison's Harvard in the Seventeenth Century, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1956).

  3. See Francis Murphy, ed., The Diary of Edward Taylor (Springfield: Springfield Library and Museum Association, 1964), 37.

  4. Morison, Harvard in the Seventeenth Century, 1:215.

  5. Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science: 1300-1800 (New York: Free Press, 1965), 7.

  6. See Morison's Harvard in the Seventeenth Century and my “Edward Taylor's Reluctant Revolution: The ‘New Astronomy’ and the Preparatory Meditations,American Poetry 1 (Winter 1984): 4-17.

  7. See John Donne's “The First Anniversary,” in John T. Shawcross, ed., The Complete Poetry of John Donne (Garden City: Anchor, 1967), 279.

  8. Cited in Butterfield, Origins, 119.

  9. The following texts contain discussions of the Scientific Revolution of the Renaissance: I. Bernard Cohen's Revolution in Science (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985); Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press, 1962), and The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1977).

  10. Butterfield, Origins, 14.

  11. Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (New York: Vintage, 1975), xii-xiii.

  12. Foucault, Birth, 91.

  13. Authoritative sources on these medical disputes of the Renaissance include Debus's “The Paracelsian Compromise in Elizabethan England,” Ambix 8 (June 1960): 71-97; “Paracelsus and the Neoplatonic and Gnostic Tradition,” Ambix 8 (Oct. 1960): 125-66; The English Paracelsians (London: Oldbourne, 1965); Science, Medicine, and Society in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, 2 vols. (New York: Science History Publications, 1977); Man and Nature in the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978); Walter Pagel's The Religious and Philosophical Aspects of Van Helmont's Science and Medicine (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1944); Jean Baptista Van Helmont: Reformer of Science and Medicine (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982); Paracelsus: An Introduction to the Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (Basel: Karger, 1982).

  14. On Edward Taylor's “personal Platonism” and the influence of the Cambridge Platonists, see Willie T. Weathers's “Edward Taylor and the Cambridge Platonists,” American Literature 26 (Mar. 1954): 1-31. Butterfield remarks upon the Cambridge Platonists' resistance to the mechanical model of the universe (137).

  15. See Karl Keller's The Example of Edward Taylor (Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1975), 161-68. Among those making the case for Taylor's controlled artistry are Jeffrey A. Hammond, “Reading Taylor Exegetically: The Preparatory Meditations and the Commentary Tradition,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 24 (Winter 1982): 347-71; William J. Scheick, “‘The Inward Tacles and the Outward Traces’: Edward Taylor's Elusive Transitions,” Early American Literature 12 (Fall 1977): 163-76; and “Order and Disorder in Taylor's Poetry: Meditation 1.8,” American Poetry 5 (Winter 1988): 2-11.

  16. Ronald Sterne Wilkinson, “‘Hermes Christianus’: John Winthrop, Jr. and Chemical Medicine in Seventeenth-Century New England,” in Debus, Science, Medicine, and Society, 224.

  17. Cheryl Z. Oreovicz observes this in “Investigating ‘the America of nature’: Alchemy in Early American Poetry,” in Peter White, ed., Puritan Poets and Poetics: Seventeenth-Century American Poetry in Theory and Practice (University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1985), 99-110.

  18. Morison, Harvard in the Seventeenth Century, 1:283.

  19. According to Johnson, Taylor's personal documents include copied passages from Lazare Riviere's The Practice of Physick (London, 1672), translated as Culpeper's Dispensatory; and William Salmon's Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (London, 1685). Morison's The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England lists the many texts generally available in Taylor's era; William J. Scheick's “‘That Blazing Star in Joshua’: Edward Taylor's ‘Meditation 2.10’ and Increase Mather's Kometographia,” Seventeenth-Century News 34 (Summer/Fall 1976): 36-37, documents Taylor's exchange of ideas with the Mathers; and Theodore Hornberger's “Samuel Lee: A Clerical Channel for the Flow of New Ideas to Seventeenth-Century New England,” Osiris 1 (Jan. 1936), documents the Lee contribution.

  20. Articles on Taylor and science are these (and others cited above): Sister M. Theresa Clare's “Taylor's ‘Meditation Sixty-Two’,” Explicator 19 (Dec. 1960): 16; Joan Del Fattore's “John Webster's Metallographia: A Source for Alchemical Imagery in the Preparatory Meditations,Early American Literature 18 (Winter 1983-84): 233-41; Joel R. Kehler's “Physiology and Metaphor in Edward Taylor's ‘Meditation. Can. 1.3,’” Early American Literature 9 (Winter 1975): 315-20; Cheryl Z. Oreovicz's “Edward Taylor and the Alchemy of Grace,” Seventeenth-Century News 34 (Summer/Fall 1976): 33-36; William J. Scheick's “Edward Taylor's Herbalism in Preparatory Meditations,American Poetry 1 (Fall 1983): 64-71; “Edward Taylor's Optics,” American Literature 55 (May 1983): 234-40; and Lawrence Lan Sluder's “God in the Background: Edward Taylor as Naturalist,” Early American Literature 7 (Winter 1973): 265-71.

  21. Robert Middlecoff, The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728 (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1971), 9, 11.

  22. See Morison's The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England, 269, and Mason Lowance, Jr.'s The Language of Canaan: Metaphor and Symbol in New England from the Puritans to the Transcendentalists (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1980), 163-69.

  23. Karen Rowe has established Taylor's close familiarity with both these sources. See Saint and Singer: Edward Taylor's Typology and the Poetics of Meditation (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986), 28-29.

  24. Debus, Man and Nature in the Renaissance, 32.

  25. See Marjorie Hope Nicolson's The Breaking of the Circle: Studies in the Effect of the ‘New Science’ upon Seventeenth-Century Poetry (Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1950).

  26. “Meditation 1.4” refers to the “flowers of Garzia Horti,” which is doubtless a Latinized reference to Garcia D'Orta. Debus, in Man and Nature in the Renaissance, remarks that a Latin text of D'Orta's work existed (47).

  27. Debus, Man and Nature, 47.

  28. Debus, Man and Nature, 31-32.

  29. Debus, English Paracelsians, 99. Taylor's library items 10 and 52.

  30. Debus, English Paracelsians. See especially chapter 1.

  31. On Augustinian traits of Paracelsian thought, see P. Diepgen, “Was wissen wir von Paracelsus sicher und was bedeutet er uns heute?” Gesundheitsfuhrung 9 (Sept. 1941).

  32. See Pagel's Religious and Philosophical Aspects, 17-22, and Jean Baptista Van Helmont, 96-102.

  33. See William J. Scheick's The Will and the Word: The Poetry of Edward Taylor (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1974). He discusses the Augustinian backgrounds of Taylor's thought.

  34. The “aqua vitae” poems include “Meditation 1.10,” “2.60B,” and “2.75.” All references to Edward Taylor's poems are to Donald Stanford's The Poems of Edward Taylor (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1960).

  35. Edward Taylor, Christographia, ed. Norman S. Grabo (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1962), 215.

  36. See Debus, English Paracelsians, 96-98.

  37. See Pagel, Paracelsus, 138.

  38. Cheryl Z. Oreovicz discusses the alchemical traits of Taylor's Rose of Sharon poems in “Investigating ‘the America of nature.’”

  39. See Pagel's Religious and Philosophical Aspects, 20.

  40. Among those who argue that Taylor opens out or personalizes his typological system to include historical events and phenomena are Thomas M. Davis, “Edward Taylor and the Traditions of Puritan Typology,” Early American Literature 4 (Winter 1970): 24-47, and Lowance, Language of Canaan.

  41. See Scheick, Will and the Word, Chapter 4.

  42. Samuel Mather, The Figures or Types of the Old Testament (New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1969), 145.

  43. For the latest expression of this conventional Puritan notion of language in sermons, see Jonathan Edwards's “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” in Clarence H. Faust and Thomas H. Johnson, eds., Jonathan Edwards: Selections (New York: Hill and Wang, 1962), 102-11.

  44. See Robert E. Spiller, Literary History of the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 288.

  45. Richard Selzer, in Diane Allen, ed., “NCTE To You: Information, News, Announcements” College English 49 (Feb. 1987): 184-86.

  46. Walter J. Ong, S. J., “A Dialectic of Aural and Objective Correlatives,” in The Barbarian Within And Other Fugitive Essays and Studies (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 31.

Percy G. Adams (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6872

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 images from nature and music and everyday life and the Bible, his vocabulary in general, his “imperfect” rhymes, and the “dialectical” features of those rhymes, but almost nothing has been said about his great and lasting love of sounding language.1 This love was not just of individual words but, more particularly, of combinations of words that echo consonants and vowels in stressed syllables. Is it that we defend our neglect by dismissing the sounds in poems as less important than the meaning and imagery? Or is it that we are prone to read only with the eye and mind and not with the ear also? Whatever the reason we can quickly demonstrate that Taylor, at least as much as his poetic descendant Emily Dickinson, employed phonic echoes2—that is, consonant and vowel echoes—in profusion, often in great profusion, and, as many readers will agree, often with attractive results. In this respect he is close to his great British contemporaries Dryden, Pope, and Gay and quite different from Herbert, one of the least echo-conscious of great poets. In order to hear these echoes, however, some readers may need to tune down the dials on form, sense, and imagery.

Alliteration is considered the most easily recognized of phonic echoes in poetry and, with varying definitions, has almost universally been a more popular device than rhyme. Today it is best defined as the repetition of an initial consonant or consonant cluster in stressed syllables close enough to each other for the echo to affect the ear. As perhaps every reader of Taylor knows, alliteration was as popular with him as with any fine poet. While the examples are legion, here each line or part of a line has the same initial consonant or consonant cluster in at least three stressed syllables.

The Bare that breaths the Northern blast.


And Pavements of Rich Pearles, Precious Stone.


Whose sap a sovereign sodder is. …


Sins thick and threefold at my threshold lay.


… all Stuntedness, or Stately Stintedness.


Astonisht stand, my Soule; why dost not start.


My person with apparel thou prepar'st.


Its Cabbinet wherein it keeps its Case.


What flying Flakes of rapid flames of Love.


Here are two pairs of such consonants in each line.

Studded with Pretious Stones, Carv'd with rich Curles.


Thou Rod of David's Root, Branch of his Bough.


With Veans of Venom o're my Spirit Sprawle.


Or an initial consonant or cluster can run through consecutive lines, p, for example, occurring nine times in one stanza, six times in two of its lines:

Me pitty, pardon mee and Lord accept
          My Penny Prize, and penny worth of Praise.


Here is the same initial consonant in four strong syllables:

Though faith in firy furnace flags, …


Earths Golden Fleece, and Flourish, Fruits, and Flower.


Here bud sweet blushing blossoms, sparkling brave.


While none of these examples of polysyllabic or complex alliteration is by any means unique, almost any page of the Stanford edition of Taylor's poems has a number of alliterations of two syllables, some more than two, that seem to come instinctively to the poet. That is, the repetition occurs within a line or, normally, within any ten consecutive syllables and is thus audible to a sensitive ear. In fact, a page seldom has fewer than ten such repetitions, and page 62, not unusual, has twenty-seven, most rather obviously intended, among them

appeare-Pass, sentence-suits, Christ-Advocate-Cause-Client, books-abounds, pass-pure, Fret-flaw, lost-Laws, Satan's-suit-books-abounds, pass-pure, Fret-flaw, lost-Laws, Satan's-suit-same, plead-Pauperis, red-Arrest, Loads-Love.

These examples, as with all others given here, do not include Taylor's abundant word repetitions, of which there are six on this page, for example, “Respect-Disrespect,” “Honour-Dishonour.”

As alliteration has to do with the beginning of stressed syllables, consonance has to do with the end. Although still ambiguous for many students of poems, it is a term not used enough and should replace altogether the term slant rhyme, normally thought of as a substitute for end rhyme, as in Emily Dickinson's Locomotive poem, where in each of the four short unrhymed stanzas the b and d lines end “up-step,” “peer-pare,” “while-hill,” “star-door.” Because of the word rhyme in the term slant rhyme, readers tend to miss the thousands of consonant echoes at the ends of internal stressed syllables. Dickinson, for example, in the same short poem has ten other stressed syllables involved in final consonant echoes. That is, of her some sixty-four ictic peaks, eighteen consonate. Dickinson, of course, is only one major poet who knew how to work with this device. Browning, for example, in “Rebuckled the cheek-strap, chained slacker the bit” helps to stress the “buck-cheek-slack” peaks in his anapestic rhythm by repeating the final k sound. Taylor's contemporaries Dryden and Pope were expert with the device, as in Dryden's onomatopoeic line in which every strong syllable ends with the sound of z, the first such sound coming in the lexically potent syllable “buzz-”: “A buzzing noise of bees his ears alarms” (Georgics 4.801). The term consonance permits us to talk of this kind of internal echo that has become more and more popular with poets as rhyme has become less popular. It is this term, thus defined, that will appear in the third edition of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: “consonance is the repetition of the sound of a final consonant or consonant cluster in stressed syllables near enough to each other for the echo to affect the ear.”5 And Taylor liked consonance at least as much as Dickinson did later. Here he has the final z sound four times in one line, always in a heavy syllable:

                                                            … to face
Mine Eyes, and Nose, and Charm mine Eares with Chimes.


Here it comes three times:

Whose Rayes out Shine all pimping Stars that rise.


Here there is an effective three-syllable echo of “-nd”:

Thy hand alone that wound this Clew I finde.


Here final t is in five of six stressed syllables:

                                                                      … into raptures put
Of right delight of an Extatick cut.


Here it is in three syllables:

This doth unbolt the Doore, and light impart.


I cannot bite a bit of Bread or Roote.


Here l is consonated:

As pure as in the Well: not foule at all.


Cold Sorrows fall into my Soule as Steel.


Here, in a favorite line, Taylor has final n in three stressed syllables and l in two:

And reele the yarn thereon spun of thy Wheele.


Most examples of Taylor's consonance, as with his alliteration, are of course of two syllables and may be lost in a hurried reading, as with “black as inke,” “nest-lust,” “bran-yawn,” “scarce can toss,” and “brire-pare.” On the other hand, he often employed a kind of internal consonance that is easily heard because it accompanies alliteration in the same words, a phenomenon sometimes called bracket alliteration or bracket consonance, as with “Cast-Curst” (70), “aloft-lift” (126), “Rugged-Ragged” (192). The most difficult echo for a fast reader to hear, however, is the repetition of a consonant that comes at least once at the end of a strong syllable followed in the same word by one or more syllables, as with “Extatick cut” (305), “fine Phansy” (217), “Coale-bellows” (91). Such echoes are heard more easily in “Lord! read the riddle” (254), when the final d in “Lord” and “read” prepares us for the final d in “riddle.” The same preparation is made in “My Inke too thick and naught (though liquid Gold)” (181), where the k in “Inke” and “thick” readies the ear for the final k in “Liquid.” And, of course, readers with sensitive ears will interject, the vowel in “Inke” and “thick” prepares us for the same vowel in “liquid”—just as in a number of the examples given above, there is a vowel echo; or just as consonance is sometimes combined with alliteration, for example, in “charm mine eares with Chimes,” where the initial ch goes with the final z sound.

And that brings me to the third chief phonic echo-assonance, defined as the repetition of the sound of a vowel or diphthong, but not of a following adjacent consonant or consonant cluster, in stressed syllables near enough to each other for the echo to be discernible. That is, if the following adjacent consonant or cluster is the same, we have both assonance and consonance, thus rhyme ordinarily, of the stressed syllables, as in “ballad” and “callous” but not in “callous” and “bastion,” where the stressed syllables assonate. Partly because Taylor's poems employ end rhyme, or end-rhyme substitutions, he has even more vowel repetitions than he does alliteration. Nevertheless, he obviously worked—or played—hard at echoing vowels within the line. Considering such repetitions, then—where at least one vowel is not in an end-rhyme word—we find hundreds of striking examples of assonance, especially if we remember that with Taylor, as with Dryden and other British poets of his day, “Devil,” “yet,” and “get” were often spelled with i and were pronounced to rhyme with “civil” and “fit,” that words like “boil” rhymed correctly with “file,” that “Mudd” and “good” had the same vowel—not the modern American sound in “rug”—and that “beast” and “feast” actually rhymed with “rest.”6

Listen then to these rather obviously intended assonances. Here Taylor has the diphthong of “light” in strong syllables three or more times in a line:

Lighten the Eye which Light Divine did spill.


When thy Bright Beams, my Lord, do strike mine Eye.


On Bible Covers, shine in Types out bright.


Here it is the o of “so”:

That darkness gross his noble Soule doth tip.


That I am clothed in Holy robes for glory.


Here it is the vowel in “sit”:

… Divells, Wicked ones and sin.


Till when let this unskilful ditty skill.


And tilting stilts do stick within the mudd.


Here is the vowel of “set”:

To handle their weapons well and dextrously.


That ever Heaven held or ever kisst.


Oh! that I ever felt what I profess.


Here it is the popular vowel of “late” or “bait”:

Oh! let our Praise his Grace assaile.


Grace by the Aide of Justice wins the day.


A mighty Plague rag'd in Arabia.


… Assay / To brave the raging Waves of Adria.


Here it is the vowel of “sat”:

Up in the Banner Standard of the Camp.


Here is Taylor's vowel in “stuck” and “good”:

Stuck in the Bosom of such Stuffe as wee. …


A Wooden Wall with Husky Coverlid.


Here, three times, is the diphthong of “view”:

That they may view thy Spouses Beauty pure.


Each of a number of these lines, of course, includes alliteration or consonance—as with “Wooden Wall,” “rag'd in Arabia,” and “unskilful ditty still”—but Taylor also liked a line with a second assonance:

And that the Righteous, Gracious, Pious, Grave.


Scowl, Glout, and Frown, on honest poverty.


Hath every step with wealthy grace inlaid.


The whiteness, Sope and Nitre can bestow.


And on that same page 62, used above, there are some seventeen assonances without counting echoes in end rhymes. Of these, some of course are probably accidental, as with “Sergeants are,” but others—“Bribe-hide,” “Client-slide,” “State-make-case”—are probably not.

Once we see how much Taylor employed both assonance and consonance we can more easily understand, and explain, his “incorrect” end rhymes. Certainly we can again see why split rhyme is not a satisfactory term, for the great majority of his untrue rhymes are either assonance or consonance. First, however, we need to remember this: end rhyme is by no means a favorite sound device in all national poetries, as it has been, but is much less so today in French, German, and English-speaking nations. And with poets of England and the United States, both assonance and consonance have often been used as substitutes for end rhyme. That is true not just with Emily Dickinson but with twentieth-century poets such as Crane and Cummings and dozens of others. Theodore Roethke, for example, gives the first stanza of “The Partner” (in “Four for Sir John Davies”) six lines with end rhyme but ends the six lines of stanza 2 with “feet-fond-fate-ground-else-pulse”; that is, every end word is a stressed syllable involved in at least one phonic echo—alliteration of f in three words and consonance in all six (t, nd, s). Then in “The Gibber” (“The Lost Son”) Roethke's third stanza ends its four lines with “whined-cried-briars-die”—that is, with assonance. Why, then, do we speak of improper rhymes of other centuries?

With Taylor we need to remember also that some rhymes imperfect with Americans today were good with him: “one-upon,” “prove-love,” “come-Womb,” “tongues-belongs,” “perchance-advance,” “unfit-yit” (yet), and, especially, “advice-rejoyce,” “Winde-lin'de,” “flies-joyes.” And he correctly rhymed “Sweate-Heate” (205) and always—at least fifty times—rhymed “would” and “should” with words like “gold” and “hold.” Furthermore, as all readers know, certain kinds of “rhymes” imperfect today were imperfect but popularly accepted in Taylor's day, among them these: doe-so, pass-was, crave-have, “Taffity-Deity” (75), “Righteousness-Feebleness” (70). And even “yee-glory” and “play-Fly” were with him very close. Seldom, for an end rhyme, did he repeat a word instead of finding some kind of phonic repetition, as he did with “faile-faile” (423) and “define-fine” (198). It is a fact, then, that Taylor had few really bad rhymes, that he simply gave up, as with “come-defray” (253) and “fruite-hook” (344), for nearly all of his remaining “imperfect” rhymes are either consonance or assonance.

Of these, perhaps one hundred in the Stanford edition repeat the final consonant or cluster but not the vowel of the stressed syllable. Here, however, one must be wary of citing r consonance because in English then and now a following r makes two different vowels sound much alike. Taylor, for example, sounded “are” as he did “air” and like his contemporaries in England constantly rhymed air-ware-appear-far-hear. As a result, what to some of us may seem like an r consonance as we read him is really, at times at least, part of a good rhyme, as when he couples “were-cleare,” “are-fair,” or “far [pronounced ‘fur’]-cur.” At other times, as with “her-fire,” “more-cure,” the vowels were probably not sounded the same and so we have an intriguing kind of consonance. Other examples of end consonance are by no means ambiguous or startling today. Of these, some (“streams-Veans,” “beams-Stains,” “grain-beame”) may not be perfect consonances, but the nasal sound of m is so close to that of n that Taylor worked the near-identical sounds hard. Among the other, perhaps clear-cut, end consonances are “those-lose,” “fame-Rome,” “white-Weight,” “them-gum,” “disht-feast,” “salve-resolve,” “breath-Earth,” and two fascinating ones—”Antioch-Smoake” (494) and “bred-brudled” (103)—the last word having three syllables (brud-l-ed) and consonating the d twice with “bred.”

Thus we have left the end words in Taylor's poems that echo the vowel or diphthong but not the following consonant in stressed syllables. To be sure, as with Milton or Dryden or Pope, or any rhyming poet in English, perhaps 12 to 15 percent of all Taylor's rhyme words end with a vowel sound (bee-see, spy-I, you-due, display-pray, joy-glorify) and thus set a kind of precedent for substituting assonance for full rhymes. And Taylor has hundreds of such substitutions. He was often able to find two words that assonated and that also echoed the final of two or more consonants in a following cluster, as with “knocks-drops,” “deckt-fret,” “fix-eclipse.” And with dozens of other rhyme substitutions he employed stressed syllables with the same vowel followed by a nasal but not the same nasal, as with “fling-sin,” “presume-tune,” “him-sin.” In this group belong polysyllabic pairs such as “bespangled-inam'led,” where each stressed vowel is followed by a nasal and a weak syllable. As with n, m, and ng, the sounds of s, z and sh are close enough to each other that Taylor used them interchangeably after an assonance, as he did with “His-this,” “fresh-dress.” One frequent rule-breaker that he favored was an s added to one consonant or cluster but not the other, as with “paint-Saints,” “stands-demand,” and “worms-turn.” And then there is a great mass of unlike consonant sounds to go with assonance, as with “harpe-starte-sparks” in one stanza (491). All of these kinds of assonance substitutions account for the great majority of Taylor's imperfect end rhymes.

Far more important, however, than the phonic echo or echoes that Taylor employed instead of rhyme is the use he made internally of such auditory repetitions, not just for decoration or what Dryden called “music” but to aid the cognitive content and, at times even, to assist the rhetoric.

The first and, with him, favorite structural use was to let such echoes help stress the ictic peaks in a single line or in successive lines of iambic rhythm, whether in the stanza form of the Meditations or in his heroic couplets and other verse forms. Not only does every one of the early examples here help to show that fact, but Taylor's poems provide examples that are countless. In this one line, for example, “That for thyself is fit to set before” (308), the five ictic peaks are strengthened by the alliteration of f and s, the assonance in “-self-set,” and the consonance in “fit-set,” while “for” and “-fore” were probably pronounced alike. Sometimes we need a sound from the previous line in order to hear every peak echoing, as in “… whereby / I may have sight, and Grace in mee may blaze” (29), where the six peaks alliterate b and m and assonate five vowels. But Taylor was no slave to his rhythm, just as Dryden would not “have his sense a slave to syllables,”7 for in the line “Bleeds royall Wine: and grapes Sweet Raisens make” (106), although the five peaks are marked by the assonance in “royal Wine” and a “grapes-Raisens-make,” the words “Bleeds” and “Sweet” have at least a secondary stress as well as the same vowel. And many of Taylor's lines do break the normal iambic rhythm, as with this slow, heavily stressed line, “Christ backt the Curtain, Grace made bright the day” (123), where each of the seven stressed syllables is involved in an echo-alliteration in “Christ-Curtain” and “backt-bright,” assonance in “Christ-bright” and “Grace-made-day,” and consonance in “Christ-backt-Curt-(ain)-bright.”

And over and over, Taylor ran vowels and consonants through the strong syllables of two or more lines to keep the echoes going and the stresses stronger, as here:

Be Arkd in Christ, or else the Cursed rout
Of Crimson Sins their Cargoe will them Sinke
And suffocate …


Even if “Car-” and “Arkd” may be too far apart for the repeated sound to be heard, we can hear the echoes in “Sins-Sinke-suff-,” “Christ-Cursed-Crimson-Cargoe-cate,” “Arkd-Christ-rout,” “else-Curs(ed),” and “Crimson Sins … will … Sinke,” all in addition to the rhymes with “rout” and “Sinke.” Amazingly, such examples are merely representative for this poet.

Especially for Taylor's day in Britain, one important use poets had for phonal echoes was to stress the rhetoric, to aid the idea, for example, to parallel two or more grammatical or structural elements. Not that the twentieth century has not followed the eighteenth in this respect, as one can hear when Eliot alliterates and assonates the verbs that open two successive lines—“Licked its tongue … / Lingered upon …”—or when Pound begins two of his lines with a kind of anaphoric assonance—“I have played … / I have staked. …” And while Taylor never worked this sort of parison so hard as the masters Dryden and Pope, he has an astounding number of consonant and vowel echoes that aid the rhetoric. He balanced sounds in parallel verbs, as in examples given above—“Me pitty, pardon mee,” “Scowl, Glout, and Frown”—but then this was a favorite use for him:

I'll walk this Rosy Path: World fawn, or frown.


Then Wrince, or Wring me. …


That foule … and do defile the aire.


Accept of this, reject the rest.


Perhaps the best sounds in balanced verbs occur in a favorite poem where in one line there are six verbs, two that consonate and four that assonate: “I frown, Chide, strik and fight them, mourn and Cry” (63). He balanced nouns: “In Bulk, or Brightness” (106), “New Words, new Wayes” (49), “The inward Tacles and the outward Traes” (357). The nouns could be direct objects: “I'le give him Grace: he'st give me praise” (406). They could be predicate nouns or subjects of verbs:

Hence thou a Sinner art, or I a Saint.


Your Faith's a Phansy: Fear a Slavery.


Furthermore, Taylor often paralleled more than one grammatical element in a line or a series of lines. And here he left some evidence that he had read Dryden, for his line “Some seeming Friends prove secret Foes …” (399) repeats the four phonic echoes in Dryden's line in Absalom and Achitophel “… from seeming friends, and secret foes” (466). Taylor, in fact, liked to echo sounds in any kind of parison, adverbs, for example, in “To handle their weapon well and dextrously”; or pairs of like words in a line that has a caesura after the sixth syllable:

Studded with Pretious Stones, Carv'd with rich Curles.


          Thou Rod of David's Root, Branch of his Bough.


And these lines, loaded with balance and phonic echoes, would be amazing in the work of almost any other poet:

My Soile is sandy; brambles o're it grow;
          My Stock is stunted; branch no good Fruits breeds.


Not only does the first part of each line alliterate the same pair of like words, but noting that “good” as an ictic peak is indeed stressed more than “Fruits,” we realize that Taylor has every strong syllable echoing at least one sound: “Soile-sandy,” “Stock-stunted,” “brambles-branch-breeds,” “grow-good,” “sandy-brambles-branch,” “o're-grow,” and “stunted-good.” Counting no rhyme, we have in the ten peak syllables sixteen vowels and consonants or clusters that echo.

Poets everywhere and always have seemed instinctively to join adjective to noun with phonal echoes, and Taylor liked this kind of auditory linkage more than most poets, as any page of his poems will attest. Beginning, for example, on that same page 62 and going through page 68, one finds that each page has from one to five such combinations, with page 68 having “admiring style,” “silver pictures,” “Jasper Cask,” and this remarkable line—“And Loveliness in Lumps, tunn'd and enrin'de,” in which the adjective “tunn'd” assonates with each noun involved and the two adjectives have a distinctive consonance. Among Taylor's adjective-noun echoes, one can include at least twenty-five found in the examples given in paragraphs preceding this one. Wherever we look, however, they can be alliterations:

Loves liquor, Hells Horrour, Gyants Jaws, Rabble rout, China changes, Sparkling Spangles, fond Affections, empearld pill, Glorifying Glances, flowing flakes, perfumed face, Linsy-Wolsy Loom, stately stature, sinsunk Souls.

They can be assonances even more often:

Milkwhite Rivers, Silken Skin, Immanuels Land, Holy Soap, Bucking tub, Anger's Anvill, Sparkling Carbuncle, Natures operations, Saphire Battlements, Counsills Tower, Choicest Vine, poison Serpentine, ‘Bellisht Definitions, Paradisall joy, tilting stilts, Typick Dispensations, Clayey faces, Spouses Countenance.

They can occasionally be consonances:

Lapst Estate, Ecstatick cut, a worm eat nut, rotten heart.

They can even echo two phones:

Graces Lace, Crabtree Cask, Backward Bashfulness, a sovereign Sodder, Dish Delicious (asson. + cons.), Wealthy'st Web, blesst Bellows, Weedy Seed, Lilly Lips, Lumpish Lookes, tripping Slippers, Silver pillow, Glories Palace Doore, bottomless abyss (b allit. + s cons.).

These combinations can, in fact, frequently be intricate, astounding, with a polysyllabic echo, with more than one adjective, or often with more than one kind of echo:

My tell tale Tongue, thy footstoole Stepping Stone, The Worlds wild waves, Tabernacles Cap, Christs Antitype Isaac, Rich Quick'ning things, her sattin jacket hot (allit., asson.), her velvet hemlet high (allit., asson., cons.), bare staring bones, Pharao's fatted ware, a rich, fine Phansy ripe, Zions Pasty Plate-Delights (allit., asson. twice, s cons.), a little tittle tattles Clatter.

But with Taylor there are so many of these that the extraordinary almost becomes the ordinary:

This Bud of Civill, and of Sacred Faith

(154) (Adjs. allit., adj.-noun, asson.)

Upon God's Table Plate Divinely bright

(212) (adj.-noun. asson., adv.-adj. asson., t cons. of noun-adj.)

Infinities fierce fiery arrow red …

(287) (3 adjs. allit.)

One needs to remember, however, that these combinations should not be taken out of context. Here in two lines, for example, are three adjective-noun pairs that cross-echo with each other and with a verb:

My tatter'd Fancy; and my Ragged Rhymes
          Teeme leaden Metaphors …


That is, two of the pairs assonate, one pair alliterates, and “Ragged” echoes the vowel of “tatter'd Fancy” while, without anyone's arguing that it was intentional, “Met-a-phors” consonates with “tatt-er'd” and its second ictic peak alliterates with “Fancy.” Likewise, in “Psammitch's Labyrinth, (arts Cramping Task)” (180), not only does each adjective-noun pair assonate but “Lab-” cross-assonates with “Cramping Task.” Finally, here is an example of such echoes imbedded in an especially complex ear-appealing passage found in the Hooker Elegy:

To see thy Freckled Face in Gospell Glass:
To feele thy Pulse, and finde thy Spleen's not well.


Note first the vertical balanced assonance in the infinitives “see-feele,” the vertical balanced consonance in the noun objects “Face-Pulse,” and the alliteration in the parallel verbs “feele-finde.” Then note the noun-adjective echoes in “Freckled Face” and “Gospell Glass.” And after all that, listen to the total effect of “see-feele-Spleens,” “Freckled Face-feele-finde,” “Face-Gos(pell)-Glass-Pulse,” “Gospell Glass,” and “feele-well,” all to go with end rhymes that echo other words also—“Alas-Glass,” “well-swell,” By no means unique these two lines employ heavy echoes in rhetorically balanced words and in noun-adjective pairs but each echo is merely a part of what amounts to a crashing chorus of sounds.

Related in a curious way to Taylor's use of sounding language to affect the cognitive content of his poems is his now well-known love of punning, a love that had ample precedent in poets such as Aeschylus and Shakespeare. Puns of course depend on the repetition of phonic sounds, but with Taylor the echoes in his puns are nearly always related to the echoes around them. Some of his puns are partially hidden. For example, in “The Curse now Cures, though th'Griefe procureth groans” (32), a reader may become so occupied with “Curse-Cures” and “Griefe-Groans” that the pun completed in “procureth” may slip by. And in “Such joy as would an Adamant unjoynt” (35), the assonance in the one word “Adamant” and the attractive consonance of -nt perhaps cause the reader to hesitate a second before smiling—or frowning—over the pun on “joy.” But in “Full of it's Fulgient Glory of that Hall” (248), the l echo in “Hall” strikes us so late that we have already caught the pun and perhaps paused, thereby missing the effect of the three-syllable consonance.

Very often the play on words is not a pun but the repetition of more than one important phone in two or more words, as in, “Then halter up this Cur that is so Curst” (414), or when the Soul orders Satan,

Begone, therefore; to him I'le send a groane
Against thee drawn, who makes my heart his throne.


Taylor's play on the name of the great New England ecclesiastic Hooker is no doubt his most famous pun:

                    And no more fish he took
That thou callst home thy Hooker with his Hook?
Lord, spare the flock: uphold the fold from falling.
Send out another Hooker of this Calling.


Although the pun here, coupled with the abrupt shift in metaphor, may close the reader's ear to the nearby sounds, note that the “Hooker-Hook” pun alliterates with “home” and “uphold,” actually has the same vowel as “home,” and consonates with “flock,” all to go with the end rhymes, the internal rhyme “uphold-fold,” and the alliteration of “flock-fold-falling.” Perhaps one of Taylor's best puns comes in the last of these three lines,

Who'le slay a Friend? and save a Foe?
                    Who in my War do take delight,
Fight not for prey, but Pray and Fight,


where the pun is associated not only with the neat balance of “Friend-Foe,” “slay-save,” and “Fight-Fight” but with the end rhyme and the vowel echo that begins in “slay-save,” runs through “take,” and comes to a crescendo in the punning words “prey-Pray.”

Taylor, then, employed phonic echoes both for decoration and for rhetorical and cognitive effects, and although he did not create so many opportunities for onomatopoeia as certain other poets have done, he does have some most attractive sound-sense passages, all of which depend heavily on consonant and vowel repetitions accompanied by the proper lexical introduction. Just one year before Taylor's death, Pope in the Dunciad (1728) was echoing initial and final d and the vowel of mud and dull and Dunce for ugliness,8 as here:

How here he sipp'd, how there he plunder'd snug,
And suck'd all o'er, like an industrious Bug.

(Ll. 129-30)

In two similar and wonderful lines Taylor surely matched Pope's mastery of such “representative meter”:

Lulld in the lap of sinful Nature snugg,
Like Pearls in Puddles cover'd ore with mudd.


That is, the “ugly” u of “mudd,” which starts in “Lulld” and runs through five stressed syllables, is accompanied along the way by the alliteration in “Lulld-lap” and “Pearls-Puddles” and the consonance of d in “puddles-mudd.” Just as devastating, perhaps, is the line “Like Dunghill Cocks over their Conquourd, Crow” (33), in which the o of “Conq-” is pronounced like the u of “Dung-” to go with the harsh k sound of “Cocks-Conq-Crow.” A favorite trio of lines has the vowel of “ugly” in eight ictic peaks:

          This Flood's too stately to be rode upon
By other boats, which are base swilling tubs.
          It gulps them up as gudgeons. And they're gone.

(Ll. 134-35)

But the dominant vowel is surrounded by an astounding number of other echoes—“stately-base,” “rode-boats,” “boats-base,” and the harsh g of “gulps-gudgeons-gone.” Occasionally Taylor could fit the sound to the sense in a softer way, as in “Thy Bell may tole my passing Peale to Hell” (41), which, besides the alliteration of p, rings the l of “Bell” three more times. And there are a number of choice passages in Taylor's poems that can be called onomatopoeic. But, for many readers perhaps, extended analysis of such lines would go too far. In every such passage one can choose, however, repetitions play a major role.

Without insisting further on the notion of onomatopoeia, then, what I have said is that Taylor chose unusual, striking, sometimes idiomatic, often—as with Dickinson—startling words that, as he put them together, force us very often to call the results attractive and appropriate. Let us listen again to the sounds in some of these passages. First, there is this favorite line, “The little pinking Stars playing boe peep” (360), with its polysyllabic alliteration of p and its assonating adjectives. Then there are these two Donnesque lines,

The Poles may kiss and Parallels meet I trow
The Sun the Full moon buss, e'er I do so,


where the u of “Sun-Full-buss,” is not ugly because the lexical setting is anything but ugly, and then we also have the alliteration of “Poles-Parallels” and “Sun-so,” the assonance of “Poles-trow-so,” and the very noticeable consonance in “kiss-buss.” The “Poles-Parallels” contrast is used again in the famous short-line poem “Christs Reply.” This time the two key words echo better because “Parallels” is pronounced with three syllables and unlike the use above stresses the third syllable as well as the first, thereby consonating as well as alliterating with “Poles”:

The Poles shall sooner kiss, and greet
And Parallels shall sooner meet
          Than thou shalt harmed bee.


And here in a third passage, one with rough language more nearly unique in poetry generally than it is with Taylor: “The mantle I would make,” he says,

                    will run all Counter buffe,
To my design, and streakt be like a Snake,
          That's new crept out of 'ts garment, a slunk Slough,
Or have a smoaky Smell, and Choaky lodge
Within its Clasp.


Often slow and grating, these lines are made so by three pairs of successive stressed syllables, one pair—“streakt be”—assonating, another pair—“crept out”—consonating, and the third pair—“Slunk Slough”—alliterating and assonating, and the first word of each pair ending in a consonant that forces slow reading. But there are many other echoes also: “run-buffe,” “my design-like,” “smoaky-Choaky”; “smoaky Smell”; and “run-Coun(ter)—design,” “streakt-crept out,” “like-Snake-slunk-smoaky-Choaky.” It may be that these echoing phrases are the kind that some of us consider distinctively Taylorsque.

At any rate, in order to make the point conclusively, look at three more of literally a hundred memorable and typical passages. First, in these three lines

Mudd made with Muscadine int' Mortar Rich,
          Dirt wrought with Aqua-Vitae for a Wall
Built all of Precious Stones …

one will of course note the language that is Taylor's in “Mudd,” Muscadine,” “Mortar,” Aqua-Vitae,” and perhaps note that each line begins with two successive strong syllables. Then discounting any end rhymes, we hear the alliteration in “Mudd-made-Muscadine-Mortar,” “Rich-wrought,” “-dine-dirt,” the assonance in “Mudd-Muscadine” and “Mortar-wrought-Wall-all,” and then the striking consonance in the parallel constructions “Mudd made” and “Dirt wrought” as well as in “Wall-all” and in these five syllables—“Mort(ar)-Dirt-wrought-Vit(ae)-Built.” Second in these six lines, the poet, addressing “My blessed Lord,” says,

                    I fain would thee advance
          But finde my Pen is work'd to the very Stumps.
My tongue my Speeches tabber stick can't dance
          Unto thy prais as I would have it jump.
          My Drumb Stick thin of Dogtree Wood is made
          And is unfit to beat thy praises trade.


Here the first and third lines have fewer auditory repetitions than some, but as a group the six lines have them in abundance: “fain-finde,” “Stumps-stick,” “tongue-tabber-unto,” “Drumb-Dogtree”; “advance-tabber-dance,” “Stumps-tongue-jump-Drumb-Wood,” “Stick-thin-is-unfit,” “made-praises trade”; “fain-pen,” “advance-Stumps-dance,” “Wood-made-trade,” “unfit-beat,” and last,

Words are befould, Thoughts filthy fumes that smoake,
          From Smutty Huts, like Will-a-Wisps that rise
From Quaugmires, run ore bogs where frogs do
          Lead all astray led by them by the eyes.
          My muddy words so dark thy Deity,
          And cloude thy Sun-Shine, and its Shining Sky.


This stunning stanza would be remarkable with almost any poet but Edward Taylor. While stressing certain extra syllables, it has the poet's usual “unusual” language as well as four adjective-noun groups, each of which echoes at least one phone. And also, not forgetting the two end rhymes good today, it has so many phonic echoes that we can hardly count them: alliteration in “befould-filthy-fumes,” “Smoake-Smutty,” “Will-a-Wisps,” “rise-run,” “Lead-led,” “dark-Deity”; assonance in “filthy-Will-a-Wisps,” “Smutty Huts,” “rise-mires-eyes-by-by-eyes-Shine-Shining Sky,” “frogs-bogs,” “smoake-Croake”; and consonance in “smoake-Croake,” “Lead-led-Muddy word(s)-cloude,” “bogs-frogs,” and the z sound in “fumes” that runs through six other strong syllables to end in “words.” All of these echoes surely have much to do with the effect of Taylor's images in “befould,” “filthy fumes,” “smoake,” “Croake,” “Smutty Huts,” “Quaugmires,” “bogs,” and “frogs.”

In the privacy of his study, without help from an Addison or any other learned critic, usually thinking thoughts for a coming sermon, Edward Taylor for at least forty years wrote poems that, since their real discovery half a century ago, have intrigued and even enraptured us. In truth, some of them are not successful and others are attractive only in parts. Any reader can find certain of the Meditations and a number of passages in Gods Determinations that are hurried, unfinished, labored, or heavily doctrinaire. “Meditation 32” (Second Series), for example, has some of these shortcomings—unfinished lines, awkward word inversions (“them down pitch”). Nevertheless, even in the dullest of his poems, Taylor at times let his ear collaborate with his mind and his emotions. For example, while the poems in Gods Determinations have frequently been called less attractive than the Meditations, they can be brought to life with fine images and sounding lines. “The Effects of Mans Apostasy” is one poem that will probably never be chosen to represent the poet's best work, and yet in it we are suddenly confronted with “Do scale the outworks where there's Scarce a Scout” (389), a line that may not save the poem but a line that reminds us of Taylor's penchant for auditory adornment. “Mans Perplexity when called to an account” is undoubtedly much more successful, perhaps because of the long “tenant-landlord” metaphor at the end, perhaps also because half of the thirty-two lines appeal to the ear, as in

          He on his skirts with Guilt, and Filth out peeps,
With Pallid Pannick Fear upon his Cheeks,
With Trembling joynts, and Quiverring Lips, doth quake.


Surely, even out of context, such images cloathed in such ear appealing phrases should cause any reader to react with pleasure. And while one can select half a dozen lines that need to be revised in “An Extasy of Joy let in by this Reply returned in Admiration,” this poem from Gods Determinations may be as beautiful as any of the Meditations, this stanza being typical, both in imagery and sound:

If all the Earthy Mass were rambd in Sacks
          And saddled on an Emmet small,
Its Load were light unto those packs
          Which Sins do bring on all.


It is this kind of sense-appealing and ear-appealing language that the maker Taylor received as inspiration when he prayed God's angels to pluck from their “Wings a Quill. / Make me a pen thereof” in order, he begged, with phonal echoes sounding,

To treat this Theme, more rich than Rubies bright.
My muddy Inke, and Cloudy fancy dark,
Will dull its glory, lacking highest Art.



  1. For years I have wanted to do this essay on Taylor. Occupied with other demands on my time, however, I have been forced to postpone the confession of my love affair with his poems. Now, at last, comes the inspiration offered by this Festschrift for my great friend Donald Stanford, who has done so much for the poems of Taylor.

    Note that I am avoiding the term musical for poetic language because it has so often been attacked, best perhaps by Calvin Brown. Nevertheless, many poets have not only used the term but loved to read their sounding poems aloud—from Milton and Tennyson and Hopkins to the dozens of our contemporaries who read publicly or have their readings taped. For only three in our century who have found “music” in poems, Empson called Virgil “most melodious,” Pound talked of the “musical property” that directs a poet's meaning, and Aiken wanted “musical effects.” For these and many related examples, see my Graces of Harmony: Alliteration, Assonance, and Consonance in Eighteenth-Century Poetry (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1977).

  2. I am using the word phone and not phoneme, phonic or phonal and not phonemic because, as Roger Brown is only one to explain, “what we think of as vowels and consonants are not single invariant sounds but rather categories of sounds (phones)” while “the phoneme is often called the smallest unit of speech that ‘makes a difference’ to a listener or speaker. … Phonetic transcription is a culture-free system for recording any speech. It does not take account of all the physical differences that are significant in any language” (Words and Things [Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1925], 22ff). Phonemic symbols are placed between slashes and phonetic symbols are placed within brackets. In this essay I have been able to avoid the symbols.

  3. Each quotation in this essay is located by page number in the Stanford edition of Taylor's poems (The Poems of Edward Taylor [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960]).

  4. Although some poets seem to have been unaware of the practice, an initial cluster beginning with s is normally said to alliterate only with a like cluster. In this line, then, the s of Soule is not heard as alliterating with “-stonisht-stand-start.”

  5. The question of where a stressed symbol starts or ends is sometimes difficult to answer. See Graces of Harmony, 211-12. Here the reader's or speaker's ear is, at times, the criterion, for othopoesits do not always agree. For example, most of us have no trouble hearing the final l in “valley lill-ies” but purists may argue over the d in “moody madness” or the k in “vocal oak.” I have tried to avoid examples of Taylor's consonant repetitions that may not be the best “consonance,” even though most ears may very well hear the end sounds repeated.

  6. For a long essay on late-seventeenth-century British pronunciations of vowels and diphthongs, see Graces of Harmony, 199-211, which is heavily dependent on H. C. Wyld (Studies in English Rhymes from Surrey to Pope [London: J. Murray, 1923]), E. J. Dobson (English Pronunciation: 1500-1700, 2 vols. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957]), and Helge Kokeritz (Shakespeare's Pronunciation [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953]). See also the essay by Gene Russell in the introduction to his Concordance to the Poems of Edward Taylor (Washington, D.C.: Microcard Editions, 1973). Fortunately one can make the point about Taylor's assonance without becoming overly involved in a discussion of how he pronounced his vowels, partly because he is often obviously echoing a vowel no matter how he pronounced it.

  7. Preface to Tyrranic Love (1670), l. 141.

  8. See Graces of Harmony, 109-11.

Ivy Schweitzer (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6256

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.]


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 brass in Heart I bee.
          I Feare my Touchstone touches when I try
          Mee, and my Counted Gold too overly.
Am I new minted by the Stamp indeed?
          Mine Eyes are dim; I cannot clearly see.
Be thou my Spectacles that I may read
          Thine Image, and Inscription stampt on mee.
          If thy bright Image do upon me stand
          I am a Golden Angell in thy hand.
Lord, make my Soule thy Plate: thine Image bright
          Within the Circle of the same enfoile.
And on its brims in golden Letters write
          Thy Superscription in an Holy style.
          Then I shall be thy Money, thou my Hord:
          Let me thy Angell bee, bee thou my Lord.

Edward Taylor has frequently been compared to George Herbert. His poetic imagery and some of his poetic strategies suggest at least the influence of Herbert and at most a continuous tradition in seventeenth-century religious lyric and Protestant poetics.1 Like Herbert, he is concerned with the question, “What can I do to be saved?” in a world where God has done everything. According to Stanley Fish, Herbert discovers that he can do “Nothing” but let go, thereby undoing the humanly created distinctions that separate him from God: “The result is a poetics of tension, reflecting a continuing dialectic between an egocentric vision which believes in, and is sustained by, the distinctions it creates, and the relentless pressure of a resolving and dissolving insight.”2 In this grand battle of wills, all Herbert can do to be saved turns on an inversion of the very meaning of the verb “do.” He can only will himself to be without will, a paradoxical act. Edward Taylor, writing in the New World from a similarly Puritan perspective, displays a comparable “poetics of tension” which this paper examines. Taylor echoes Herbert's poems, “Clasping of Hands” and “The Holdfast,” when he meditates on the passage in John 15.5, “Without me ye can do nothing,” and finds “Our Undo-Doing can't undo, its true / Wee can't our Souls, and things undone, renew.” Thus, he prays before receiving the sacrament of the Supper, “Without thee I can nothing do, Dispense, Thyself to me, and all things thine are mine” (“II.35,” 41-2; 56-7). Although both answer the question “What can I do if you have done everything?” with an imitatio Christi, Herbert finds a sacrificial model in the Crucifixion, as demonstrated in poems like “The Crosse,”3 while Taylor finds his model in the Incarnation, in the semiological system of sacramental worship.4

For Taylor, sacramental worship and poetics come about in response to the belief shared by all Puritans “that there was an irreducible difference between the visible and the invisible world”.5 The Fall, that single willful act of disobedience, produced an ontological abyss between God and man that rendered human faculties inadequate for the comprehension of God's will as it is manifested in his creation. Neither the senses nor unaided reason could read the Book of Nature. But the Puritans also believed that God, in his mercy, would redeem—that is—reunite with those predestined for salvation, and thus provided them with two bridges crossing the gulf that separates human and divine: the divine revelation of his will in the scriptures, and his only son, Christ. The two hundred and fifteen Meditations Taylor composed between 1680 and 1725 were all written, as the title of the two series indicates, “before my approach to the Lord's Supper.”6 Sacramental worship based in Christology, and poetic activity as a form of imitatio Christi, are inextricably bound for Taylor. While other Puritan divines saw in the Lord's Supper's divinely instituted relation among words, things, and their spiritual significance a model for all legitimate poetic tropes,7 Taylor found in its semiology a dialectical model for selfhood by which he could be present but absent in the related processes of writing and regeneration.

Taylor regarded sacramental worship as a system of analogical signs in which natural objects (the sacramental elements of bread and wine) are allowed by divine fiat to signify spiritually real objects (the body and blood of Christ). The relation of signs to what they signify has been set up by God to accommodate the fallen senses which otherwise, as he tells his Westfield congregation, “could arrive at no knowledge of supernatural things, for we are not able to see above naturals.”8 Thus natural analogies or material signs like the bread and wine of the Supper are necessary for our comprehension, however, imperfect, of spiritual truths. In other words, spiritual knowledge or knowledge of the divine cannot be unmediated. The bread must be chewed and swallowed, the wine tasted and drunk, not just to signify Christ's suffering, but to effectively consume him and nourish the soul (cf. “II.104,” 49-50). In this transaction, however, the bread and wine remain essentially unchanged and do not participate in what they signify: “Food naturall doth naturall Life supply. / And spiritual food doth spiritual life require,” Taylor teaches (“II.106,” 51-2). These signs acquire the ability to signify spiritual nourishment by God's explicit designation which is only acknowledged by acknowledging the difference between bread and body or wine and blood. The analogy is made effective—that is, it accomplishes really in the soul what it signifies figuratively for the senses—by the presence and power of grace. In the mysterious process of accommodation, “Grace,” according to Taylor, “excells all metaphors.”9

Yet even in the presence of grace, metaphors still reflect the unbridgeable difference between vehicle and tenor, between earthly analogues and ineluctable spirit. Thus, an effective reception of the sacrament requires that the recipient understand and hold simultaneously in her or his individual mind the opposing tendencies in the operation of sacramental significance. For saints to truly benefit from the sacrament, in Samuel Willard's words, “They must be arrived to such a judgement, as to be able to distinguish between the Sign and the things signified by it, else they cannot make that practical Improvement of it, which is required of all such. They that cannot put a difference between Bread and Wine, and the Body and Blood of Christ, and understand the Sacramental union between one and the other in the Ordinance, ought not to be received.”10 On one hand, saints must “put” the difference between the sign and signified implied in the Calvinist notion of “spiritual presence” there for themselves—the “practical improvement” being the saint's spiritualization of the earthly signs. On the other hand, they must perceive the “Sacramental union” between the signs and what they signify that makes the ritual effective. Michael Clark points out that a proper understanding of the sacrament depends “on the reader's ability to perceive the difference between the corporeal referent of the word and its spiritual significance.”11 His designation of communicants as “readers” points up the wholly linguistic nature of the ritual and puts an ironic, though altogether appropriate, spin on sacramental worship as a model for poetics which, as we will see, Taylor fully exploits. What Clark does not add is that a perception of union in the sacrament is just as important. Because these attitudes had to be maintained simultaneously without cancelling each other out, they form not a contradiction but, as Clark rightly insists, a dialectic.12 And this dialectic defines the paradox in which Puritan poets lived and wrote.

Perceiving the difference between the sacramental signs and their signifiers forced saints to contemplate the enormous gulf that separated them from God, the sin that produced it, and their utter inability to cross that gulf without divine help. For Taylor, both the words of scripture and Christ himself, especially in his sacramental function, were the means by which he could imagine leaping over this abyss. Leaping, however, even in one's imagination, is a willful act; the true saint's justification arises from an acceptance of the complete inability to accomplish that which must be desired with all one's might. Nothing less than a complete resignation to the will of God, like Christ's ultimate act of obedience, can produce the regeneration of soul that will erase the difference that separates the saint as a sign of Christ from Christ as the divine signified. The saint must become different from his fallen self.

Taylor represents this self-difference through the self-representations he creates in his poetry. His awareness of his distance from Christ calls forth some of his most vivid and violent descriptions. He is “a Dirt ball,” “a jumble of gross Elements,” “a Flesh and Blood bag;” “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” (“I.46,” “I.45,” “I.30,” “I.40”). To remedy this unbearable situation, he imagines himself scraped clean of his fallen self and emptied of sin, free of difference, and so figures himself as a mirror to reflect Christ's image and a transparent bowl awaiting the drop of Christ's grace. But inheriting Adam's sin, he cracks and shatters (cf. “I.31”). Only Christ can reconstruct him as a mirror and fill the saintly bowl with grace. Thus, Taylor prays:

          My person make thy Lookinglass Lord, clear
And in my Looking Glass cast thou thine Eye.
          Thy image view that standeth shining there.

(“II.92,” 38-40)

Looking into the mirror he has created, Christ will see his own image and nothing of the saint's fallen self. Likewise, in echoing Christ's scriptural language, Taylor hopes:

That Golden Mint of Words, thy Mouth Divine,
          Doth tip these Words, which by my Fall were
And dub with Gold dug out of graces mine
That they thine Image might have in them foild.

(“I.7,” 13-6)

In “distilling” his own words from scriptural texts (the controlling metaphor of this Meditation is Christ as a still), Taylor hopes to catch the essence of Christ's image, wrapped up in his words. In the closing prayer, he asks God to “make” his soul “thy Bottle” to hold grace in the form of “Liquid Gold” (“ll.” 17-8).

Taylor wishes through these figures to be passive, receptive, absent as a willing, active self. Christ looks, Christ bestows grace, Christ's image appears everywhere; the saint desires to be an emptied bowl, a reflecting mirror, a bottle waiting to be filled. All activity and power accrue to Christ; the poet/saint desires to be other than himself, to be the space cleared for the divine presence. Despite the inequality of the positions they occupy, Christ and Taylor are bound together in these figures as necessary parts of the same imagistic systems: mirror and viewer, bottle and still, and in other Meditations, branch and tree, instrument and player, and so on. Christ is the actor and Taylor the object acted upon. Thus, human and divine can be unified yet distinct, as a correct understanding of the sacrament requires.

Taylor conceived of the sacrament as a “seal” or confirmation of a reciprocal promise: saints vowed to worship God and God vowed to redeem those he has predestined for election who worshipped him. Though an apparently mutual contract, this conception of the sacrament produces the requisite hierarchy and human dependence because human worship can only be effective if the worshipper has been predestined. The contract requires human action in the form of worship, but the doctrine of free grace denies the efficacy of independent human action. This paradox overwhelms Taylor's poetic endeavors. The contract requires that he sing God's praises:

But shall the Bird sing forth thy Praise, and shall
          The little Bee present her thankfull Hum?
But I who see thy shining Glory fall
          Before mine Eyes, stand Blockish, Dull, and Dumb?

(“I.22,” 13-6)

Because the human deployment of language can never adequately represent the invisible, divine realm, the poet concludes the stanza disconsolately:

Whether I speake, or speechless stand, I spy,
I faile thy Glory: therefore pardon Cry.

(“ll.” 17-8)

Silence, and the garbled, muffled, ragged and inky metaphors of fallen human speech both fail. The poet, caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, can only plead to be pardoned for an offense or crime he could not help but commit.

Yet something in the poet wills his own unwilling, pleads for self-abasement, and dreams of his union with God. As the communicant can never forget his earthly difference, so the sacrament offers him a glorious glimpse of his likeness to Christ. The idea of the sacrament as a mutual contract suggests a similarity in parties that are both willing to be bound by promises. Furthermore, the position of Taylor's Meditations, as “preparatory” to the actual performance of the Lord's Supper, suggests that they served as a means by which Taylor could actively ready himself for his participation in the rite. That this preparation involves an active “doing” that is at the same time an “undoing,” Taylor clarifies for his congregation: “The work of conversion knocks at the door of the ear and so enters into the soul,” but the sacrament of the Supper “calls for the exercise of the faith of communion, saying ‘take eat, take drink’,”13 “Exercising the faith of communion” seems like a particularly Puritan endeavor, for it requires saints to actively dispose themselves to receptivity and passivity.14 The achievement of this paradoxical state of mind is what I call “redeemed subjectivity,” and is best represented by Taylor through poetic language.

There is an aspect to sacramental worship which heals the rift between the visible and invisible realms, at least momentarily for Taylor; its implications for his poetry are enormous. The binding nature of the sacrament results from an analogy between Christ and the fallen humanity he is sacrificed to redeem. Just as Christ's Incarnation is the perfect resolution of the seemingly irreconcilable duality of spirit and flesh, the incorporation of his flesh through the creatures of the bread and wine allow fallen fleshly saints to take on his spiritual qualities. This “imitation” gives Taylor a fleeting, momentary, ecstatic glimpse of an eternal place and time, beyond this impermanent temporal world, where the duality of humanity and divinity is reconciled.

This promise of union, perceived not with his bodily eyes, but with the renovated eye of faith, is captured in a Meditation entitled “The Experience,” to contrast it with the abstract “truths” of doctrine. It emphasizes the concrete and the relatable, the body and language. Taylor celebrates Christ's “Theanthropy,” the miracle of the Godman who mediates between God and man and also joins them in a spiritual marriage:

My Nature with thy Nature all Divine
          Together joyn'd in Him thats Thou, and I.
          Flesh of my Flesh, Bone of my Bone. There's run
          Thy Godhead, and my Manhood in thy Son.

(“ll.” 9-12)

Not only do human and divine merge in this hypostatic union, but the union holds out the promise of the regeneration of the fallen flesh. Sinners have at least this in common with Christ—a body which, because of Christ's example, can be purified and spiritualized. Embodiment, the bane of Taylor's existence and the badge of difference from God, also gives him the promise of proximity to God and ascendency over the angels, and he cries:

I'le Claim my Right: Give place, ye Angells Bright.
          Ye further from the Godhead stande than I.
My Nature is your Lord; and doth Unite
          Better than Yours unto the Deity.
          God's Throne is first and mine is next: to you
          Onely the place of Waiting-men is due.

(“ll.” 19-24)

For all its defilement, flesh was the medium God used to send himself down to earth; Taylor taunts the Angels who lack this means to be like Christ.

Being like Christ has crucial implications for Taylor's relationship to language. The emphasis in the sacrament on flesh which both separates the poet from and connects him with Christ produces a parallel emphasis on language as a means of access to yet separation from the divine realm, and on the simultaneously material yet metaphorical nature of words. Words, ordinarily weighed down with earthly significance and incapable of signifying God adequately, can be used sacramentally as signs which communicate “metaphorically and wisely,” dubbed with a bit of Christ's grace and thus “a truth Speaking form.”15 This is another means of likeness with Christ. Taylor, as other Puritans, believed that the status of a poet's words indicated his spiritual state. Whereas on earth Taylor is “tongue-tied” and full of “inky sin,” in heaven he imagines that his lips will be “Pearld” with gracious words of praise, embellished, like Christ's words, with glorious light. Redeemed speech, like redeemed flesh, is the result of grace—it is grace in Taylor's vision. Imagining the fullest consummation of his spiritual marriage to Christ, Taylor meditates on the words of the spouse in Canticles 2.16, “My Beloved is mine and I am his.” Thus he and Christ

          by each
For each, make each to one anothers deare,
          And each delight t'heare one anothers Speech.

(“II.79,” 56-8)

His heaven is a poet's paradise where not only saints sing to God, but God returns the song.

This is Taylor's vision of heavenly consummation; on earth he experiences only the espousal, the promise of union and reconciliation of the duality of spirit and flesh, a drop of grace, not the overwhelming tide. The deferral of unity and the insistence upon difference at the heart of his poetics result, as Kathleen Blake points out, from his conception of reality governed by the Incarnation and the sacrament, dual aspects of a fundamentally unequal system. In the Incarnation, God communicated to humanity a perfect embodiment of his Word. In the Lord's Supper, humans communicate with God, but imperfectly, expediently (6-7). Christ is both like humans and king over them; the mystery of this seemingly contradictory relation is represented in the sacrament and celebrated by Taylor. How Taylor negotiates the paradoxical demands made on him by the dialectics of sacramental doctrine is his central, obsessive concern in the Meditations where the intense introspection of preparation is recorded.

Taylor realizes the necessity of his presence in the divine scheme in which Herbert strives to absent himself. Whereas Herbert often writes himself out of his religious lyrics—literally “crossing” himself out, according to Fish, to reveal both the authorship and authority to be all God's—Taylor writes himself into the system of sacramental signification—but always in a transformed state—and offers his praises to God as a reflection of God's praiseworthiness.16 This writing is also a disempowering act. He can write himself into the figurative system only as the passive mirror for Christ's image (conversion) and as the willing sign for which Christ is the signified (preparation). At the same time he must be active in the reception of the sacrament. These contradictory demands spur on Taylor's double figurative strategy: effacing his independent self in the conversion process, and transforming his worthy self in the preparatory process.

In the conversion process, Taylor effaces himself by transforming himself from a figuratively fallen self who is active, to a redeemed “other” who is passive and thus adequate as the object of Christ's love, activity and signifying force. As several scholars of the period have noted, Puritans regarded the effacement required for conversion as a transformation from “masculine” to “feminine”—the saint who becomes the bride of Christ must be “feminized” or castrated.17 As redeemed “other” he figures in the Meditations as passive and receptive objects of various sorts: mirrors, receptacles of grace, parts of a whole, and especially musical instruments to be tuned and played by Christ. Yet even as an object he retains some of his activity and his “masculine” assertion, since willing his own instrumentality is still contaminated by human willfulness.

In the preparation process, Taylor generates a sense of himself as potentially converted, the unworthy recipient of grace, and willingly “other” and objectified, in order to effectually receive the sacrament and also praise Christ in poetry. Here, too, what Puritans regarded as “masculine” activity is modified by the opposite “feminine” quality of receptivity. This dialectic, with its qualifying conditions, is always in play. “Meditation I.6” concisely illustrates Taylor's characteristic self-effacement and his simultaneous insertion of himself as transformed object into the figurative scheme of the poem. Taylor demonstrates how grace, if it were bestowed upon him, would convert the potentially damning—because independent—poetic activity into a complete reliance upon Christ, yet would also provide an analogy between Christ and the poet.

The Meditation begins with a direct address to Christ, “Am I thy Gold? Or Purse, Lord, for thy wealth” (“l.1”). Gold, in Taylor's scheme, represents the “true,” and is always associated, through the alchemical motif, with a divine power that can transform the “leaden” natural man into spiritual “gold.” It is, however, a curious opening, because Taylor asks both which one he is, the gold or the purse, and whether he is either of them, and then drops the “purse” imagery entirely. However, the relationship of container to contained and its reversibility are Taylor's major poetic equivalents for the Incarnational-sacramental relationship.18

The first stanza of “Meditation I.6” continues by describing two metaphoric processes for conversion, “mining” the raw mineral of the soul and “minting” the gold coin of the saint. Extending the metaphor, Taylor desires a direct confirmation of his “trueness” as gold, as one of the elect. His standards are human and thus painfully self-referential, as the congestion of first- person pronouns in these lines indicates: “I Feare my Touchstone touches when I try / Mee, and my Counted Gold too overly” (“ll.” 5-6). Only Christ is the absolute touchstone. The pun here on “touch” in the tactile sense will become important later.

The second stanza intensifies the opening request of the poem by figuring the saint's need to discern his possession of grace in terms of visual acumen: “Am I new minted by thy Stamp indeed?” (“l.7”) In this, too, Taylor is passive and needs divine help:

          Mine eyes are dim; I cannot clearly see.
Be thou my Spectacles that I may read
          Thine Image, and Inscription stampt on mee.

(“ll.” 8-10)

This paradoxical relationship is yet another turn in Taylor's transforming system. Christ is both the thing seen and the means by which it is seen, the “spectacles” for the eyes of the soul and the image they bring into focus, the means and the end. Taylor is merely the locus of the desire which provides the space for this process to be enacted.

The final couplet of this stanza contains the “If-then” proposition that ends or appears in every Meditation. It clinches both the reciprocal relationship and its hierarchical conditions, for it restates the mutual sacramental promise that binds the saint and Christ, but is always presented in terms of the transformed self. In this Meditation it also contains the climactic metaphor of the poem:

If thy bright Image do upon me stand
I am a Golden Angell in thy hand.

(“ll.” 11-12)

An angel is a gold coin that circulated in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, so called because it was stamped with a picture of the Archangel Michael slaying a dragon.19 As visual tenor, a coin of the realm, it represents in this poem the confirmed saint who will be pure like Christ—made of gold—angelic in spirit, and a product of Christ's workmanship. When Christ has mined and minted him, he will lie passive in Christ's creative hand, truly “touched,” that is, proven to be gold, and also touching, or being next to Christ, like the angels Taylor wishes to unseat in “The Experience.” As a divine emblem, its power derives from the imprint on the coin, the messenger of God slaying the serpentine evil, an act Taylor wishes to be inscribed within him as his assurance of grace. Finally, Taylor's fallen self as transformed object is the contractual token given to seal the bargain, as Christ gave his self to redeem humankind. This metaphor thus completes the reciprocation in figurative terms. It also reinforces the etymology of the word “sacrament” which, according to the OED, classically denoted money deposited by parties to a lawsuit.

In this figurative system of exchange the poet imagines he can do nothing but create a space for desire and figure himself as the willing instrument, to be created, refined, possessed, and spent by Christ. In this monetary and erotic system of exchange, he imagines himself undergoing a figurative conversion which parallels in reverse Christ's own conversion by God the Father from bodiless spirit to incarnate form. Taylor, like Christ in the figure of the spectacles, becomes the means of exchange and also its object—an object which is, furthermore, a metaphor made up of a vehicle and tenor paralleling Christ's reconciliation of the spirit and flesh. In the fullest participation in the semiotics of the sacramental act, Taylor asks to be made a sign that signifies Christ. And by asking this, he ultimately desires to be like the sacramental elements which he consumes, also signs with metaphoric qualities.

However, as active writer, Taylor also transforms Christ into humanly comprehensible images. The last stanza of “Meditation I.6” presents the final undoing of this last instance of active self and will in the reversal of the roles of writer and reader. The effacement of the poet as active self also requires his erasure as an independent writer. Not only is Christ the miner and the minter, the active force and authorizer of authenticity, but he is also a writer and the writer of the very poem written for and about him. The poet pleads that his soul be made Christ's “Plate” for printing. Within its “Circle,” which is coin-shaped, he wants Christ's image to be “enfoiled,” or wrapped around as a thin sheet of metal around wood. Around its “brims,” as on the edges of a coin, he wants Christ to “in golden Letters write / Thy Superscription in an Holy style” (“ll.” 15-16). The inscription, or divine authorization, Taylor requests in the second stanza, becomes here a “superscription,” the divine signature above and superseding the first writing. It will be read by the saint who needs external and humanly comprehensible confirmation that grace comes from “without,” from a source outside of the self and through the discarding of the self. In the logic of this construction of a “redeemed subjectivity,” Taylor represents himself not as a writer, but as a reader of his own gracious state. What he reads are Christ's words inscribed in and on him, which are reflected back to Christ in the traces of “an Holy Style,” or Christ's presence in his own poetry, like the presence of the sacramental elements in the human body. Reciprocally, Christ reads what he has written there, and is also both reader and writer.

When the circle is complete, the coin finished, “Then,” the poet announces in the final couplet of the poem, Christ and he will be mutually bound by grace and its promises, and by the exchange of money, the poet's transformed self, to seal the contract: “I shall be thy Money, thou my Hord” (“l.17”). In this desired exchange, the two become analogically related as both the possessor and the object possessed: the poet as “money” or an increase in Christ's spiritual wealth, and Christ as the “hord” or secret repository of the treasure, unseen by others, known only to the poet and Christ. Money for exchange and for hoarding differ only in the way they are used: one is freely spent, the other is jealously guarded. Taylor wishes to embrace both of these meanings simultaneously and reciprocally. By figuring Christ as his “hord,” Taylor implies that he will be the hoarder, the possessor of spiritual wealth—Christ and grace—which he possesses only to give back to Christ, just as Christ will spend and possess him. Being both the possessor and the possessed, the container and the contained articulates Taylor's contradictory desires and the fictive willful unwilling of his self.

In the final line of the poem the conditions of the bargain are set through the metaphor of the “angel,” and the desired union is requested. The verbs of being that modify both the poet and Christ touch in the middle, effecting a bridge over the irreducible gap between human and divine, while calling attention to its necessary and irrevocable existence:

Let me thy Angell bee, bee thou my Lord.


This circular relationship is reinforced by the many circular shapes in the poem that seem almost interchangeable: coins, eyes, spectacles, the printing plate, the round soul, the circular inscription. The neatness of this resolution is belied, however, by the imperative, optative nature of the request which remains unanswered.

Writing poetry gave Edward Taylor the illusion of power and agency in a pre-determined universe and within the bounds of a strict theological system, but it also gave him the means to subvert his damning willful desires for such power and agency. Unlike Herbert, who is forced to give up his will by surprises, with the admonitions of gentle voices from outside of the poem's narrative frame, and who keeps the play of willfulness, denial, and submission always in motion, Taylor struggles actively to wean himself from everything but the desire to be the locus and instrument of desire. As William Scheick comments, Taylor saw poetry “as the most persuasive way he could actively dispose his will to a passive reliance on God, and as the best means of catching glimpses of his own spiritual state.”20 The sacramental framework of Taylor's poetry was the appropriate thematic and rhetorical construct for this paradoxical goal. As I noted earlier, Taylor considered the Supper the only ritual that required the active exercise of human faculties. Indeed, Christ's own words instituting the Supper, “take eat, take drink” from Matthew 26. 26-27, express to him the divine insistence upon the seeming contradiction of both human receptivity and active participation. Thus, even the paradox of passivity and activity is a requirement of God.

In “Meditation II.106,” which takes these words of Christ as its scriptural text, Taylor explores the consequences of this divine injunction to activity. He begins by repeating his obligation to praise God and its sheer impossibility:

I fain would praise thee, but want words to do't:
          And searching ore the realm of thoughts finde none
Significant enough and therefore vote
          For a new set of Words and thoughts hereon
          And leap beyond the line such words to gain
          In other Realms, to praise thee: but in vain.

(“ll.” 7-12)

In order to sing adequate praises for Christ, the converted heart must exercise its “formative” powers, as Taylor calls them. These powers are necessary for him “mee mee to gain” (“l.22”), to find himself adequate and active through Christ. Thus he petitions Christ:

Then form mee Lord, a former here to bee
          Of this thy Sacrament receiving here
And let me in this Bread and Wine take thee:
          And entertain me with thy Spirituall Cheer.
          Which well Concocted will make joy up start,
          That makes thy praises leape up from my heart.

(“ll.” 61-6)

As a “former,” and with “formative” power to act and create originating in Christ and dependent upon him, Taylor's praises will “leape up from my heart.” Without the formative discipline of the sacrament, he could not leap over the unseen line separating his fallen, wordy world from the new realm of language and spirit that would make his words—himself—adequate, Christ-like. With the “Spirituall Cheer” of the sacrament rightly received, his praises “leap up” joyfully but do not try to cross the line.

Taylor seems to have succeeded here in addressing the problem of human limitation that so weighed him down before. However, the praises that leap in this final prayer are “thy praises,” praises meant for Christ but also belonging to him and authored by him. Furthermore, the word “former” contains a pun of which Taylor, so interested in puns, may have been aware, a reference to a prior state, the state of uncertainty, inadequacy, fallenness, and a false sense of power. Wishing to become a “former” enacts Taylor's desire to be both like Christ spiritually and like himself in his earthly state—the paradoxical desire to both do and undo, structured by his sacramental poetics.21


  1. Barbara Lewalski, Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth Century Religious Lyric (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1979): 388-89.

  2. Stanley Fish, Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth Century Literature (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1972): 157.

  3. About this poem Fish says: “Reading these lines [the last six:

              Ah my deare Father, ease my smart!
    These contrarieties crush me: these crosse actions
    Doe winde a rope about, and cut my heart;
              And yet since these thy contradictions
    Are properly a crosse felt by thy Sonne,
    With but foure words, my words, Thy will be done.

    (lines 31-36]

    is like looking at a gestalt figure in which first one and then another pattern emerge from the same physical (here verbal) components—My words, thy words, thy Son, I Son, thy cross, my cross—until finally there is only one pattern made up of two declarations which, if they were laid side by side, would be perceived as mutually contradictory, but here, occupying the same linguistic space, they constitute a triumph over discursive language. It is also a triumph of humility, since in the total merging of the two voices in the poem, the figure before the cross becomes the figure on the cross and finds himself by totally losing himself. The problem posed in so many of Herbert's poems—what can I do if you have done everything?—is finally solved by dissolving the distinction (between thine and mine) that occasioned it” (188-89).

  4. For a semiological analysis of Puritan conversion theology see Michael Clark, “‘The Crucified Phrase’: Sign and Desire in Puritan Semiology,” Early American Literature 13 (1978/79): 278-93. Clark also sketches a poetics of the Crucifixion from which, I argue, Taylor diverges. In a later essay, Clark acknowledges the importance of the Incarnation as “God's Metaphor” and the sacrament as “proof of that metaphorical power,” but still insists that “their truth had been made legible to man only on the Cross” (“The Honeyed Knot of Puritan Aesthetics,” Puritan Poets and Poetics, Seventeenth-Century American Poetry in Theory and Practice, ed. Peter White (University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1985): 80).

  5. Clark, “The Honeyed Knot of Puritan Aesthetics,” 69.

  6. In The Poems of Edward Taylor, ed. Donald S. Stanford. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1960; all subsequent references to the Preparatory Meditations will be given after the citations, and will contain series number, poem number, and line numbers.

  7. Clark cites William Perkins who called the Lord's Supper a “sacramental Metonymie” (“The Honeyed Knot” 74).

  8. Edward Taylor, Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper, ed. Norman S. Grabo (East Lansing: Michigan State Univ. Press, 1966): 43. Hereafter referred to as Treatise.

  9. Edward Taylor, The Christographia, ed. Norman Grabo (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1962): 253.

  10. Compleat Body of Divinity 863; in Clark, “The Honeyed Knot” 75.

  11. “The Honeyed Knot” 75.

  12. “The Honeyed Knot” 76.

  13. The Treatise 96, 77-9.

  14. See William Schieck's discussion of the saint's consent to God's will, a paradoxical state that has a passive and an active aspect in The Will and the Word: The Poetry of Edward Taylor (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1974): 70-71.

  15. Christographia 272.

  16. Karl Keller discusses Taylor's habit of inserting himself as a type of Christ into the typological scheme he discerned in Scripture. See “‘The World Slickt up on Types’: Edward Taylor as a Version of Emerson,” Typology and Early American Literature, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch (Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1972): 182-83. This insertion is related to his insertion as a sign into the semiology of the sacrament because the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is related to Puritan typology which is also a way of differentiating and yoking together two levels of reality.

  17. See, for example, Karl Keller, The Example of Edward Taylor (Amherst: The Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1975), 214. This gendered logic of conversion has important implications for women as well as men. See especially, Ben Barker-Benfield, “Anne Hutchinson and the Puritan Attitude Toward Women,” Feminist Studies 1 (Fall 1972) 65-96. David Leverenz, The Language of Puritan Feeling: An Exploration in Literature, Psychology, and Social History (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1980), esp. 126-133 and Chapter 5; Philip Greven, The Protestant Temperament: Patterns of Child-Rearing, Religious Experience, and the Self in Early America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977), esp. 124-140; and Margaret Masson, “The Typology of the Female as Model for the Regenerate: Puritan Preaching, 1690-1730,” Signs 2 (1976): 304-315.

  18. On Taylor's mirroring imagery, see Cecelia L. Halbert, “Tree of Life Imagery in the Poetry of Edward Taylor,” American Literature 38 (March 1966): 26-34. She finds that he “attempts the completely mirrored metaphor” between himself and Christ, but “is unable to achieve poetic balance in his use of this figure” (34). My point is that his failure is the point.

  19. Poems 524.

  20. Scheick 120.

  21. I would like to thank Pasquale Paglia, emeritus professor at Le Moyne College, for his helpful reactions to my “semiotic resonances,” and my colleagues William Spengemann, who wrestles tirelessly with my ambiguities, and the late Marion Singleton, who shared her considerable knowledge and love of Herbert so generously.

Thomas M. Davis (essay date 1992)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12730

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 too often unreliable family tradition—exactly what Taylor did in England. His admission with advanced standing at Harvard indicates that he had at least some kind of nonconformist education beyond the basic schools, yet he did take nearly the full course of studies here. We also know from the Diary that he was asked to deliver some kind of devotional talk during the voyage to New England.1 but such “exercising” is not the sermon of an ordained minister, and even if he had had some kind of ordination in England, that would not have been valid until he was settled in a congregation and confirmed by New England principles. In this sense, then, with his ordination at the “gathering” of the Westfield church on 27 August 1679 something over ten years after he had arrived in the colony, at least the primary calling of his personal life had been realized. He was, after all this time, a minister, duly ordained under congregational principles, called and instituted in his office by the foundation men and the visiting elders.

Whatever the reasons that caused the delay of the organization of the church, these seem to have been put aside at least for the present, and he was committed to the life of a frontier minister.2 Though there were several external problems—the lack of enough foundation men (though the Northampton colleagues thought there were enough), Taylor's single state (other ministers had assumed their pastorate unmarried), and the interruption of the skirmishing and real threats of Philip's War—he seems to have made that final psychological commitment to the life of the ministry. With his characteristic attention to detail, though the visiting elders caused him to revise completely the procedures (CR [Edward Taylor's “Church Record” and Related Sermons, ed. Thomas M. Davis and Virginia L. Davis, Boston: Twayne, 1981], 8), the gathering of the church was completed and Edward Taylor accepted the ordination of the foundation men.

It would be difficult to overemphasize how personally significant these first years of his ministry were. In one sense, all of his life had been a preparation for this point: what training he had received in England, the commitments that caused his emigration, the three years at Harvard College, and the more than eight years in Westfield, preparing himself and the unchurched brethren for the actual founding of the Westfield congregation. The ordination of a new minister and the erection of a “particular church of Christ” to be a “habitation of God through the Spirit” (the doctrine of the Foundation Sermon, CR, 121) was a momentous event in the life of a man like Taylor and the community in which he lived and in the ongoing sense of New England's mission as well. Despite the objections of the visiting elders—led almost prophetically by Solomon Stoddard—the understated account of Taylor's acceptance of the call of the Westfield group does not conceal the import this held for him: “After the whole was done Mr. Stoddard being deputed by the Elders to give the Right hand of Fellowship to me in this Office did it as before which being done Brother Loomis Set the 122 Psalm, which being sung the Assembly was dismisst with the Blessing. & so the work was accomplisht” (CR, 160).

The two days of “gathering” in Westfield, now a provincial town of some two hundred people, must have been an impressive event, with the formalities of the foundation service, the sermon, the ordination, and the entertainment for the visiting dignitaries. The small meetinghouse, built the year after Taylor arrived in Westfield, was no doubt too small to accommodate the number of individuals who had assembled. And Taylor, always so deferential toward authority, was now one himself. With his wife and two sons—James was only nine months—an impressive beginning. And so, when at the completion of the ceremonies they sang “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord,” the work was “accomplisht.”

Taylor was now enrolled in the “godly cloud of witnesses” who had brought the message of God to the wilderness, and conscious as he was of the significance of the founding fathers and the near apotheosis he accorded them, he must have known a fulfillment unusual for him. Of central importance is that for the first time in his commitment to the Puritan order of worship Taylor was now able to administer the sacraments. During the years previous to the gathering of the church he no doubt “exercised” on the Lord's Day and perhaps in midweek services, and, as he says in the Church Records, after he had been in Westfield two years “we set up Conference me[eting in] which I went over all the Heads of Divinity unto the means of the Application [of Re]demption in order to prepare them for a Church State” (4). But since no church had been gathered and he had not been ordained, when sacraments, largely baptism, were observed by Westfield's inhabitants, they would have had to be administered elsewhere, perhaps in Northampton or Springfield. On 31 August, the Sunday after the organization of the church on the previous Wednesday, Taylor records in the Baptismal Records the first baptisms; two more were baptized the following Lord's Day, and others on successive Sundays. It was not until the first Sunday in December of the following year, however, that children baptized elsewhere were admitted to the Westfield congregation; at that time, over thirty children, including Taylor's two sons, Samuel and James, were admitted to membership under the terms of the halfway covenant.3 Taylor and the foundation men were admitted on the day the church was organized, of course. According to the Church Records the next admission of adult members was in January 1679/80; eight individuals, including Taylor's wife, Elizabeth, were admitted to full membership, and others periodically after that (162).

As the Church Records also indicates, while no elders other than Taylor were elected on the day of founding (and never were during the time he served) and no deacons selected at that time, “Brother Loomas [one of the foundation men] was desired to looke after the providing Wine, & Bread & to furnish the Lords Table” (173). We have no record of when the Supper was first observed, though it may not have been until the admission of full members some five months later. There is little evidence to indicate, particularly during these early years, how often the Westfield church celebrated the Supper.4 Further, none of the adult members of the Westfield church—including Taylor himself—had been able to observe the Lord's Supper during the years they had been in Westfield. It may seem surprising (in light of Taylor's later attitude toward the Sacrament) that there were no preparations for attending the Lord's Table the Sunday following the organization of the church—at least as far as any evidence we have indicates. Yet for the Westfield congregation and their minister the matter seems not to have been of central concern. Nor, apart from the foundation men, would there have been any full members to administer the Supper to, until other members were admitted five months later. Such was not the case in relation to baptisms, however, which began the first Sunday after the founding.

The events of August 1679 were to determine the direction of Taylor's life for the next half-century. Whatever reluctance he may have had about committing himself to Westfield and the ministry—and whatever disagreements with his parishioners followed (and there were more than a few), at an age when most New England ministers were in the middle of their ministerial careers, Taylor, in his midthirties, was just beginning.

As significant a change was also taking place in his poetry, not only in the kind of poetry he was beginning to write but in the quantity and quality as well. The acrostic ingenuities that characterize much of the Harvard poetry do not continue and the elaborate love poem to his bride-to-be, Elizabeth Fitch, “This Dove & Olive Branch to you,” is the last of the ingenious verse. His next poem, sent to Elizabeth the week before they were married, is in itself and in its characterization of the kind of verse he will write the first indication of this difference:

Were but my Muse an Huswife Good, & could
Spin out a Phansy fine, & Weave it Would
In Sapphick Web. …
.....But I no Rowling Phansy have to run,
Nor She Such Silken Huswifry ere Spun.
Hence Coarse Iämbick is the finest she
Can weave. …(5)

He says he is concerned primarily with his inability to express the extent of his love for her, but he is also characterizing his poetry in a different way. What might be read as a conventional statement of humility is in fact a statement of the change in his poetry; “Coarse Iämbick” will now be the web he weaves.6

The result of this change in direction is the first of a number of paraphrases of biblical books and passages, the first version of Taylor's paraphrases of the Hebrew Psalms. Since Elizabeth apparently had also written verse, the two may have collaborated on these paraphrases and may have used the versions in their own daily devotions, a practice fairly common among paraphrasts. The two versions, the first beginning in 1674/75 and the second transcribed in the early 1680s, may have never continued beyond Psalm 49. But these paraphrases are significant. They shift the discipline of his muse from the secular conventions of the acrostic and elegy to the biblical model, Israel's poet David. Rather than filling acrostic patterns, Taylor is now disciplined as a poet by the Divine Word and the responsibility of representing adequately the original Hebrew: fidelity to the original text, not ingenuity, is the basic demand upon the Puritan paraphrast. It is good practice, both in keeping a language active and in meeting some fairly strict demands on the craft of poetry. The paraphrases also point Taylor toward the major concerns of his life and his life in Westfield as a whole: a singer of Israel in sermon and song. David was God's servant; David led his people in the wilderness to the true faith; David's songs were appropriate praise to the God of Israel; and David was viewed as the archetypal poet-meditator.7 How much Edward Taylor thought of the similarities is speculative, of course, but the basic ingredients of the meditative poems are here in this initial attraction to David's poetry and his awareness of David's role. The Psalms, as Calvin asserted, do present the perfect example of the “right manner of praising God” (the form) and provide the emotional impulse for the “performance of this religious exercise”—that is, of meditating.8

Taylor had been in Westfield slightly less than three years when he and Elizabeth were married. That seemed, at least at the time, to be the last action needed before the church was fully organized. As he notes in the Church Records: “I determined within [myself that] in case things could go comfortably on, to Settle with them: & in [order thereto] Changed my Condition, & entred into a married State; hop[ing that the following] Summer would open a doore to l[et] us into a Church State” (4). What followed, however, was not the peaceful first years of a marriage and the normal activity leading to the founding of a church. On 20 June 1675 the initial raids of what came to be known as King Philip's War began, and for the next two years, though Philip was killed in the fall of 1676, sporadic Indian attacks occurred, serious enough to cause Westfield to remain garrisoned and continually aware of the potential for disaster.9 Two months after Philip's initial attacks, the Taylors' first son, Samuel, was born. The first daughter, Elizabeth, was born on 27 December 1676, shortly after the major Indian conflicts had ceased, but she died on 25 December the following year. During this time the town of Westfield was still garrisoned and though the major part of the conflict ended in the summer of 1676, sporadic attacks for the next eighteen months still made living on the frontier uneasy. It was not until August 1678 that the General Court authorized the “Christian people of Westfield in the Colony of Massachusetts, to enter into a Church State …” (CR, 8). By this time the inhabitants had returned to their homes and were able to resume some semblance of normal life. The Taylors, now with a second son, James (born 12 October 1678), turned from the events of the preceding years and began to make plans for the founding of the church. But the years of conflict left their mark and the western frontier was not fully secured until the turn of the century.

However distant the actual gathering of the church may have appeared, Taylor must have begun to make the needed preparations and to consider the direction the newly organized congregation would take. Certainly one of the problems he faced, as did all ministers of the colony, was the declining number of New England church members. The recommendations of the 1662 synod that “Church-members who were admitted in minority” and met basic requirements, “their children are to be baptized”10 were generally accepted, and as the founding sermon indicates, Taylor had no reservations concerning the halfway covenant. But the problems continued and were of enough concern for Increase Mather to call for a synod (that met two weeks after the Westfield church was organized) to address the question of “What are the Evils that have provoked the Lord to bring his Judgments on New-England?” For Taylor, who seems not to have attended the meetings in Boston, the problems were immediate and practical.

First, not all ministers were satisfied with the results of the 1662 Synod, nor would they be with the compromise of the Reforming Synod (1679). Of immediate concern to Taylor, however, was the attitude of Solomon Stoddard, his ministerial colleague in Northampton. Stoddard was more dissatisfied than most with the decision of the 1662 Synod and he apparently is the person Increase Mather refers to who has “espoused loose, large Principles here, designing to bring all persons to the Lords Supper, who have an Historical Faith, and are not scandalous in Life, although they never had Experience of a work of Regeneration on their Souls.” Yet Stoddard had made no changes in the practice of admission of members to full standing, and would not do so for more than a decade.11 Despite Mather's comment, both Taylor and Stoddard were—at this point, at any rate—faced with the same dilemma: how to convince sincere, perhaps overscrupulous, and certainly still unregenerate members to come forward to claim full membership and its attendant privileges. As Taylor no doubt recognized, the matter was not simply theoretical but of immediate practical import: if Stoddard were able to eliminate a public relation of saving grace and admit a candidate to full privileges in the congregation, what would Taylor and the Westfield congregation do when such a person moved to Westfield (as a number of inhabitants from Northampton had already done) with the appropriate letters of Dismission from the Northampton church and requested admission to the Westfield group? Would they insist on a public relation? Or imply that the candidate was not converted and had been attending the Supper in sin? Or refuse admission to the Westfield congregation?

The issue is not solely the requirement of a public confession of saving grace, though that was certainly involved. Taylor's concern, at least, was with the distressingly large group of individuals who had received the sacrament of baptism, had grown up under the watch of the church, and yet had never been able, for whatever reason, to consider themselves among the elect. With barely enough foundation men to organize the church, its continued existence depended on replenishing the gathered members. Taylor casts this into the architectural metaphor of the Foundation Day Sermon:

If when Solomon had polisht materialls for the Temple these polisht materials had lain by … there had been no Temple raised of polisht, & suitable matter. Living stones in this Spirituall Building lie not in it as it is of this sort here below, eternally. There is now one, & then another gathered hence as a Choice Pearle to be sett in the Ring of glory. & hence in a little time the whole building will be translated hence, Stone after Stone. & so will disappeare, if there be no addition made to it, the which that it may not disappeare, God is polishing some for it, as he is fetching some from it. & hence the building stands in need of those that are prepared for it.

(CR, 151)

Of first importance to the newly ordained minister, then, was to try to discover how a conscientious pastor could “coach” his parishioners to the recognition of their elect status. A public relation of saving grace may not have been the end, but it was the means to the end. On this point Edward Taylor and Solomon Stoddard had no disagreement.

The issue at this time did not center on participation in the Lord's Supper, though that of course was the ultimate concern. When the Westfield church was organized and in the years immediately following, the most pressing concern was the resupply of materials for the church itself. In a sense three matters were involved: convincing reluctant halfway members to become full members; considering what requirements were to be stipulated for admission to full membership and what means were to be used, whether “orally or in some other way”; and deciding the standards for participation in the Lord's Supper. At this point, as the Records of the church indicate and the Foundation Sermon confirms, when the church was organized only the first two matters were Taylor's essential concerns.12 So, by the time the church was organized and Taylor began his public ministry, his life in Westfield centered on two major experiences: the long period of warfare and the problem of reluctant halfway witnesses. These two concerns led quite naturally—almost inescapably for a poet like Taylor—to Gods Determinations touching his Elect.

The range of responses to the poem has been quite broad. As John Gatta notes:

Gods Determinations Touching his Elect has been usefully compared to a medieval morality play, to a formal Ignatian meditation, and to a standard Puritan homily. It shows some resemblance to hexameral literature, to the epic, to folk and proverbial discourse. And as a drama of salvation and Puritan conversion, this long poem has evident affinities with works like Michael Wigglesworth's Day of Doom or John Milton's Paradise Lost.13

But for my concerns here, what it is and what its structure is is not the most significant matter; but the context in which the poem should be read and the evidence the poem provides of Taylor's increasing ability as a poet.

Michael Colacurcio has convincingly shown that Gods Determinations is an occasional poem addressed specifically to “the failure of New England Congregational churches to replenish themselves with an ample supply of ‘saints,’” and that the “implied audience of the poem is precisely the half-way member of the Puritan congregation. …”14 The poem is, he continues, “designed to instruct and reassure hesitant half-way members who might be on the brink of confessing their full conversion.” With perhaps only one exception (the Psalm paraphrases) Gods Determinations is similar to Taylor's earlier poetry in that it responds to specific occasions, and it is, as the earlier poetry has been (again with perhaps the exception of the love poem to Elizabeth) a public poem. Yet as Dean Hall has demonstrated, the poem is not only concerned with the reluctant halfway members but also, in much of its imagery and dramatic structure, informed by the military events of Philip's War.15 These two topical concerns are reflected in the two major divisions of the poem, each with its own preface: the assaults of the satanic forces of the first part and the long “coaching” of reluctant souls in the interchanges between Saint and Soul of the second.

The poem has been variously dated: around 1700, “probably before 1690,” “by about 1682,” and so on. But there is persuasive evidence to identify the poem with the years between 1679 and 1681/82. The poem responds to the major concerns of the 1670s, Indian warfare, and the decline in church membership. Taylor must have begun working on it by the time the church was organized in the late summer of 1679, or shortly thereafter. The manuscript of Gods Determinations is an impeccably clean copy and it was transcribed in final form in 1681/82.16 We do not, unfortunately, have any manuscript evidence of revisions, changes in plan, relocation of material, material discarded, and so on nor do we know how the poem originally developed. My own sense is that the first part of the poem was written earliest, though some sections considerably revised, and that the part following the second “Preface” was written after the church was organized and the problems of halfway members had become insistent. But it is not a poem of only a year or so, considering all that Taylor had to occupy himself during this period. Moreover, the quantity of the verse, and certainly the varying quality, suggest several years of revision. Working from original conception to final transcription must have taken two or three years, perhaps from late 1678 to late 1681.

Of relevance here, too, are the number of parallels between the Foundation Day Sermon and Gods Determinations, reflecting their common concerns. A number of central images in the sermon appear in the poem: human nature is as “so many Shining Pearles sticking in a hard & impregnable rock”;17 the means of grace are the “strong gales of the Spirits breathing in fresh breizes” (148); quarreling in the house of God is to “make Satan Musick upon Christs own instrument, & to place Satans tunes upon Gods Pipes” (154); Solomon's “ivory Throne over laid With pure gold” (127). Satan's assaults on the soul are referred to several times throughout the sermon, culminating in the final part of the “Exhortation”: “Satan will assault you, you must look for it. You have no ground of any freedom from his assaults. You have neither example, nor promise of any such thing, Your priviledges will not exempt you, but rather expose you to the Same. For now you appear in the Camp of the whole world bidding battle to Satan …” (155). And certain sections of the sermon enunciate the theme of the glory and honor of those who are entered into a church state: “Looke here now Soule. What does thou say to this Society? is not this a Noble, & honorable, a glorious, nay, the most Noble, Honorable, glorious, & Excellent Society which is? & what will the Consideration thereof now set thy Affections a worke to enter hereinto? oh! delay not therefore …” (152). Here Taylor also addresses his congregation as “Soule,” the basic terminology of the poem.

In two of the major divisions of the sermon, God is presented in his role of Justice (“here is something representing an angry aspect from him that is the lord of this house,” 155) and Mercy (“here is something setting the pleasant Face of that gracious & glorious One,” 156). And the same tone of gentle persuasion that characterizes the last part of the poem is often expressed in the sermon; the following passage reflects also the central dichotomy of the poem, that between hope and despair:

… as it is a fault to enter unprepared, so it is a fault when prepared not to enter. O therefore do not proceed untill prepared, but do not delay to proceed when prepared. O my friends what say you? Will you be of the houshold of God or no? Will you be of the houshold of faith or no? will you be Fellow Citizens of the saints or no? Are you such as have trimmed your lamps? have your lamps any oyle in their Vessels or no? will you go out to meet the Brides groom or no? oh! then Come here. Enter your names among the living in Jerusalem. The doores of Gods house stand open unto you, have you a heart to enter or no? behold he calls thee saying turn in hither, turn in hither, why shouldst thou turn aside.


In fact, in a major section on the “Improvement of this doctrine” and “its usefullness upon the Will, & Affections,” Taylor characterizes in eight major divisions the relationship of the elect soul to the habitation of God: “Consider,” he says, “that thou hast a right in this house”; the soul has need of that “provision that God makes” for his elect, “therefore being a bidden guesst come”; God's house “hath need” of the soul; and so on. This section ends with the long allegorical paraphrase of Canticles 2:10-12, which in itself is a summary of the major concerns of Gods Determinations:

Consider, Soule that thou art called to enter here, if Prepared. Christ speakes unto thee in his language to his Spouse, Cant. 2.10, 11, 12, 13, arise, my Love, my fair one, & come a way. For lo! the winter (the time of thy unregeneracy) is past, the Rain (the means makeing thee to loathe thyselfe as a filthy thing have been effectual on thee) is over & gone. The Flowers (the sanctifying worke of Gods spirit) appear on the earth (in thy heart) the time of the Singing of birds (the ground of Spirituall melody) is come, the voice of the Turtle (the holy Spirit in the church) is heard in our land. The Fig tree putteth forth her green [Figs] ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ Vine with its tender grape (the fruits of new obedience) give a pleasant smell, (are clearly manifested, o therefore saith Christ) arise, my Love, my Fair one, & come away. What sayst thou to this? poore Soule canst thou withstand such soul inravishing Rhetorick?


Such parallels between prose works and poetry are relatively common in the later poetry, of course; Taylor often briefly introduces an image that ten to fifteen years later—or more—will become central in a poem or series of poems or series of sermons.18 Here in the Foundation Day Sermon, for example, he alludes in a quite minor way to “the man without the Wedden garment” (149) or the qualification of the “Wedden garment” (151) but he apparently does not develop the image in any detail until the Treatise sermons fifteen years later. But the parallels between the Foundation Day Sermon and Gods Determinations, coming at the beginning of Taylor's public career, indicate a common concern and also a closeness in time of composition.

Finally, neither in the sermon and the practice of the Westfield church nor in the poem is there more than an incidental concern with the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. The centrality of the Sacrament and its spiritual nourishment in Taylor's thought and poetry is a later development. There are in fact only two or three explicit references in the sermon to the Supper at all. In discussing the significance of the presence of God in his house, Taylor lists, quite briefly, six particulars of God's presence: he is present in the ministry of the word, in prayer, in “holy & heavenly Songs,” in baptism, and, “In the Celibrating the Feast of the Lords Supper, while the king sits at the Table his Spicknard sends out its Sweet Smel, Cant. 1.12.” And finally, in “Ejecting the obstinate” (124-25). In the last section before the Improvements, Taylor alludes again to these six particulars as evidence of God's presence in a particular church (142). Beyond these two specific references to the Supper there are of course more general allusions to the ordinances, the sacraments, the blessings of God's house, but none to the Supper is developed in any detail. Especially in the exhortation section of the sermon where Taylor, appealing to the will and affections of his hearers, celebrates the blessings of God's dwelling in a particular church—the “unspeakable favor & Priviledges” (144), the “ground of joy & praise” (144), the “highest priviledges & chiefe honour” (152)—the Supper is only alluded to once, and then under the general heading of “the means of Grace allowed thee of God, for thy salvation. By means of Grace understand ordinance-instituted means” (148). In the sermon Taylor is concerned with the prefatory requirements for participation in the Supper, not the Sacrament itself. And so his major concern—particularly with Stoddard present—is to defend the need for preparation and the necessity of a public confession of a conversion experience.

The absence of any concern with the Lord's Supper is also characteristic of Gods Determinations, though that at first may seem surprising. The Sacrament is not referred to once by name; there are no references to the Supper as a “banquet” and only two general references to a Feast. What references there are to the emblems of the Supper are general and not related directly to the Sacrament (for example, “Children's Bread,” 283). The few references to the ordinances occur mostly in the final lyrics and are quite general in nature (such as, “Each Ordinance and Instrument of Grace”; “with Ordinances and Instrument of Grace”; and “with Ordinances alli'de, and inaml'led”) and the only two references to the sacraments are likewise general in nature:

They now enCovenant With God: and His:
          They thus indent.
The Charters Seals belonging unto this
          The Sacrament. …

And in the following lyric:

          Christ's Spirit showers
Down in his Word, and Sacraments
          Upon these Flowers. …


Even in those poems where the subject of the Lord's Supper would seem appropriate, explicit references to the benefits do not appear. In “The Soule Seeking Church-Fellowship,” for example, the church is imaged as “Christ's Curious Garden fenced in / With Solid Walls of Discipline,” and Corruptions are kept out:

For on the Towers of these Walls there stand
          Just Watchmen Watching day, and night,
And Porters at each Gate, who have Command
          To open onely to the right.
          And all within may have a sight.


The protection of the Supper from unconverted participants is implicit here, yet neither in these verses nor in the remaining part of this poem does Taylor consider in any direct way the Lord's Table. The same is true of the following poem, “The Soul admiring the Grace of the Church Enters into Church Fellowship.” Stanza 5 contains the most direct reference in all of Gods Determinations to the Eucharist:

They now enCovenant With God: and His:
          They thus indent.
The Charters Seals belonging unto this
          The Sacrament
So God is theirs avoucht, they his in Christ.
In whom all things they have, with Grace are splic'te.


Thus, even in the most likely places, there are only the most oblique references to the Lord's Supper. Here, as in the Foundation Day Sermon, Taylor's concern is not with the Sacrament but with the preparatory stages themselves.

There are, I think two reasons for this. Taylor's major concern during the 1670s and early 1680s was to encourage the reluctant, backward elect to recognize their election, to come forward and to accept what was rightfully theirs: “Presumption lies in Backward Bashfulness, / When one is backward though a bidden Guest.” The Supper was important, of course, but in the sequence of events it was the end, not the means to the end, of full membership in the church. Hence there was little reason to assign a central place in either the sermon or the poem to the Lord's Supper. Further, and I discuss this point in chapter 2, Taylor's attitude toward the Sacrament demonstrably changed during the 1680s, particularly as it regarded those poems that come to be related to the Supper, the Preparatory Meditations.

Gods Determinations is an uneven poem. 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. Taylor is not always able to reconcile the needs of the poem as poem with the necessity of anatomizing the sins and supposed sins of the reluctant elect. And at times Taylor's aphoristic lines, in themselves often quite striking, and his homely imagery, reflecting an easy closeness to his imagined audience, are inappropriate to the role given to certain of the characters in the poem, and he is unable to sustain the characterization and the tone.19 Mercy and Justice, for example, are initially presented as representations of the Father and the Son. Justice asserts:

                    Thou from thy Fathers bosom must depart:
And be incarnate like a slave below
                    Must pay mans Debts unto the utmost marke.
                    Thou must sustain that burden. …


Mercy and Justice sometimes speak like the abstractions they are (“The Righteousness of God should be his all / The which he cannot have for want of hands”) but at other times they sound like neighbors haggling over a backyard fence:

If any after Satans Pipes do Caper
          Red burning Coales from hell in Wrath I gripe,
And make them in his face with Vengeance Vaper,
          Untill he dance after the Gospell Pipe. …
When any such are startled from ill,
          And cry help, help, with tears, I will advance
The Musick of the Gospell Minsterill,
          Whose strokes they strike, and tunes exactly


The roles of Justice and Mercy are clear in the poem, conventional personifications that they are; what is not always clear and consistent is Taylor's characterization of them.20 The verse is often uneven though that unevenness is occasionally rescued by a striking image or aphorism.21 The following stanza is a case in point; Justice speaks:

The Works of Merit-Mongers I will weigh
          Within the Ballance of the sanctuary:
Their Matter, and their Manner I will lay
          Unto the Standard-Rule t'see how they Vary.

There is little here to rescue the flatness of the language and the meter except the concluding couplet, which is one of the most incisive dismissals of a doctrine of works to be found:

Whosever trust doth to his golden deed
Doth rob a barren Garden for a Weed.


Often the verse is simply inappropriate—however striking the language might be—for the tone and movement that Taylor as stage manager (in the first part of the poem at any rate) creates. After the Almighty sends a “Royall Coach” for “Man in this Lapst Estate,” “Gods Selecting Love in the Decree” ends with a hymn of praise for the honor awarded to the Elect:

     O! Honour! Honour! Honours! Oh! the Gain!
And all such Honours all the saints obtain.
It is the Chariot of the King of Kings:
That all who Glory gain, to glory brings.


And in a striking series of lines Taylor balances the reactions, colloquially expressed, of those who come to see the coach with the heightened description of the coach/church. Then in his role as the stage manager, to characterize the rejection of the damned, he writes:

Their stomachs rise: these graces will not down.
They think them Slobber Sawces: therefore frown.
They loath the same, wamble keck, heave they do:
Their Spleen thereat out at their mouths they throw. …

My reservation about these lines is not with their slang and proverbial quality; throughout the larger poem Taylor often handles this kind of language with ease (“A Musty Cask doth marre rich Malmsy Wine”). Nor to the image of vomiting out the rich “graces” offered by the sender of the coach; the language of Satan's assaults is often harsher and cruder. But these lines do not fit the tone and movement that Taylor has established in this poem. They are simply out of place. It is as if the bookish Taylor, overly concerned about the capacities of his imagined audience, strains to find the meanest of colloquial images to make his point. It does not work, it seems to me, either here or in other places in the poem.22

There are also a number of sections of the poem that are tedious in their unnecessary length and often flat poetry. In such poems as “A Threnodiall Dialogue between The Second and Third Ranks” and the first two poems following the second “Preface,” the verse is the weakest and the drama of the poem—such as it is—considerably slackened. It may be true that in the Saint's call for the ranks to anatomize their sins, given their scrupulousness a certain amount of tedium is inevitable. That may be the point. But it is also true that in poetic terms these poems could be more sharply focused. In the first, for example, when the Third Rank, insisting that its fallen state is more fallen than the Second, introduces the image of the toad (“We Cannot wish a Toade as wee”), this necessarily leads to the Second Rank's stilted response:

Our Pray'res, are pray'reless: Oh! to what we bee
An ugly Toad's an Angell bright we see.
Oh pray, pray you, oh pray, for us that so
The Lord of Mercy Mercy on's may show.


Part of this may of course be the exuberance of an emerging poet; part is almost a caricature of Taylor's favorite techniques: the repetition for effect (“Oh pray, pray you, oh pray”), the amplification (“An ugly Toad's an Angell”), and the characteristic fascination with ploce (“The Lord of Mercy Mercy on's may show”). Whatever the reason or reasons, these sections tend to be the weakest of the poem, indicating also in part a lack of control of the movement and verse itself.

Taylor is not always comfortable with the structure of his drama, though this is perhaps not so surprising when one considers that Gods Determinations is more than ten times longer than anything he has attempted before. Further, the disparities between the dramatic characterizations of the first part of the poem and the passive interchanges of the second part do not lend themselves to a sustained movement, particularly since the dramatic high point occurs well before the end of the first part.23 The reason for these problems may be that Taylor himself does not have the ability at this point to reconcile the divergent demands of the various influences that inform the poem. Perhaps this is simply another way of saying that “congregational church poetry,” to use Karl Keller's apt phrase, precludes the dramatic control that arises naturally from the work itself. This also may explain in part the various “structures” differing critics have found in the poem—from Theocritan song contest to extended meditation is, it must be admitted, quite a range.

All this being said, however, and I have not been exhaustive, Gods Determinations is a good (if not fine) poem considered for itself, and an astonishing one in the context of Taylor's development as a poet. As Hall writes: “it is the transitional poem which demonstrates Taylor's movement from versifier to poet.”24 And it is a poem that in its amount of accomplished verse and range and scope could not have been predicted from the poetry written up to this time. The first “Preface,” the last group of lyrics, and other individual poems (such as the two poems titled “Christs Reply”) have often been singled out for their quality. There are a good many more as well. Taylor is particularly successful in those poems presenting Satan's assaults on the timid souls, and in emphasizing through the striking imagery the hope/fear dilemma. Early in the poem, for example, Satan insinuates that he and God are equally the enemies of the disheartened souls:

He will become your foe, you then shall bee
Flanckt of by him before, behinde by mee.
You'st stand between us two our spears to dunce.
Can you Offend and Fence both wayes at once?
You'l then have sharper service than the Whale,
Between the Sword fish, and the Threshers taile.


The balance between the closed couplets and the run-on lines establishes the rhythm of the movement of Satan's argument as the poor souls are caught between the opening and closing of the “Monstrous Gyants Jaws” of God and Satan. And though the natural images, the whale and “Wheelhorn'd Rams that fight,” do not easily follow the fencing image (offend is also a fencing term), there is a certain skill and exuberance in the passage that indicates Taylor's increasing abilities.

Taylor is particularly successful in the contrast between Satan's active, raging, windmill-like assaults, both in the vigor of the lines and the colloquial imagery, and Christ's calm sustained assertion of the souls' ability to withstand Satan's attacks. Satan's argument usually moves from the world of sense to the world of spirit but he often reverses his approach and the central components of the faith are reduced to the flippancy of his slang:

… thy Pray'res are sapless most,
Or like the Whistling of some Dead mans Ghost:
Thy Holy Conference is onely like
An Empty Voice that tooteth through a pipe.
Thy Soule doth peep out at thine Eares, and Eyes
To bless those bawbles that are earthly toyes.


Christ, in contrast, moves from the emptiness of worldly temptations to the means and benefits of his graces:

Although thy Soule was once a Stall
Rich hung with Satans nicknacks all;
          If thou Repent thy Sin,
A Tabernacle in't I'le place
Fild with Gods Spirit, and his Grace.
          Oh Comfortable thing!


Taylor is often quite accomplished in his use of colloquial diction and rhythm; the lines move with an ease that belies the complex poetic form. Some of the best of these sections are in stanzas that work off of contrasting line lengths; in “An Extasy of Joy,” for example, the movement is from five feet to four to three:

Screw up, Deare Lord, upon the highest pin:
          My soul thy ample Praise to sound.
          O tune it right, that every string
                    May make thy praise rebound.


The best, however, in the second “Christs Reply,” balance four-feet and three-feet lines, while retaining the easy rhythm:

I dare the World therefore to show
A God like me, to anger slow:
          Whose wrath is full of Grace.
Doth hate all Sins both Greate, and small:
Yet when Repented, pardons all.
          Frowns with a Smiling Face.


Generally, in characterizing Christ's replies to the embattled souls, the meter is regular and the rhymes are exact; the jangling rhythm associated with Satan's assaults contrasts starkly with the calm assurance of Christ's response to the souls. Taylor is not successful throughout with these experimental forms, but when they work they indicate his developing skill.

Taylor's ability to develop an image, matching the form and meter to the movement of the lines, is one of the most striking contrasts between Gods Determinations and the earlier poetry. These conceits are sometimes quite flat; the ant in “An Extasy of Joy let in by this Reply” simply falls under the weight of the amplification technique, and even the usual proficiency of the varying line lengths is not enough to salvage the verse:

Can any Ant stand on the Earth and spit
          Another out to peer with this?
          Or Drink the Ocean up, and yet
                    Its belly empty is?


Perhaps the two best examples of extended metaphors that are finely controlled occur at the beginning and end of the poem, and both involve the “maker” motif. In the first God is the maker, the Infinite All who creates from the finite nothing. The first “Preface” is perhaps as good as Taylor ever is, both in the quality of the verse and the complex integration of the various traditions that inform the poem. The tone of the poem runs counter to the Job passages that underlie much of the movement and imagery. In Job, the assault out of the whirlwind aims to force Job to recognize his groveling finiteness, and after the initial concrete images the imagery of Job is of vastness and incomprehensibility: “springs of the sea,” “breadth of the earth,” “the treasures of the snow,” or the “ordinances of the heavens.” After these assaults by the Lord God, Job can only reply “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee?” (40:4), and “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:6). But the movement and tone of Taylor's “Preface” is more complex than this, and his concern with the reluctant halfway members is to move them in the opposite direction from Job's. After the enunciation of text (a sermonic pattern informs the poem) Taylor moves quickly from the Infinity/All abstractions to the comforting and familiar domestic craft imagery. The initial movement is to assure his audience that the abstractions of divinity can be presented in terms that can be understood, and so the initial concern is to emphasize the hope of the hope/fear dilemma. But as the imagery unfolds from woodworking to smithing to masonry and to lacing and filletting to quilt balls and canopies: that is, from substance to filigree, from centrality to decoration, a countermovement develops because—and this is ultimately the result of the “domestication” of the infinite—the created orders of nature are after all not silver boxes or bowling balls. Nor is the activity of God's creative impulse comparable to pumping the bellows of a furnace or installing curtain rods, for “His Glorious Handywork [is] not made by hands.”

However much Taylor later emphasizes the merciful aspect of the godhead, mercy must still be seen in the context of God's justice: “Oh! what a might is this Whose single frown / Doth shake the world as it would shake it down?” The application section of this microsermon then moves to balance back and forth between the hope/fear dilemma. In contrast to the emphasis on “nothing Man,” the counterbalance is on the preciousness of “the brightest Gem,” the “lightsom Gem,” the “Brightest Diamond.” Though darkened by the Fall, “Darker by far than any Coalpit Stone,” nothing Man may be one of the elect and to gain his “All” he must come to recognize that in the cosmic drama of God's activities. Man, for all his smallness, is in fact the central figure in the drama of God's determinations.

Another successful section is near the end of the Saint's final advice to the souls, in “Difficulties arising from Uncharitable Cariages of Christians,” where Taylor further extends the God-as-maker motif in the web/net conceit. Weaving imagery, as others have noted, is one of the staples in Taylor's poetic stock. He uses it in what is perhaps his earliest poem, “∗ ∗ ∗ this in a Letter I sent to my schoolfellow. W.M.”:

What though my Muse be not addornd so rare
As Ovids golden verses to declare
My love: yet it is in the loome tyed
Where golden quills of love weave on the web.

(MP [Edward Taylor's Minor Poetry, ed. Thomas M. Davis and Virginia L. Davis, Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981], 4)

It appears again in the “Last Declamation”:

Now that Speech Wealthi'st is, whose Curious Web
Of finest twine is wrought, not Cumbered
With Knots, Galls, Ends, or Thrums: but doth obtain
All Golden Rhetorick to trim the Same.


And again in “Were but my Muse an Huswife Good,” the poem sent to Elizabeth shortly before they were married:

          That long'd for Web of new Relation, gay
That must be wove upon our Wedden Day,
(Whose Warfe, & Woofe are thy true Love, & mine
Hearts golden Fleece, Spun into finest twine)
Shines like a Web of fulgent gold. …


These uses extend from a simple expression of his regard for a schoolfellow to a metaphor for the simplicity of English (in contrast to the “Knots, Galls, Ends, or Thrums” of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew) to an image of the relationship that will be woven in the marriage to Elizabeth. In each case the imagery points to the process of creating, a letter in the first instance, the wealth of English speech in the second, and, in the poem to Elizabeth, the “rich web” that will be a symbol of their newly created married state. In the love poem, however, the web is the central image and provides Taylor an occasion to extend the metaphor as the controlling frame. It is something that they will make and that will adequately represent the many relationships they have:

          Let's Cloath ourselves, my Dove
With this Effulgeant Web, & our pickt Love
Wrapt up therein: & lets by walking right
Loves brightest Mantle make Still Shine more bright.


Each time Taylor uses the image he sees more clearly the possibilities for it, the complex uses he can make of it.

In Gods Determinations, however, the same basic image of weaving is expanded to represent the design reflected in God's activities in relation to man, his providential control of the affairs of each human life. In the “Profession of Faith” Taylor drew up the day the church was founded and later expanded and entered into the Church Records, he touches on the significance the image will have in Gods Determinations:

… to Se God face to face, to se Jesus Christ, to Se the wayes of God in the World! to Se the Golden Checker work of the Draw net of Providence hung open before the view of the Soule, To behold how in the Meshes of the Same the Saints are Caught, & carried to Glory.


In Gods Determinations as the Saint presents his final advice to the souls, he contrasts—extending the hope/fear dilemma to the end of the poem—the snares of Satan with the “Curious needlework of Providence”: Satan sets “Traps, and Wilds … / For to intrap the Innocent therein: / These are his Wyers, Snares, and tangling Nets / To hanck, and hopple harmless souls in Sin.”26 All of Satan's assaults are designed to make the souls stumble over the doubts implanted in his various accusations; Satan's perverse creations turn the Soul back upon itself and tempt it to become entangled in its own frightened introspection. By contrast, “Gods Way-Marks … / Points you the way unto the Land Divine, / … To New Jerusalem above the line”:

His Wildred state will wane away, and hence
          These Crooked Passages will soon appeare
The Curious needlework of Providence,
          Embrodered with golden Spangles Cleare.
          Judge not this Web while in the Loom, but stay
          From judging it untill the judgment day.
For while its foiled up the best Can see
          But little of it, and that little too
Shews weather beaten but when it shall bee
          Hung open all at once, Oh beautious shew!
          Though thrids run in, and out, Cross snarld and
          The Web will even be enwrought you'l finde.
If in the golden Meshes of this Net
          (The Checkerwork of Providence) you're Caught
And Carride hence to Heaven, never fret:
          Your Barke shall to an Happy Bay be brought.
          You'l se both Good and Bad drawn up hereby,
          These to Hells Horrour, those to Heavens Joy.


Taylor's conceit here is a striking representation of the central Christian acceptance of the unknown: “Now we see in a glass darkly, then we shall see face to face” (the passage that introduces this image in the Foundation sermon, quoted above); “now we understand in part, then we shall fully understand.” It is a use of a domestic image in the strongest way of emphasizing the relation of the ordinary occurrences of this world to the determinations of God, from the beginning of time. However confused the elect souls may have been by Satan's “Wyers” and “Snares,” and however difficult it may be for them to see in this life more than “thrids run[ning] in, and out, Cross snarld and twinde,” they will find, caught in “the golden Meshes of this Net / (The Checkerwork of Providence),” that God's determinations are a “beautious shew!”

What is also striking about this section, as Hall points out, is the introduction of the “fisher of men” image (178). It is this allusion that unites the web and net images as one in the person of the Saint/minister. To those who have not yet recognized their election, the “Crooked Passages” of the web may seem chaotic; the Saint, of course, sees more and enough of the pattern to assure the timid souls that determinations for their ultimate knowing are a part of God's plan for them. Further, it is the role of the Saint/minister to so coach the hesitant elect into the “golden Meshes” of this net that they too will come to recognize, as the Saint has done, the configuration of God's determinations for their lives. And it is, finally, the Saint's role to bring the vacillations of the souls to an end and to point them “the way unto the Land Divine”:

Fear not Presumption then, when God invites:
          Invite not Fear, when that he doth thee Call:
Call not in Question whether he delights
          In thee, but make him thy Delight, and all.
          Presumption lies in Backward Bashfulness,
          When one is backward though a bidden Guest.


These stanzas are some of the best parts of the poem, not only for the successful conceit of the web/net that is strikingly unified, but also because they bring to full circle the movement from Fall to Redemption. The confusion created by Satan/Sin (“Man at a muze, and in a maze doth stand”) has in part been resolved, and the Soul coaxed into the recognition that once it accepts the call to grace, it will recognize the final unity of God's plan: the “Wildred state will wane away. …” It is also in these stanzas that Taylor's developing success with homely diction and rhythm is most evident. Here, as is not always the case in the poem, the domestic image is exactly appropriate to the abstract subject matter and the tone created by the colloquial style; the natural rhythm and conversational tone of the verse establish as much as anything else the basis for assurance in the Soul. Note, for example, how the run-on lines create the natural cadence, and persuasiveness of the Saint's admonitions: “For while its foiled up the best Can see / But little of it, and that little too / Shews weather beaten …” (326). If, as Taylor says in the Profession of Faith,27 the Soul is caught in the “Golden Checker work of the Draw net of Providence,” then it will feel the “Ultimate Influence of heavenlie Glory …”:

& that is this it sets the Soule a Singing forth the Praises of the Lord. God having made the Soule Such a glorious Musicall Instrument of his praises, & the holy Ghost having so gloriously Strung it with the golden wyer of grace, & heavenly Glory have Skrew'd up the Strings to Sound forth the Songs of Zions King, the pouring forth of the Influence of Glory play upon the Soule Eternall praises unto God. & Now the Soule beg[inn]ing to Sing forth its endless Hallelujahs unto God.

(CR, 80)

Thus it is to the celebration of God's glory and grace that the final lyrics of Gods Determinations turn. These poems have been quite justly praised, not only for the quality of the poetry itself but also for their structural appropriateness as the conclusion to the whole of Gods Determinations. In “Our Insufficiency to Praise God Suitably, for his Mercy” the souls begin with a chorus of joy, though acknowledging that they can never praise God suitably for his mercy: “Though what we can is but a Lisp, We pray / Accept thereof. We have no better pay” (329). In one of their few positive actions in the poem, they then turn to seek “Church-Fellowship” within the “Curious Garden richly set,” Christ's paradise, a postlapsarian Eden. They enter, as the metaphor shifts, the glorious city, the “New Jerusalem above the line,” and in this garden within the city celebrate the “Glory of and Grace in” the church:

          Christ's Spirit showers
Down in his Word, and Sacraments
          Upon these Flowers
The Clouds of Grace Divine Contents.


In the final two poems the souls sing their admiration and joy in the glory and grace of the Church, and “Encoacht … in Christs Coach they sweetly sing; / As They to Glory ride therein.”

These last lyrics are significant in a number of ways: for their experimental quality; for the introduction of the first person persona; and for the insistence on singing as the appropriate response of the graced. In these lyrics (five poems if one begins with “The Soule Seeking …”) Taylor's proficiency with the verse indicates as clearly as one would want the movement from “versifier to poet.” What is seen intermittently throughout Gods Determinations is here sustained through the final section, the “choral epilogue.”28 The poems extend the tone of thankful joy from one to the next, avoiding the often characteristic disruption in movement and disparity in language of the earlier poems. The central and first poem in the sequence, I think, is “The Soule Seeking Church-Fellowship,” for it is in this poem that the souls take the initiative for the first time—they now “seek” the public seal of their election. Their reservations are put aside and, as they have turned to Christ twice earlier in the poem, now as the “Lambs espoused Wife” they are dressed “like a Bride all Gloriously arraide” for entry into the fellowship of the congregation.

The striking variety—yet unity—of these last lyrics contributes to the thematic harmony of the complete poem's final movement. Of the last five lyrics (the last seven, for that matter) all are in six-line stanzas except the “Soule Seeking Church-Fellowship”—what I have called the central poem. In this poem the basic six-line stanza is shortened by one line. The final rhyme is doubled (a b a b b) and the b rhymes in each stanza are also the four-beat lines (5/4/5/4/4/). The variety of the verses in the last section is achieved not by differing stanza lengths, nor by the rhyme scheme, a b a b c c, which is the same for the last four poems (actually the last seven poems, again excepting “The Soule Seeking”). The variety and underlying motif of praise is accomplished by shifting the line lengths: for the last four poems, 5/2/5/2/5/5, 2/4/2/4/5/5, 5/3/5/3/4/4, and 5/4/5/4/4/4. The six-line form and rhyme scheme actually reflect the external structure of “Christ's Curious Garden fenced in / With Solid Walls of Discipline,” yet the variety within that framework:

     All flourish not at once. We see
               While some Unfold
     Their blushing Leaves, some buds there bee.
Here's Faith, Hope, Charity in flower, which call
On yonders in the Bud. …


Formerly enslaved to their thoughts of sin the souls discover their true freedom within the structure of the church.

Taylor's adept use of imagery in these poems is also quite successful. From the Canticles in “The Soule Seeking …” he adapts the image of the hortus conclusus as the allegorical base on which the Church is established, with walls and “Allies … Laid out by line,” well wed and watered, and protected from external intrusion by “Just Watchmen … / And Porters at each Gate. …” It is truly the Edenic garden set apart from the thornpatch of this world. The following poem shifts the image to the Holy City of the Apocalypse, which is also protected from external assaults, and here, finally, the souls' last reservations are removed and they pledge themselves to their Bridegroom:

They now enCovenant With God: and His:
          They thus indent.
The Charters Seals belonging unto this
          The Sacrament. …


These two poems are relatively abstract, even with the basic metaphors of garden/city. In “The Glory of and Grace in the Church set out,” however, the imagery shifts to the vivid sensuousness of the souls-now-saints as flowers in the knot/garden/Church and the richest of these last poetic forms reflects this glory and grace: the poem is still a six-line form (a b a b c c) but here the richness within the form and the variety of line length and rhyme are the most extensive. Each stanza begins with a two-foot line and ends with a five-foot line, reflecting the different stages of spiritual growth (2/4/2/4/5/5) to be found in the church: “All flourish not at once. …” And here the unity and harmony of the called-out ones is reflected in the refrain (“Yet that's not all”) and the interlocking c rhyme (shall/all, shall/all, fall/all, call/all, shall/all).

The final two poems, then, are spoken by the souls now encoached for heaven,29 and though, as in the earlier poem, they cannot sufficiently praise God for his mercy and its fullness can only be realized in the archetype of the Church (the heavenly home), “Yet if thou wilt thou Can'st me raise / With Angels bright to sing thy Praise.” In the last poem, the saints have apparently been raised: “In Heaven soaring up, I dropt an Eare / On Earth: and oh! sweet Melody. …” Dominating both these poems is the image of the saints as a harp, informed by the passage in the Profession of Faith, an almost direct gloss on these last two stanzas:

God having made the Soule Such a glorious Musicall Instrument of his praises, & the holy Ghost having so gloriously Strung it with the golden wyer of grace, & heavenly Glory having Skrew'd up the Strings to Sound forth the Songs of Zions King, the pouring forth of the Influence of Glory play upon the Soule Eternall praises unto God.


These final verses are highly successful and sophisticated poems and, unlike a number of places in Gods Determinations, the quality is sustained throughout the final lyrics. To put it another way, they are the product of a highly conscious and controlled poet, whatever weaknesses may flaw other parts of the poem. Taylor has simply found his stride. And by casting the imagery of the verse in the framework of the Canticles and the Apocalypse, he has provided a thematic motif that underlies the movement of the complete poem: the family/Church before the Fall to the Canticles' garden of the Church/soul to the Church triumphant where in the heavenly city Christ and his elect “live for aye.” It is neither a poem justifying God's ways to man (they do not need justifying), nor solely congregational church poetry. It is, however, a poem that insists that God's determinations touching his elect issue—and have throughout human history—upon his chosen at a particular place and at a specific time.30

Finally, for any reading of Edward Taylor, Gods Determinations is significant in three ways—quite apart from the kind of poem it is, the traditions that inform it, and the quality (good or bad) of the verse. First, Taylor's meditative voice emerges throughout the poem. He is, early on, the omniscient narrator and then the stage manager and manipulator of action; following the second “Preface,” however, the pastoral, public, first-person voice of the Saint emerges in both dialogue (such as the three poems touching the souls' doubts) and monologue (“Some of Satans Sophestry” and “Difficulties arising from Uncharitable Cariages of Christians”). But in the final section of the poem, though there is some confusion, and though Taylor speaks again in the voice of pastor/coach (in the three poems dealing with the garden, city and flowers), in the last two poems the first person could be the Soul-now-Saint or the pastoral voice, or Taylor himself. The ambiguity is most evident in the final poem:

In Heaven soaring up, I dropt an Eare
          On Earth: and oh! sweet Melody:
And listening, found it was the Saints who were
          Encoacht for Heaven that sang for Joy.

In the preceding “Souls Admiration” the voice is clearly that of the Soul/Saint, and the last poem begins with what seems to be the same voice, but there is now a shift from the saints to an observer standing somehow, somewhere above them. This voice addresses the saints in the second person (“Will not your inward fire of Joy …”) and the third (“they / With Hymns do offer up their Heart”). As Hall says: “As the poem shifts to focus on personal praise to God, the tone changes, the narrator disappears, and Taylor no longer speaks indirectly through a persona. The final lyrics are concerned with his personal relationship to God and he speaks in his own authentic poetic voice for the first time in his career” (206). Some of this confusion in voice also seems to inform the first of the Meditations; but at least Taylor has moved here from the general audience of halfway members to a personal address to God.

Further, and this is only implicit in the Foundation Day sermon and not in the early part of Gods Determinations, the glory and grace shared by those who are members of the body of Christ lead naturally, almost inevitably, to the desire of the Chosen to praise God, however ineffectual their praise may be: “Though what we can is but a Lisp, We pray / Accept thereof. We have no better pay” (329).31 The saints, of course, may praise God by their lives: “It lives a Life indeed / A Life! as if it Liv'd for Life. / … It trims the same with Graces rife. …” And they praise God by the proper observances of “Each Ordinance and Instrument of Grace” (329). But the final two lyrics are almost insistent on the centrality of the first person (Saint or poet) to sing praises to God. This praise, as the conclusion to Psalm 19 has it, is both public and private: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, oh Lord, My Strength and my redeemer” (v. 14). Or as Taylor puts it:

In all their Acts, publick, and private, nay
          And secret too, they praise impart.
But in their Acts Divine and Worship, they
          With Hymns do offer up their Heart.

It is not difficult to see how the public words of the congregational minister and the private/secret words of the meditator/poet are foreshadowed in the final lyrics and shifting stance of Gods Determinations.

Finally, Gods Determinations is significant not only for what Taylor has accomplished in the poetry, but also for what he fails to do with much of this accomplishment. The poem could not be predicted from the early poetry; but from the proficiency of the verse and the movement from versifier to poet, from all this, after Gods Determinations and its successful experimentation one could reasonably predict more from Taylor as a poet than the single stanzaic form of the Preparatory Meditations. This is not to denigrate the Meditations in any way. It is, however, to suggest that there is a radical limiting of the range and scope of his poetry (at least until the “Metrical History of Christianity”) and a substantial narrowing of his concerns. Why this is so is the concern of the next chapter.


  1. Cf. a typical passage: “June 28, Winde South by West; we saild West by North. I exercised from these words: for the reward of their hands shall be given him. Isiah 3, ii,” The Diary of Edward Taylor, ed. Francis X. Murphy (Springfield, Mass.: Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, 1964), 34.

  2. See Walter Powell's discussion of these events in “Edward Taylor's Westfield: An Edition of the Westfield ‘Town Records’” (Ph.D. diss., Kent State University, 1982), 30ff.; cf. also the notes to Edward Taylor's “Church Records” and Related Sermons, ed. Thomas M. Davis and Virginia L. Davis (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981), 449ff.; hereafter cited as CR. I depend on Powell's edition of the Town Records and his excellent introduction.

  3. See CR, 476 n. 102.

  4. See my discussion of the relevant evidence in “Edward Taylor's ‘Occasional Meditations’” (EAL [Early American Literature] 5 [Winter 1971]), and chap. 2 below.

  5. MP [Minor Poetry, ed. Thomas M. Davis and Virginia L. Davis (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981)], 42. I use this edition for all poems, except Gods Determinations, the Preparatory Meditations, and the “Metrical History of Christianity.”

  6. Cf. Dean Hall, “Edward Taylor: The Evolution of a Poet” (Ph.D. diss., Kent State University, 1977), 188ff. I am indebted, here and throughout, to Hall's comprehensive study of Taylor's early poetry and Gods Determinations. See also Norman S. Grabo, “Accomplishment: The Nondevotional Poems,” in Edward Taylor, rev. ed. (Boston: Twayne, 1988), 71-80.

  7. Barbara Lewalski's discussion of the role of the Book of Psalms in her chapter “Biblical Genre Theory: Precepts and Models for the Religious Lyric” is an extensive analysis of the Psalter's importance (Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979]). She comments in relation to Taylor, however, that though he “occasionally alludes to instruments or tunes mentioned in the Book of Psalms in petitioning Christ or the Holy Spirit to play upon him as a passive instrument, he wrote no Psalm paraphrases … or New Covenant psalms in creative imitation of David …” (395).

    Rosemary Fithian's study “The Influence of The Psalm Tradition on the Meditative Poetry of Edward Taylor” (Ph.D. diss., Kent State University, 1979), however, takes into account the recent discovery of Taylor's psalm paraphrases and is a fuller discussion of the direct influence of the Book of Psalms on his Meditations. Unless noted, my citations are to the more complete dissertation, but see also Fithian's “‘Words of My Mouth, Meditations of My Heart’: Edward Taylor's Preparatory Meditations and the Book of Psalms,” EAL 20 (Fall 1985): 89-119.

  8. John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1963), 1:xxxviii.

  9. Powell, Town Records, 17ff.

  10. Williston Walker, The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism (Boston: The Pilgrim Press, 1960), 328.

  11. I discuss this development more completely in my introduction to Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard: The Nature of the Lord's Supper (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981; hereafter cited as ETvsSS), 8ff.

  12. It is a misreading of the context in which the church was organized and of Taylor's subsequent development to confuse the two versions of the Foundation Sermon. Only in the second version, revised some ten years later, does Taylor include any attacks on Stoddard's view of the Supper as a converting ordinance. See, in this context, Dean Hall and Thomas M. Davis's “The Two Versions of Edward Taylor's Foundation Day Sermon” (Resources for American Literary Study 5 [Autumn 1975]: 199-216), particularly the appendix, which contrasts in outline form the two versions.

  13. John Gatta, Gracious Laughter: The Meditative Wit of Edward Taylor (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989), 101. J. Daniel Patterson also gives a useful analysis of the varying critical responses to the poem in “A Critical Edition of Edward Taylor's ‘Gods Determinations’” (Ph.D. diss., Kent State University, 1985), xlff. Grabo's recent suggestion that the poem may profitably be compared to musical models is an intriguing one (Edward Taylor, 100ff.).

  14. Michael Colacurcio, “Gods Determinations Touching Half-Way Membership: Occasion and Audience in Edward Taylor,” American Literature 39 (November 1967): 299.

  15. Hall, “Evolution,” 146ff.

  16. There is as yet no holograph calendar of Taylor's manuscripts, although the materials—if used with some caution—exist to create a fairly accurate one. My work with the manuscripts, ranging from the early fragment of the Richard Mather elegy (c. 1669) to the late versions of the valedictory verses and other late poems, has established a fair sense of the characteristics of Taylor's hand. My identification of this date for the manuscript of Gods Determinations is also based in part on the corresponding script in the Church Records and in the first version of the psalm paraphrases. Further, as I develop throughout this reading, substantial evidence apart from the script also points to this terminus ad quem.

  17. Church Records and Related Sermons, 138.

  18. One of the most detailed analyses of this type of dependence is James Barbour's “The Prose Context of Edward Taylor's Anti-Stoddard Meditations,” EAL 10 (Fall 1975): 144-57.

  19. I am not referring here to Taylor's usual pattern of the juxtaposition of the common and divine, the insertion of the most mundane domestic image into matters of high style—in short, to the decorum of his poetry. I am suggesting that his ability to present verse appropriate to the dramatic framework he himself develops is not always under control.

  20. For a different view see Gatta, “The Comic Design of Gods Determinations touching his Elect,EAL 10 (Fall 1975): 126. In Gracious Laughter (101ff.) Gatta provides an excellent analysis of the poem, though from a different viewpoint than mine.

  21. Cf. Robert D. Arner, “Proverbs in Edward Taylor's Gods Determinations,Southern Folklore Quarterly 37 (March 1973): 1-13.

  22. See also the soul's final response to Satan: “Well, Satan, well: with thee I'le parle no more. / But do adjure thee hence: begone therefore” (289), and most of “A Threnodiall Dialogue between The Second and Third Ranks.”

  23. I am aware that I continue to speak of the poem's structure as having two parts. Other divisions that have been proposed are often persuasive, but it is hard not to think of a poem that has two “Prefaces” as not having two parts.

  24. Hall's chapter on this point, “Gods Determinations as a Transitional Poem,” is an excellent discussion of this aspect of the poem (“Evolution,” 175ff.).

  25. In this context, see William J. Scheick's fine discussion of “The Jawbones Schema of Edward Taylor's Gods Determinations,” in Puritan Influences in American Literature, ed. Emory Elliott (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979), 38-54.

  26. Cf. the later passage in Grabo's edition of the Christographia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962):

    [The crooked paths of the wicked] … have So many turns and Cross intricacies, that persons are bewildered therein. There are more Cross, and Secret anglings, and Windings backward, and forward, to and fro than ever were in Dedalus his Labarynth. … For he that would indeed have the best Copy to write after must take Christs life, for an Example. Here is no blot, nor blux in it, no trip, nor Stumble, no fret nor gaule in this Web.


  27. Church Records and Related Sermons, p. 80.

  28. Nathalia Wright in the first critic to call these poems the “choral epilogue” in “The Morality Tradition in the Poetry of Edward Taylor,” AL [American Literature] 18 (March 1946): 18-26. Grabo (Edward Taylor, 105) also uses this division, as does Gatta (Gracious Laughter, 133). Arner (“Proverbs,” 28) and Mindele Black (“Edward Taylor: Heavens Sugar Cake,” New England Quarterly 29 [June 1956]: 171) view the last seven lyrics as a unit, while Colacurcio (“Occasion and Audience,” 309) and Keller (Example, 136) consider the final five poems as the epilogue. See also Patterson's discussion of the differing views of what constitutes the epilogue (“Critical Edition,” cxxii n. 71).

  29. Peter Nicolaisen, in Die Bildlichkeit in der Dichtung Edward Taylors (Neumünster: Karl Wachholtz, 1966), comments on the confusion in persona in these last lyrics:

    The speaker of the closing hymns is sometimes a collective “we,” sometimes a new “soul,” and finally an “I,” not distinguished any more precisely. The division of the roles is not entirely clear; one may nevertheless assume that the poems are thought of as a reaction of all the elect to conversion.


    Hall also discusses the confusion over the persona in these last lyrics (“Evolution,” 205ff.).

  30. A paraphrase of Colacurcio's comment in “Occasion and Audience,” 229.

  31. Cf. the last stanza of the last Meditation, dated some forty-five years later:

    Had I but better thou shouldst better have.
              I nought withold from thee through nigerdliness,
    But better than my best I cannot save
              From any one, but bring my best to thee.
              If thou acceptst my sick Loves gift I bring
              Thy it accepting makes my sick Love sing.



CG: Edward Taylor's “Christographia”

CR: Edward Taylor's “Church Records” and Related Sermons

Diary: The Diary of Edward Taylor

EAL: Early American Literature

HG: Harmony of the Gospels

MP: Edward Taylor's Minor Poetry

Poems: The Poems of Edward Taylor

ETvsSS: Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard: The Nature of the Lord's Supper

UTOT: Upon the Types of the Old Testament

∗Unless otherwise noted I cite from the University of North Carolina Press edition of The Poems of Edward Taylor, edited by Donald E. Stanford (1989). The Meditations I refer to that are not in the North Carolina edition (Series 2, Meditations 80, 83, 84, 116, 127, 130, 133, 135-38, 141, 149, 151-53, 159, 163, and 165) are cited from Stanford's Yale edition (1960).

Carol M. Bensick (essay date 1993)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6587

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 Bradstreet's “Prologue” and other poems—might have obviated the need for such argumentation, various factors, of no relevance here, long prevented such evidence from doing its work. But by now the balance has been adequately redressed. The poems of Edward Taylor above all, and in particular the commentary of John Gatta upon them, have demolished the stereotype of the Puritan as someone determined to spoil everyone's fun.1

Though the thesis that God's Determinations adds to the evidence of other Taylor texts that Puritans had (than Arminians) “more” fun could be drawn out to greater length than Gatta has done, to do so is, then, scarcely a need. Not only would the exercise be redundant; it would use God's Determinations to do something that other texts can clearly do as well, perhaps (though this would not be the point) more easily. More seriously, merely to elaborate the celebration of Puritanic joy in God's Determinations would be to lose an opportunity to learn more specific things about Puritanism, things that the poem, if not uniquely, then at least less generally, can teach. For God's Determinations—more than any generally known Puritan text—goes beyond merely showing that Puritanism didn't approve, let alone mandate, gloom. It shows us, as Saint shows Soul, that gloom is actually a Puritan dysfunction.

While Taylor's own personal Preparatory Meditations sufficiently attest to the possibility of wholly legitimate feelings of comfort, peace, and delight available to the Puritan believer, God's Determinations supplies the rationale that underwrites this attitude. Given persistent thought-habits that render the Puritans literally the “dismal and gloomy wretches” Nathaniel Hawthorne's “May-Pole of Merry Mount” makes them ironically, this alone needs reiterated emphasis. But we must admit that there are feats that the poem needs to perform for its audience that it fails to do. While sufficiently demonstrating that a good and orthodox Puritan minister wants his half-way member (he or she whom Michael Colacurcio has demonstrated to be Taylor's primary audience) to “not worry, be happy,” the poem does not finally show him or her steps by which to accomplish this. In the final analysis, God's Determinations seems as likely as not to leave the half-way member just where he or she was before: on the outside, looking in. Of course “The Joy of the Soul On Entering into Church-Fellowship” is supposed to function as an incentive, a motivator. In cases where, for whatever reason, it does not, being shown how much fun the insiders are having is not likely to make the half-way member's plight any easier. On that aspect this essay aims to focus. We will, however, make the positive point first.


As we know, the heart of God's Determinations depicts three ranks of souls: those caught in their guilty flight from conviction by Justice, those caught by Mercy, and those caught by Justice and Mercy together, all being buffeted by assaults of “sophestry” from Satan. The ranks respond, in the case of Rank One, by calling to Christ, and, in the cases of weaker Christians Ranks Two and Three, by calling on a human saint, presumably the minister. Unlike “The Day of Doom” and like The Divine Comedy, The Pilgrim's Progress, and A Christmas Carol, God's Determinations has its allegorical fantasy take place in life. Of the poems in this section, the most crucial single poems comprise Saint's elucidations. He corrects Soul's mistaken assumptions, exposes Satan's “sophestries,” and, crucially, warns Soul honestly what kind of experiences he can expect in daily life as a saint himself.2 Life as a saint is not what Soul (or we) expected.

In particular, Soul (and Taylor's reader) learns three surprising things from Saint. First, being justified does not mean becoming sinless. That is reserved for death. Second, being continually sinful is not unhappy. Sin, says Saint surprisingly, is like “flaws in Venice glasses”: and “Are flaws in Venice glasses bad? What in / Bright diamonds? What then in man is sin?” Third, Soul learns that gloom—morbidity, doubt of election, and general free-floating guiltiness persisting after justification has expunged guilt itself—is not an acceptable offering to God. This is not what God wants from the believer. In fact, miscellaneous guiltiness and reluctance to become assured of election is, as the action of the poem has already shown, literally of the devil. For the devil's neatest trick, Saint shows, is to convince the properly assured that they are guilty of presumption, while persuading the not yet assured that they already have grace enough.

Throughout their encounter, Saint convicts Soul, not merely of illogicality and inconsistency, but of a fundamental fault of unrealistic and unreasonable expectations. Soul, by Saint's analysis, is simply being childishly and indefensibly “sullen.” The truth about Soul's complaint is “you have not all you would, and therefore will not own you have at all” (316). Taylor makes clear how this state of affairs comes about. Soul is comparing himself altogether too much with other people. Ranks Two and Three vie with each other as to who is the more hopeless, and Soul resents Saint for having had, as he assumes, an easier time of it than he has. Soul's “grace-outbraveing sin” (emphasis mine), according to Saint, is “bashfulness,” but (what Taylor reveals is more important) Soul's mistake is to assume that the experience of grace is something other than what it is, and something other, necessarily, than anything he himself has had. Thus, Saint shows, Soul makes his own self vulnerable to Satan. But in any case the most important clarification is that Soul's difficulties are, as it were, “cognitive,” not moral. They are errors of the understanding, of knowledge and reasoning, rather than of the will. Soul is not bad, he is silly. He would only be bad if, once shown the true state of the case, he were consciously to reject it. To do this, however, would be a sign of reprobation. Since Soul has been established as elect, this possibility is ruled out of the poem in advance.

If these elucidations alone were all Taylor's accomplishment in God's Determinations—the clarification, for the most part, of the crippling theoretical misconceptions that were keeping Calvinists in unedifying and unproductive states of emotional paralysis and, worse yet, envious suspicion of and competition with each other—it were much. But as we know, Taylor goes on to have Saint speak candidly about the practical discouragements that even the Saint with a right understanding of theology encounters in daily life among other Saints. Reading in isolation the often-reprinted poems concerning the joy of church fellowship at the end of God's Determinations may suggest that Taylor had a rose-colored ideal vision of the pure New England congregations. The poem as a whole, however, prevents Taylor from being accused of naïveté. By this point in the poem, Saint's discussion of the “Difficulties Arising from the Uncharitable Carriages of Christians” has already provided a relievingly realistic picture. In his career as a professor, Saint has admitted, Soul's worst enemy is going to be, not Satan, but the body of his fellow Souls.

To be sure, not every possibility has been exhausted. Taylor has considered three main obstacles to Soul's progress toward assurance: assaults from Satan (guilt), doubts from want of grace (insensibility), and interference from fellow Saints. Carrying out his own account to completion, it would be necessary to entertain the possibility of “Difficulties Arising from the Uncharitable Carriages of Saints.” In any event, and in stark contrast to the analytic presentation of the problems facing Soul, Saint has one solution. For all difficulties, a single remedy suffices. For uncharitable fellow saints as for assaults from Satan and doubts from want of grace: simply, “on God in Christ call hard.” One half expects to hear Emily Dickinson: “Of course I prayed—.” We will return to this later.

Now, when Taylor has Soul then resolve, “I'le force Hope's Faculty till Hope I find” (308), the moment seems startlingly Arminian. In fact, Taylor protects himself from such a charge when he has Soul realize “Perhaps these thoughts are blessed motions,” building on the possibility that to have become able to have the thought of “forc[cing] Hope's Faculty” Soul has already unknowingly received grace. Prior to his later controversy with Solomon Stoddard, Taylor evidently is not ready to split hairs on this particular “preparation” point, reasoning perhaps that as the Antinomian Controversy had shown, the New England ministry was quite disunited on it, while Calvinists as pure as John Cotton had admitted that justification was, in the very last analysis, quite appropriately and necessarily an unsearchable mystery. This point too we will revisit.

So far Taylor's overall thrust is the need to get the half-way member to cease from two main preoccupations: on the one hand, sulking, moping, brooding, and indulging in self-pity, and on the other, comparing himself to, competing with, envying, and looking askance at his friends and neighbors. This would seem to be Taylor's lasting insight. The half-way member is instructed to stop behaving as though he were Hawthorne's Goodman Brown, but to “On the Pacificke Ocean [of mercy] forth … thrust.” The half-way member is to think of the joy of Christ rather than the sorrow of sin. As Colacurcio was the first to recognize, evidently Taylor's own pastoral and personal experience has taught him that, his fellow ministers preaching jeremiads to the contrary, the main problem would-be church members are having is not presumption. By contrast with fellow-poet Wigglesworth, who depicts all Boston as full of unthinking carnal wretches of “civill honest men,” Taylor, as Gatta has stressed, perceived the real pastoral problem of the day to be not presumption but the fear of presumption, which the hectoring of Wigglesworth, the Mathers, Willard, Stoughton, Hubbard and the rest was, ironically, making worse every day.

Saint's final speech represents the distillation of Taylor's best thought on the subject of conversion:

Fear no Presumption then, when God invites:
Invite no Fear when that he doth thee call:
Call not in question whether he delight
In thee, but make him thy Delight and all.

(326, emphasis mine)

In short, God's Determinations advises the half-way member to ask not, as all three Ranks persistently do, what God can do for you, but what you can do for God. And Taylor virtually promises his reader that the desire to do so is itself a blessed motion, which grace will assist. Soul will never be able to do it perfectly and he must not expect to. Above all Taylor wishes to revise the naive Soul's prior expectations of how the salvation process ought to work. Let it work its own way, he implies, and trust that however it works is right. Second-guessing God is a habit that Taylor's Soul must discard. One thing Taylor conclusively demonstrates through Saint and Soul is that half-way members have made a habit of never trusting anything God says while fatuously devouring this P. T. Barnum of a Satan's every claim. It is precisely the tragicomic mistake made by Goodman Brown: quite abandoning the testing of their claims according to reason, they take the word of the Father of Lies. As Saint bluntly asks, “Why dost thou then believe the Tempter so”? (314).

How crucial these discriminations are appears in light of the fact that what Soul says in his self-deprecating moods is exactly what we are accustomed to thinking Puritanism taught that he ought to. For a final elucidation, God's Determinations reveals that self-deprecation is not to be confused with Christian humility. Thus Soul moans, “Methinks my heart is harder than a flint / My Will is Wilfull frowardness within't: / and mine Affections do my soule betray, Sedaning of it from the blessed way” (313); and a thoroughly acceptable Calvinist utterance it would seem. Is not this exactly the kind of thing Thomas Hooker or Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Shepard or any Mather you care to name would want you to say? Far from being impressed by Soul's hearty self-recriminations, however, Saint yawns, “I love not thus to row in such a Stream” (311). It is almost comically obvious that Soul has learned all these formulas of self-deprecation from the pulpit; the formulaic nature of his recitation is everywhere apparent.

But if Taylor's Soul thus talks like a stereotypical Puritan minister, it is striking that Taylor's Saint—perhaps an actual minister—does not. Indeed, the character whose discursive manner is the most conventionally clerical is Satan. Here the clarifications of Hawthorne can save us considerable time. The liability of conventional clerical preaching to be used against itself is what Hawthorne is getting at when he insinuates that the Devil in “Young Goodman Brown” has the appearance of a New England divine. Historically, this detail reflects the development that New England witchcraft constituted itself as a counter-church with a counter-set of membership requirements and certifications. Membership requirements that, however enforced by political interests, ran back in the end to the doctrine of predestination, ended not only by giving the devil a set of almost indistinguishable arguments for temptation but by seeming to constitute the minister a virtual Public Enemy as well. One step more and, in a total reversal, Christ himself (as in The Day of Doom) will take on the role of humanity's Adversary.

If “Goodman Brown” analyzes God's Determinations, this is no accident; as Colacurcio has established it, the setting of the tale is within ten years of the composition of the poem. That God's Determinations certifies Hawthorne's penetration of the plot of the Puritan decadence is not the point, however. Rather, Hawthorne diagnoses a flaw within Taylor's account. The conclusions of the two treatments of the same situation are far from the same. Taylor's analysis is in the service of prescription, Hawthorne's, in that of monition. Taylor is moved to composition by hope, Hawthorne by something close to alarm. Taylor assumes that the problem lies in individuals and can be cured by instruction and encouragement on a class basis. Hawthorne decides that the problem is in the system. True, Emersonian “alert and healthy natures” can accommodate systemic problems, adjust for them automatically. Weak natures like Goodman Brown's, however, will succumb. Hawthorne knew too well to have to mention that Goodman Brown would have been made the object of endless pastoral talks during his long life quite on the model of Saint's talk with Soul. He takes for granted that such talks, like those John Wilson has off-stage with Arthur Dimmesdale in which Dimmesdale is exhorted to get married and in general drop his morbidity, would have been fruitless. In Dimmesdale's case, indeed, they seem positively counterproductive. If the love of Faith (unlike that of Rosina in Hawthorne's “Egotism”) cannot penetrate to the source of Brown's malaise, the preaching, however sympathetic, however apprehensive and intelligent, of Nicholas Noyes (say) can hardly be expected to.

God's Determinations, then, accomplishes an important goal. It is, however, a limited one. For the rest of our study we will consider what it omits.


Saint has several weapons for the task of getting Saint out of conviction-as-gloom: instruction, authority, and persuasion. He can inform Soul that gloom is bad. He can forbid him to be gloomy. He can give him as much help as giving reasons and arguments can toward getting him out of gloom. There is one thing he can't do, however, and that is the one thing needed. What Saint can't do for Soul is actually effect Soul's escape from gloom. What is true for Saint is true for God's Determinations.

God's Determinations can give a picture of the right thing happening to a (semi)representative person. Thus, it can give the Puritan reader two great gifts: something to emulate and something by which to assess his progress. In many cases, learning to think of a fit of gloom as an assault from Satan rather than as valid guilt, is likely to be enough to effect the cure. Anyone whose problem is the inverted egotism of luxuriating in the idea of his or her personal guiltiness (like Roderick Elliston or Parson Hooper or Dimmesdale) stands to be cured by God's Determinations. Somebody with some other problem, however, the poem will leave just as it found. A clinical or therapeutic shortfall becomes a literary one as well.

God's Determinations makes its final pitch for success—in the moment when Ranks Two and Three become Soul—as an allegory. But an allegory is only as successful as the number of readers who can identify with it. God's Determinations has failed to make itself one of the literary works—The Divine Comedy The Pilgrim's Progress—that impose themselves in time and space because it fails of the universality common to these. The problem is that Soul is just not Everyman.

Or actually, the poem tends to convince us that he is. On its surface, however, it denies this. Soul as we know him is the product of a merger between Ranks Two and Three only. Not only the damned who “scull into eternal woe” but even Rank One are left out of him. The partialness of Soul and not, what also could be claimed and as is done against the original Pilgrim's Progress, the omission by God's Determinations of, say, the consideration of women, ought to be our main charge against it. The problem is not that the poem discriminates; it is that it lies. We ought not to forgive Taylor this. Wish fulfilment is innocent in other forms of literature (indeed it may be their purpose) but not in physical or moral medicine. In therapy anything can be forgiven but that. Taylor ought to have remembered he was, as the Scarlet Letter narrator says of Dimmesdale, “a professional teacher of the truth.” It was not allowable to tell this story as it ought to be. What could that do for a reader for whom it wasn't so but make him blame himself? Then the whole process would begin all over again. It is much to be feared that, had the poem been published, the exhaustive dramatization of the varieties of guilt and gloom—the anatomy of melancholy—that God's Determinations exhibits in order to repudiate them would have produced a whole crop of the thing repudiated. For in fact, how to be gloomy and guilty is what the poem actually inculcates. It promises joy; it depicts it; but the only thing it teaches is gloom.

It is only fair to say that this appears to have been inevitable. Puritanism seems to have been doomed to “negative theology.” It gave endless scope for describing all the things that conversion was not, as we know from the reductio of Edwards's “Divine and Supernatural Light.” But as for what conversion was, that holy of holies could not be described. Of course, a theory was developed why this had to be, and was only justly, so. But it made inevitable the doubt that there was really any such thing.

The problem can be elicited by a comparison with Pilgrim's Progress. The obvious difference between the two works, so nearly contemporaneous, is that where Bunyan's is about death, Taylor's is about Puritan conversion. This choice of topic denies Taylor legitimate claim on allegory. Everybody dies but not everybody gets converted. This is not Calvin's fault, nor Augustine's, nor the Bible's. It appears to be Reality's (God's, Nature's). In secular transvaluation, not everybody is sane, well, sound, happy. Though thus no peculiarity of Puritanism's, this fact does impose generic limitations. You can't write an allegory on conversion. That would require a deus ex machina. Though Bunyan must go outside the limits of human experience to report Christian and Faithful's entry in to the Celestial City, he makes this all right by establishing that it is a dream. Taylor must maintain that some people have experiences in life as far foreign to others as salvation is to all of us. Literary art cannot transcend conversionist (that is, predestinarian, that is, depravity-based, that is, literalist) theology. Calvinism cannot write Pilgrim's Progress. Protestantism itself hardly can.

What is literary disqualification, is, however, invaluable for the moral historian. It would take a long time and much effort to divine the flaw of Puritanism as clearly as God's Determinations exhibits it. God's Determinations predicts that Stoddardism will win; it shows why it must, lest Puritanism, like Dimmesdale, its holder, self-destruct. “The very remorse,” quoting Hawthorne again, that Puritanism causes to have “harrowed” the “mind,” will have “darkened and confused it.” Taylor, who of course Hawthorne could not have read, confirms the accuracy of Hawthorne's subtle and sensitive analysis. What Hawthorne had to read thousands of pages by hundreds of hands to come to understand, we can glean from Taylor's poem alone.

If, as Taylor finds, Everyman includes only Puritanism's Ranks Two and Three, what does that limitation tell us? Historically, as Colacurcio points out, it denies any actual difference between supposedly different styles of preparationism to be associated most broadly with Hooker and Shepard. The only real difference (as Colacurcio shows in this forthcoming discussion of how God's Determinations writes the epitaph on the Antinomian Controversy) is between John Cotton and everyone else. (Later the same difference will obtain in reference to Emerson.) And turning to the moral or spiritual meaning, if Ranks Two and Three—that is, those to whom the Puritan system was experienced as Justice, with or without a leavening of Mercy—are universal transhistorical human nature, Rank One is a fiction. No one, perhaps not even Taylor, experiences conversion the way Taylor assumes they are supposed to. Nor need we stop even here. If Cottonesque conversion in direct communication with Christ is a fiction, people who say that they experience this are lying; people who think they do are self-deceived. As The Scarlet Letter also shows, the terrible irony of Puritanism's demand for truth was that it could not help but produce a culture of hypocrisy at all levels.

It would not seem at first that the diagnosis in Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, of what was so wrong with the preaching of the local Philadelphia Presbyterian minister that it caused Franklin to cease attending meetings, finds any fault (from the point of view of wanting guidance) with Taylor. After all, we can whisper to ourselves in defense of the poet, Jedidiah Andrews was, first, an eighteenth-century Pennsylvania Scots-Presbyterian, and more powerfully, just a bad or stupid preacher, while Taylor is, well, Taylor. Franklin's critique, we recall, was that given a Scripture-text (the Epistle to the Philippians) on virtue, Andrews wound up emphasizing church-going. In the familiar enfant-terrible, village-atheist complaint, what is the use of ordering people to “be good” in the abstract if you do not at the same time give them practical, finite instructions as to how? The problem Franklin articulates is that Andrews was teaching only “Presbyterianism”: not as a way to anything, but for itself, as the manners of a sect.

If it is not biographically true that this episode was the last straw for Franklin's attempt to remain an active member of the church of his fathers, telling the story that it was is profound. For is not Franklin's complaint against Andrews the problem with Puritanism altogether? Its system was—is—so interesting that it overwhelms the simple message it was developed to maintain and disseminate. As Siger of Brabant, the medieval Averroist, was rumored to feel concerning Aristotle, Revelation was true but the Stagirite was more interesting. Taylor is a better writer (presumably) than Jedidiah Andrews but it is not clear that God's Determinations can withstand an application of Franklin's critique. Jedidiah Andrews was, after all, not only a graduate of Harvard College, like Taylor, but even, again like him, a protégé of the Mathers.

What limited God's Determinations immediately for the purpose and audience intended—the half-way convert—and in the long run as a contribution to the literature of spirituality (works like, for example, those of à Kempis) renders it precious to the scholar. That it is about Puritanism and not “the soul” is precisely why we like it. We are not trying to become converted. If we were trying to become happy, we would not look to our professional teaching material to accomplish it. Because God's Determinations is about Puritanism and not the soul it makes Taylor a rewarding object of criticism. If Bunyan is on what Hawthorne once called the “People's list,” Taylor is on lists for doctoral examinations. Bunyan is for readers. Taylor is for students. Perhaps for teachers.

Significantly, one Puritan did get onto the People's list, though he could not stay there: Wigglesworth. This, because “Judgment Day” was, like Bunyan's death, universal. Not everybody is converted but everybody is judged. For a long time this consideration obscured the fact that the judgment was a facade: in a predestinarian system, judgment after death could only be a redundancy. If Wigglesworth fell off the People's list while Bunyan did not, it is his predestinarianism, and his depravity-theology, catching up with him. Wigglesworth keeps up with Bunyan to a point and then fades. That point, of course, is when predestinarianism and that incarnation of depravity-theology went out of fashion to wait for an opportunity to return in a new form. Puritanism was perhaps dualism or Manichaeanism's finest modern hour, the only time in modern history that gnosticism ever gained general, even institutionalized, vogue. The first part of The Day of Doom got it read. The New England or Puritan part—the middle—sank it.

Returning to Taylor, God's Determinations brings to the fore a question that it cannot answer. Namely, why do there have to be ranks? Any Rank Two or Three member can ask, Why can't I be Rank One? And the only answer available—“for the (Even) (Greater) Glory of God”—begins to sound tired. The predestination of ranks within the elect betrays an inelegance in the system that is bound eventually to undermine it.

Saint can tell Soul that he should not be gloomy. Even to show Soul why he should not is in Saint's power. What is not in Saint's power is to stop Soul's gloom. The cure for gloom is faith, presumably. But no one can “faith” on behalf of anyone else. From outward indications, Christian faith was more difficult within Puritanism than in other confessions. It is possible to conjecture why. Puritanism stressed depravity. The benefit of this, even the literary benefit, was to increase appreciation of the magnitude of God's condescension in saving a being so exquisitely vile. What seems to have happened, however, was that increasing the subject's sense of his own unworthiness made it difficult, to the point of impossible, for him to believe he could be saved. Since it could not be held that the individual soul could ever lose the pollution of original sin entailed by the fall, there had to be developed that remarkably operose “epicycle” theory of justification by the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the individual soul. Righteousness is never within the person; it is only a garment that may be put on. That “I am righteous” the saint could never say. It is even possible that one would not even want God to save a creature as vile as oneself. It would affront His dignity. A truly thoroughgoing Calvinist could not avoid wanting to be damned for the glory of God, except that it is even more glorious for God to reward the unable-to-be-meritorious than the reclaimable.

In the act of clarifying that gloom is an incorrect response, however, because God's Determinations betrays the historical origin of the gloom phenomenon. In a word, preachers taught their congregations, by precept and by illustration, how to be gloomy. Gloom purchased attention, even approval. And what God's Determinations bears witness to is that it was easier to get a Puritan into conviction than to get him out of it. Getting a Puritan into conviction was to a very great extent within a minister's human power. It was a feat of rhetoric. Getting a Puritan out of conviction, however, was reserved for God. The cause of the minister's difficulty in getting his Puritan out of conviction was that, from his own point of view, he could not compel God at any given point to deliver grace and finish the job which to some extent he himself had to concede to have started. The half-way member might well come to turn on his minister as a spiritual tease: how dare you start something you can't finish?

There is a mystical “X” moment admitted in God's Determinations in which Soul suddenly feels (I quote Moby-Dick) “a melting in him.” Though Saint's arguments must be assumed to have had a cumulative effect, we all know as well as any reading or listening Puritan, that out of a group of listeners to the same sincere, excellent, doctrinally correct, rhetorically skillful preparationist sermon, only some (sometimes none) would have an experience that they could testify to as a progressive step in conversion. The preacher is the immediate cause or instrument but the role of the first and final must be reserved for God. Between the minister's sermon and justification no cause and effect relation obtains. But this opens up a disturbing possibility. What if a preacher in unavoidable ignorance encouraged a predestined reprobate to have hope? Such a preacher would certainly have Emily Dickinson come down on him with all her weight: “Would not the fun look too expensive? Would not the jest have crawled too far”?


Oliver Wendell Holmes was a better allegorist than Taylor when he (allegedly) proposed the One-Hoss Shay as a figure for Puritanism. Puritanism stood or fell as a whole; it could not be reformed. God's Determinations betrays the fact that Puritanism contained flaws that could not be survived. It did not need external attacks from “Arminians” to be destroyed. It only needed someone to announce the emperor's state of dress. For all his merits, Stoddard was merely in the right place at the right time. Keeping up unprovable and finally unintelligible discriminations among the probably saved was taking too great a toll on everybody's time and energy. Making people sick (as I take to be the point of David Leverenz's Language of Puritan Feeling to be that Puritan preaching virtually did) and then failing to make them well left little time for actual service to God. This is why the Puritans were so shamed by the counterexample of Catholic achievements in Christianizing the heathen. It showed how much could be accomplished by Christians worrying about the spiritual condition of others rather than of themselves.

We have seen Taylor's proffered cure for morbid subjectivity. “When you're tempted to think of yourself, think of Christ,” is how it runs. But this is not the only possible treatment for the disease. The melancholic or hypochondriac patient could also choose, as Hawthorne (ambiguously, to be sure) has Rosina Elliston suggest to “egotistic” Roderick, to think about an Other. It was not even as obvious as one would like that thinking of Christ was not, in a way, still thinking of oneself. Paul's preaching that God does not need anything from us might even be proposed to Taylor as an objection to his prescription.

The problem of counseling a victim of gloom is a significant theme in the literature of the American Renaissance. Taylor's Saint has secular progeny in Poe, as well as in Hawthorne and Melville. Saint's successors as would-be therapists of gloom are the narrator in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and George Herkimer in “Egotism.” Kenyon in The Marble Faun might also be suggested. Poe appears to imply that even trying to cure Usher's gloom is wrongheaded: Usher deserves to feel gloom because he has buried Madeline alive; as I read the story, through Edwards, he has attempted to evade conversion, which is as terrifying as the first poems of God's Determinations admit, although they do not dramatize it. Hawthorne is far from making definite what enables his own Roderick to make the recovery from gloom (get out of conviction, gain assurance) that is symbolized by the departing snake; Herkimer, by bringing Rosina, is implicated in this “cure,” but Hawthorne is careful, as careful as Taylor, to avoid giving the hasty reader the impression that Herkimer, or even Rosina, causes this. We have already invoked Ishmael's spontaneous conversion: Queequeg is his “immediate Instrument.” Why Ishmael is open to his influence at this time—what may have worked as “preparation” (Father Mapple?)—can only be conjectured.

Conversion always happens in time. Though the convert may make up any story afterward (for example, “the dark fantasy” of Roderick's serpent), there seems no way to verify such a story. All that certainly follows is that no one's conversion can be a lesson for anyone else. The question (already settled in the negative by Benjamin Franklin) was whether everyone ought nevertheless to seek conversion, or whether some individuals could safely decide at a given point that if it had been going to happen, it would have happened by now, and get on to something else. The nineteenth-century works we have mentioned show at least that the problem—gloom, melancholy, hypochondria, depression—survives Puritanism, as does the question whether the proper therapist is the doctor of medicine or the doctor of divinity. But this question depends on the deeper one of the existence and nature of the soul. Meanwhile, it remains uncertain whether doctoring of any kind really helps. From Taylor through Melville, the only definite conclusion about gloom that arises from this literature is don't develop it. Fostering gloom, therefore, would seem to be the worst human crime. Is this not, perhaps, the meaning of “Ethan Brand”?

As our persisting inability to keep Hawthorne, Melville, and Dickinson out of the discussion shows, it was in the nineteenth century people experienced the fullness of the problems that lurked in the seventeenth-century texts. Puritanism, let us say, as a “problem” is a phenomenon of the nineteenth century rather than of the seventeenth. For this reason Edward Taylor's God's Determinations Touching His Elect is a useful document in the intellectual history of American literature. Not only is it a touchstone to Emily Dickinson, on the one side, and to the first generation Puritans, on the other; but it confirms the centrality of the particular “Varieties of Religious Experience” in America, witnessed personally by Edwards, Emerson, and Dickinson, and analyzed and dramatized by Hawthorne and Melville, James and Faulkner and their successors. In the light of Taylor's adroit pastoral and personal psychoanalysis of Soul Rank One, Soul Rank Two, Soul Rank Three, and Saint, the genuinely representative validity of and the right historical names for the seemingly idiosyncratic experiences of these writers and their characters become luminous.

This concedes that the final importance of God's Determinations is still, as it was at first, and has continued sometimes to be, historical. Its spots of aesthetic pleasure are rightly enough represented by selections in anthologies. That the poem cannot be made out to be an artistic masterpiece is not our fault. We have done all we know how to do to make it appear aesthetically a success. But neither what we know now nor whatever later generations stand to learn in the future about ways in which a text can be literarily functional and even excellent—no future sophistication in taste—will change this state of affairs. This need be no cause of shame. It was never necessary to maintain that Taylor was as literarily good as Donne say or Milton. He is other things that they are not, and better at other things again that they also try to be. Why should Americans be dissatisfied that a writer is inferior in one respect when he may be superior in others? Nor is superiority in any respect necessary to justify teaching. The ultimate justification is that the texts are ours and they are there. The issues arise in the choices we make. Ideally we would teach them all but it may be necessary to choose between (say) Rowlandson and Taylor on other terms than literary accomplishment.

In practice, as we know, this is happening. Rowlandson (or Knight, or who you will) are proffered frankly (and quite validly so) on extratextual grounds. Yet it is still desirable, if possible, to make a choice that though not qualitatively evaluative is yet textual. The ideal way to build a canon would be empirically. Not our prescription to the students of what is best for them to read but the educated student's own testimony as to what most strongly holds his or her interest—what bears rereading—what stimulates reflection—what spurs response and even research. If this means that our courses in early American literature are not best harbored in English departments, who can be surprised? Whatever is aesthetic about Taylor is surely not the main thing. For purposes of inclusion in the survey, national pride is sufficient, and a valid ground. Students do exist, however, for whom, were they to awaken to the existence of an alternative, the canon (plus or minus) of major British writers would stand revealed as what Revelation was to Siger. For them Taylor—and dare I say Wigglesworth?—waits.


  1. An argument for the existence of a strain of “Christian hedonism,” significantly exemplified in Jonathan Edwards, is made by John Piper.

  2. Using the masculine pronoun for Soul is proper given that Saint addresses Soul as “Sir.” Quotations from God's Determinations are drawn from Donald Stanford's edition and will be cited in the text.

Works Cited

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim's Progress, ed. J. B. Warey. Rev. ed. Roger Sharrock. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1960.

Colacurcio, Michael J. “God's Determinations Touching Half-way Membership.” American Literature 39 (1967): 298-314.

———. “‘Christ's Reply,’ Saint's Assurance: Taylor's Double Standard.”

———. “Certain Circumstances: Hawthorne and the Interest of History.” Ed. Millicent Bell. New Essays on Hawthorne's Short Stories. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, forthcoming.

———. The Province of Piety. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1984.

Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy. Trans. John D. Sinclair. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1939.

Dickinson, Emily. Poems. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1955.

Edwards, Jonathan. Selected Writings. Ed. Clarence Faust and Thomas H. Johnson. New York: American Book Company, 1935.

Franklin, Benjamin. Autobiography. Ed. J. A. Leo Lemay and Paul M. Zall. New York: Norton, 1979.

Gatta, John. Gracious Laughter. Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1989.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Works. Ed. William Charvat et al. Columbus: Ohio State, 1963—.

Holmes, Oliver Wendell. “The Deacon's Masterpiece.” Atlantic Monthly, September 1858.

Leverenz, David. The Language of Puritan Feeling. New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1980.

Melville, Herman. Writings of Herman Melville Series. Northwestern-Newberry Edition. Ed. Hayford, Harrison, et al. Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1968—.

Piper, John. Desiring God. Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah, 1987.

Spengemann, William. “American Writers and English Literature.” ELH 52.1 (1985): 209-38.

Stoddard, Solomon. The Safety of Appearing. Boston: Samuel Green, 1687.

Taylor, Edward. Complete Poems of Edward Taylor. Ed. Donald Stanford. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1960.

Wigglesworth, Michael. Poems of Michael Wigglesworth. Ed. Ronald A. Bosco. Lanham, Md.: Univ. Press of America, 1989.

Jeffrey A. Hammond (essay date 1993)

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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 intense devotion, ally the staunch Puritan with the ‘sacred poets’ of the early seventeenth century” (1937:291). With these words, published in the summer of 1937, Thomas H. Johnson introduced the literary world to Edward Taylor, the obscure Puritan parson who revolutionized early American literary history.

In his own day Taylor was best known not as a poet but as the conservative pastor of Westfield in the Connecticut Valley, a rigid supporter of the New England way and an ally of the Mathers in their struggle against Solomon Stoddard's relaxed requirements for participation in the Lord's Supper. Michael Wigglesworth, some ten years Taylor's senior, was the most popular poet of the time; Taylor's first wife apparently memorized at least portions of his best-selling epic of the Judgment, The Day of Doom. Anne Bradstreet, who was first published in London soon after Taylor's birth in Leicestershire and whose posthumous Several Poems was in his library, was also famous as New England's “Tenth Muse.” Roger Wolcott, whose classically-tinged poems were published when Taylor wrote the last of his Preparatory Meditations, was New England's most prominent poet at Taylor's death in 1729. As far as we know, the only portions of Taylor's verse published during his lifetime were two stanzas from one of his occasional poems, appended to a Cotton Mather sermon, and an elegy that appeared in a pamphlet commemorating David Dewey, deacon at Westfield. Still, Taylor probably enjoyed some reputation as a poet: such audience-centered poems as Gods Determinations and his funeral elegies suggest that he “published” periodically throughout his life, as did many other poets, by circulating his work in manuscript.

Although Taylor's poetic obscurity increased as years went by, it was never total. Just before the Civil War, Judge Henry Wyllys Taylor cited his great-grandfather's “poetical effusions through a period of about sixty-seven years, some of which may justly claim considerable merit.” Thus came the first criticism of a poet who “appears to have had an abiding passion for writing poetry during his whole life” even though he lacked “a poetic genius of a very high order” (1857:180). Despite this passion, Taylor apparently never sought fame. Judge Taylor recalled a family tradition that the poet forbade his heirs from publishing “any of his writings.” As we will see, this claim, repeated in John L. Sibley's Biographical Sketches of Harvard graduates (1881), would play a crucial role in early assessments of the poetry. A few scraps of Taylor's writings surfaced during the nineteenth century, most notably his diary in the 1880 Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society; in addition, a brief biography by descendant John Taylor Terry appeared in 1892. In the 1920s John Hoyt Lockwood reprinted some of Taylor's prose (1922), while Thomas Goddard Wright noted that Taylor “filled a notebook with verse, none of which has ever been published, as the writer forbade publication” (1920:162). When Johnson came upon the description of Taylor's verse in Sibley and examined the “Poetical Works” quarto at Yale, he immediately recognized that the poems were unlike any previously known specimens of Puritan verse (1939b).

The full impact of Johnson's discovery can be appreciated only in light of how Puritan poetry was then viewed. Six decades earlier Moses Coit Tyler had concluded that a few of Bradstreet's lyrics were the only genuine poems produced in colonial New England, chiefly because of an “unappeasable” Puritan “feud between religion and art” (1878:228). Early in this century William B. Cairns similarly lamented Bradstreet's “tendency to sacrifice everything to rather profitless moralizing” (1910:146), while F. O. Matthiessen characterized Wigglesworth as “a hard intellect” whose poetic “fire” was “walled in” by theology (1928:500). Kenneth B. Murdock conceded in the 1920s that the “breath of that rare spirit which indefinably marks poetry for most of us is all too sadly lacking” (1927:lxiii). Two decades later Murdock reaffirmed that Puritanism was “unfriendly” to successful poetry (1949:140). Even Johnson, then collaborating with Perry Miller on the first anthology to suggest the richness and depth of Puritan writing, maintained that Puritan poets “remained curiously indifferent to the quintessential breath and finer spirit of the poetic idiom” (1938:547, 552). The key phrases here—“fire,” “rare spirit,” “quintessential breath”—were intended to describe literary qualities that Puritanism had supposedly suppressed. But the feud between religion and art was really a conflict between Puritan religion and the postromantic art that critics were seeking. Stanley Fish has summarized these modernist aesthetic expectations by citing “the assumption that what distinguishes literary from ordinary language is its invulnerability to paraphrase; the assumption that a poem should not mean, but be; the assumption that the more complex a work is, the more propositions it holds in tension and equilibrium, the better it is” (1980:354). Little wonder that critics found Puritan verse so disappointing. Harold S. Jantz, writing shortly after Taylor was rediscovered, complained of such anachronistic approaches to the Puritan poem, noting a “misapplication of eighteenth-century smoothness and nineteenth-century romantic lyricism to seventeenth-century Baroque verse which had no interest in being either smooth or romantic” (1944:6-7).

Not only was Taylor unlike other Puritan poets, but he was unlike them in ways that had special appeal in the 1930s and 1940s, when critics were still caught up in the revival of seventeenth-century English devotional poets like John Donne, George Herbert, and Richard Crashaw. A mere sixteen years before Taylor's rediscovery, T. S. Eliot had spearheaded this renewed interest in the metaphysicals, whose texts provided important support for the development of the New Criticism in England and America. Eliot's classic essay on the metaphysical poets, which praised their juxtaposition of spiritual intensity and concrete imagery, proposed their artful blend of deep matter and sensory manner as a universal criterion for true poetry—a criterion that the new-found poet seemed to satisfy. As Matthiessen confirmed a little over a decade after Johnson's announcement, Taylor's poetry “gives a deeper American taproot” to the metaphysical revival “in our own day” (1950:xv). Matthiessen's comment also suggests a second reason for Taylor's impact: the poet arrived on the scene when American literature was becoming a viable object of literary study. In this light it is important to remember that the journal American Literature was only eight years old when the first specimens of his verse appeared. As the title of Matthiessen's classic 1941 American Renaissance revealed, however, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century American writing had not yet benefited from this revival despite pioneering work by Wright, Murdock, Vernon Louis Parrington, and Samuel Eliot Morison. Miller, whose studies were beginning to make the field intellectually respectable, had been advised at the start of his career to seek a more promising field in which to apply his talents. A sensational reception was thus virtually assured for this “American Traherne,” as Richard Altick later called him, whose sudden appearance recalled Traherne's publication with similar fanfare in 1903 (1950). Initially perceived as a newfound link between English metaphysical verse and American romantic symbolism, both of which were enjoying great popularity among critics, Taylor could scarcely have come along at a better time.

In the initial publication of this American “sacred” poet, Johnson mostly let the poems themselves demonstrate Taylor's importance (1937). Beginning with “Huswifery,” Taylor's most Donne-like and perhaps least representative meditative poem, Johnson reprinted “Upon Wedlock, & Death of Children,” the piece later known as “When Let by Rain,” nine lyrics, in whole or part, from Gods Determinations, and nine “Sacramental Meditations,” named after a title in the “Poetical Works” manuscript later determined to have been supplied by Taylor's grandson, Yale president Ezra Stiles. Johnson also printed the “Prologue,” which he assigned to Gods Determinations rather than to the Meditations. Johnson's tastes—and those of his era—were clearly reflected in these selections. Praising Gods Determinations for its “metaphoric brilliance and unity of design,” Johnson cited “Taylor's artistry in stating orthodox covenant theology in terms of sensuous imagery” (301), qualities fully consistent with metaphysical poetry and the developing New Critical agenda. As a poet who appeared “to love poetry for its own sake” (322), Taylor seemed almost to foreshadow Oscar Wilde's ars gratia artis. For Johnson, the Preparatory Meditations, which demonstrated Taylor's metaphysical sensibility even more clearly, embodied a “poetic imagination” and “inventive fancy” close to George Herbert's (317). Johnson also found echoes of Herbert's metrical sophistication in Gods Determinations, a claim that would diminish when critical emphasis later shifted to the prosodically monotonous Meditations. Taylor's rhetoric intensified the dramatic situation of the verse, and his “seraphic exaltation” seemed to approach that of Catholic convert Richard Crashaw, whose verse, Johnson conceded, Taylor probably did not read (318). Other parallels included Sir John Davies's philosophical poem Nosce Teipsum (London: 1599) and Francis Quarles's Emblemes (London: 1635), which may have supplied the model for the Meditations. But while Taylor's similarities to these poets justified his importance, such comparisons forced Johnson to admit that his verse was marked with “occasional bad rimes or strained figures” suggestive of “a piety that perhaps lacked wings” (317). In his wide-ranging diction, for instance, Taylor sometimes sacrificed literary polish for spiritual intensity—a view that later critics would develop into an image of the poet as an independent American primitive (320). Johnson conceded, however, that the details of Taylor's biography did not seem to square with his poetic gifts. Indeed, the mundanity of his life and the report that he suppressed his work suggested a poet with something to hide, even though Johnson insisted that the injunction merely reflected strong “modesty” and a Calvinist “sense of human unworthiness” (321). While Johnson took pains to assert Taylor's orthodoxy, he opened the door to other possibilities. Citing the rarity of a “sacramental cultus” among Puritans, Johnson found it “little short of extraordinary” that this New England pastor could write like Donne and the “Anglo-Catholic conceitists” (322).

Two years later, in the first selected edition of the poetry, Johnson again presented a poet at artistic odds with his contemporaries even as he walked in perfect social step with them (1939a). Whatever the poetry suggested, Taylor was an orthodox Puritan minister who forged lifelong friendships with such prominent New Englanders as Increase Mather, mintmaster John Hull, Harvard president Charles Chauncy, and Judge Samuel Sewall. Clearly, Taylor was not a man who would willingly offend the sensibilities of his contemporaries through his writing. As in his initial article, Johnson highlighted those features that set the poetry apart from other New England Puritan verse, particularly the inventive language and eclectic diction that would remain central to subsequent appreciations. Commenting less fully than before on Taylor's artistic flaws, Johnson now argued that Taylor's development of unifying figures helped him avoid the random and contradictory structures that marred lesser religious poets. Invoking the imperfect parallels to metaphysical verse, especially Herbert's, Johnson argued that Taylor “struck out for himself” (17) with an artistic independence intensified by his isolation in provincial Westfield. This tension between tradition and innovation—or between skill and ineptitude, depending on the critic's point of view—would mark Taylor studies from this time forward. So would the related issue of Taylor's theological orientation. Johnson now more emphatically declared in favor of his orthodoxy, insisting that his “spiritual fervor” required no recourse to Anglican or Catholic devotional modes (17). Nor did his intense focus on the Lord's Supper. On the contrary, Taylor showed that “Puritan doctrine can at times take on a radiant sweetness” (19). Supporting this reading by citing a source that would not be developed for another thirty years, biblical typology, Johnson provided a theological glossary intended to strengthen the connections between the verse and covenant theology, although the list, as Constance Gefvert later observed (1971:xxviii), may not have sufficiently distinguished Taylor's beliefs from Christian beliefs generally. Further evidence of Taylor's orthodox status came from his library inventory, a collection that any Puritan pastor and physician could be expected to own.

Although Miller had recently rehabilitated the “New England mind,” the time was not right for the radical rethinking of the New England heart implicit in Johnson's comments. As Johnson well knew, many “unwary” readers would question Taylor's orthodoxy based on the emotional pitch and sensuality of the verse (24). In addition, the “metaphysical” autonomy of the poems would soon encourage scholars to isolate the poet from his Puritan milieu as a means of accounting for his artistry and establishing his importance for subsequent American literature. Surely, many readers would assume, Taylor suppressed the verse because he knew how shocking it would be to his fellow New Englanders. But Taylor had been published, as Johnson soon discovered when he found that Cotton Mather had reprinted stanzas five and seven from “Upon Wedlock, & Death of Children” and excerpts from a Taylor letter at the end of a sermon on grief entitled Right Thoughts in Sad Hours (London: 1689) (1941). While Mather's excerpting was hardly evidence of a negative contemporary response to Taylor's work, Johnson did not yet have this small but important clue when he introduced the Poetical Works. Moreover, he unintentionally aided the opposition by describing Taylor's more conventional poems as verse exercises “not stamped with the image of his personality” (1939a:18). The lure of a secret poet proved irresistible, reinforced as it was by Taylor's seeming isolation from his literary culture. It was indeed “curious,” Johnson noted, that his library contained only one volume of English verse, by Anne Bradstreet (202), and even her influence seemed minimal. It was a private, idiosyncratic poet that Johnson presented to the world, and it was as this kind of poet that Taylor would be approached nearly exclusively for the next half century.

Further refutation of an anomalous Taylor might have come from Johnson's decision to present Gods Determinations—later recognized as a decidedly public poem—in first position and in its entirety, followed by five occasional poems, seventeen Meditations from the First Series and fourteen from the much longer Second Series. As Johnson's commentary suggested, his esteem for Gods Determinations reflected the New Critical validation of poetic closure and psychological struggle that Eliot had praised in the metaphysicals. Johnson also implicitly fostered formalist approaches to Taylor in his heavy emphasis on the earlier Meditations which, like the occasional poems, echoed Herbert and Donne more closely than did the later Meditations, which were less volatile in tone and more explicitly biblical in content. Five years later Johnson reiterated his view that the poems written after 1700 were “metrical exercises, repetitious in thought, image, and even in phrasing” (1944:681). Still, his complete listing of the Meditations, with dates of composition and scriptural headnotes, enabled readers to sense the overall thrust of both Series and thus be less dependent, at least conceptually, on his selections.

Although Donald Stanford would find significant textual errors in the Poetical Works while preparing his 1960 edition, Johnson's achievement was second only to his painstaking editing of that other secretive New Englander, Emily Dickinson. He had ushered a major figure into the canon and started a nearly complete rewriting of early American literary history. As he rightly observed a quarter of a century later, the modern “reassessment of Puritanism, especially in those aspects which reveal the Puritan's feeling for beauty in his hungry search for Heaven, has been given impetus by the appearance of Taylor's poetry” (1966:8). Johnson soon supplemented his edition with a selection of Taylor's topical verses (1942), for which he made few critical claims except that they shed light on the poet's life and confirmed his skill with the acrostic form. The following year he published more “gleanings”: “Upon a Wasp Child with Cold,” “Upon the Sweeping Flood,” a second version of “Huswifery,” and eight additional Meditations (1943). Stating that the remaining unpublished poems would do little to “advance either the cause of letters or Taylor's reputation as a craftsman or seer” (280), Johnson believed that the case for the poet had been adequately made. Except for a sketch written for the first supplement to the Dictionary of American Biography (1944), his involvement with Taylor was over.

Once on the literary scene, Taylor immediately provoked a battle that pitted tradition, polish, and England against innovation, roughness, and America. Placed against his New England contemporaries, he seemed like a poetic brother to Parrington's Roger Williams, another individualist who fled the strictures of Puritanism. Foster Damon, for example, favorably contrasted Taylor's more “humane” sensibility with Wigglesworth's gloom, praising him as a poet who transcended the aesthetic constraints of Puritan culture even as he remained a full participant in that culture (1939:779). Speculating that Taylor recognized his artistic shortcomings in an era that was beginning to favor “polish and Pope” (780), Damon saw Taylor as a poet too brave—or too stubborn—to follow such English fashions. It is not difficult to find a strain of literary nationalism in Damon's conclusion that the “nation should be glad that Edward Taylor loved his rhymes too well to destroy them.” This pioneer American poet, however, lost some of his luster when judged by the established English canon. Howard Blake complained that “too much belated homage” was being given to a poet who was, after all, “no American Donne” (1940:167). In Blake's view, a close formalist reading merely revealed “all the provincial inadequacies” of colonial American writing, especially a “frontier exaggeration” mercifully absent from Donne and Herbert. These two reviews illustrate Taylor's role in a larger critical struggle for American literary independence. Although his metaphysical affinities made him interesting to Anglo-centered scholars, he inevitably came up short whenever such affinities were pursued in detail. Damon, however, anticipated a solution by which artistic flaws could be turned into nationalistic virtues: Taylor could be defended precisely because he did not write as smoothly as those Englishmen of his parents' generation. That is, he could be defended as an independent American poet. Hadn't Henry Wyllys Taylor confirmed that his great-grandfather was “an ardent republican in principle” with a healthy “aversion to the aristocracy of England, alike in Church and State” (1857: 177)?

While these issues were simmering, Taylor quickly became a standard entry in anthologies and reference works. Even before the Poetical Works appeared, Johnson had rushed him into the massive collection of Puritan writing that he and Miller were then preparing, though he figured only briefly in Johnson's discussion of Puritan verse as “one authentic indication that the indigenous Puritan muse, even when tied down to the fashions of an earlier style, soared with metaphoric brilliance” (1938:552). But the first real steps in Taylor's popularizing came with his inclusion in William Rose Benét and Norman Holmes Pearson's Oxford Anthology of American Literature (1938) and his description in James D. Hart's Oxford Companion to American Literature as a metaphysical poet who requested the suppression of his verse (1941:748). Norman Foerster's American Poetry and Prose similarly placed him, though “no imitator,” in the school of Donne and the Anglo-Catholic poets (1947). Ironically, Taylor's rapid acceptance into the anthologies predated a full scholarly case for his inclusion. Only four substantial discussions had appeared by 1948, when Oscar Williams devoted seven pages to Taylor in A Little Treasury of American Poetry (1948). The following year Robert Spiller and Harold Blodgett included five poems from Gods Determinations, five Meditations, and five occasional poems in their anthology of American writing before 1830 (1949). And the year after that Matthiessen's Oxford Book of American Verse devoted nearly twenty pages to Taylor, almost twice as many as to Bradstreet (1950). In 1952 Taylor officially entered the canon when he was assigned space in Major American Writers, edited by Howard Mumford Jones and others, as the last great writer “to be discovered, largely because he forbade his heirs to publish his work” (1952:20). Four years later Miller's The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry included selections from this poet who wrote in secret, yielding “to the temptation to create forms of his own” (1956:309). In the early 1960s canonical status was reconferred by Austin Warren in Miller's Major Writers of American Literature, where Taylor joined the select company of Bradford, Edwards, and Franklin as the sole representatives of colonial America (1962). The following year Taylor's popularity came full circle, when Miller and Johnson reissued their 1938 anthology as a two-volume paperback. The thin selections in the original edition so clearly needed augmenting that the Taylor section required fourteen supplementary pages, numbered 656a through 656n so that the rest of the book would not have to be reset (1963). Taylor came full circle in another sense as well, when he was reunited with the writers of his home culture by Alexander Witherspoon and Frank Warnke in the second edition of their anthology of seventeenth-century English literature (1963).

Taylor soon began to make his way into general and thematic studies. Miller mentioned him in the first volume of The New England Mind as someone who “gave ingenious poetic expression” to Ramist and Puritan rhetoric and an advocate of a “plain style, even in poetry” (1939:326, 361). In Miller's second volume Taylor emerged as a defender of New England's mission in “secretive lyrics,” expressing his “anxiety in a verse technique that Puritans considered suitable only to the sensualities of the Church of England” (1953:31, 155). Morison, bringing Taylor into the revision of his 1936 Puritan Pronaos, insisted that there was “nothing unusual” in Taylor's devotional fervor even though its expression was decidedly “uncommon” (1956:240). Although Morison mistakenly thought that Taylor had come to New England with his father, he astutely asked—as few did—why the poet failed to destroy these supposedly subversive poems (236). The same year, in a study of musical influences on American poetry, Charmenz S. Lenhart defended the appropriateness of Taylor's musical imagery as evidence of his “tremendous physical responsiveness to spiritual experience” (1956:51). Two years later Walter J. Ong took issue with Miller by arguing from the dramatic quality of the verse that Taylor managed to escape the more restrictive effects of Ramist logic and Puritanism generally (1958:287).

Predictably, Taylor had the greatest impact on early American literary history. In a 1943 survey of early New England poetry, reprinted the following year as a monograph, Harold S. Jantz was the first to incorporate Taylor into a substantial discussion of American Puritan verse (1944). Jantz maintained that despite his links with the English poets, Taylor's relation to other poets of early New England provided the most important context for the verse. Jantz argued that distorted assessments would inevitably result if critics placed among the metaphysicals this poet who wrote in a “typically late Baroque manner: lavishly but purposefully and consequently, in an ordered, well-disposed intricacy” (82). Kenneth B. Murdock had greater difficulty fitting the new poet into New England literary culture. In a series of lectures delivered for the Lowell Institute in 1944 and published five years later as Literature and Theology in Colonial New England, Murdock's description of Puritan literary attitudes almost encompassed Taylor's poetry, even though he stressed the poet's artistic exceptionalism (1949). Finding precedent in the Puritan sermon for Taylor's affective style, Murdock argued that Puritans had few problems with such flourishes so long as they clarified or enhanced the doctrine at hand. English preacher Richard Baxter, for instance, defended pulpit appeals to the senses, and realistic imagery figured prominently in the so-called plain style. Still, Murdock argued that Taylor went well beyond his contemporaries in using language with “the most direct sensuous appeal” (167). Although Murdock considered Taylor to be an orthodox Puritan, he suggested that the poet suppressed his work because he knew that “his passionate expression, his delight in color and fragrance, and his sometimes erotically suggestive imagery would offend his graver colleagues” (167). In the influential Literary History of the United States, Murdock reiterated this somewhat ambiguous judgment (1948). Although Taylor's verse offered an especially vivid illustration of Puritan poetic practice, his “emotions may have been too strong for the tightest bonds of Puritan theory” (67). By 1951 Murdock saw Taylor not as a breaker of Puritan artistic rules but as a gifted poet who “showed what admirable use a genuine artist could make of the Puritan literary code” (1951:57).

While Murdock called Taylor “the greatest poet of New England before the nineteenth century” (1948:65), Jantz cautioned against prematurely accepting his “superiority” over his contemporaries: too much depended on the findings of future scholarship (1944:85). Such caution became outright reaction in Stanley T. Williams, who issued one of the few discouraging words of the era by objecting to what he saw as an Edward Taylor craze (1951). Williams insisted that despite all the excitement about Taylor, “No major poet” and “no single great poem appeared in Puritan New England” because of “the bleakness of the poetic climate” (13). Conceding Taylor's superiority to other American Puritan poets, “at least for the moment” (32), Williams argued that the poetry was marred by repetition and extravagant diction despite its sensuous and metaphoric quality. Unusually conscious of the vagaries of critical reputation, Williams remarked that Taylor's popularity was due to traits “not altogether different from similar qualities in twentieth century poetry” (14). If Bradstreet's discovery had been similarly belated, he claimed, “she might have inspired a similar cult” (32). Another reaction came from Sidney E. Lind, who agreed that if Taylor had been published during his lifetime he “would finally have come to a peaceful rest” in Tyler's History of American Literature (1948:518). Lind saw in the Taylor ballyhoo a general failure to admit the extent to which Puritanism harmed the poetry. Casting a wet blanket on the whole enterprise, Lind insisted that Taylor was “doomed” as a Puritan and a provincial to poetic mediocrity (519).

If a Taylor cult existed, it was because he seemed so mysteriously un-Puritan. And when critics tried to define what, in literary terms, he actually was, their attempts to classify him became entangled in debates over quality of his work. That Taylor's defenders tended to see him as a metaphysical was no surprise in an era that valued English devotional poetry so highly. Critics whose praise was more reserved tended to classify his work as baroque, then largely regarded as an aesthetic based on looser structures and subject to lapses in taste. Those who were least impressed, like Lind and Williams, saw Taylor as simply another Puritan poet hampered by the artistic restrictions described by Tyler, Miller, and the earlier Murdock. At the heart of the matter lay an issue that would not be explicitly addressed for another thirty years, when literary theory began to reshape the practice of literary history: the inevitable interpenetration of history and aesthetics, of attempted objectivity and unavoidable taste. This theme first played itself out in the debate over which seventeenth-century sacred poets were Taylor's closest models. On one side was Austin Warren, who had advised Johnson during the editing of the Poetical Works. Fresh from a book on Crashaw, Warren argued that Taylor manifested a baroque sensibility rather than a truly metaphysical one. Opposing Warren was Wallace Cable Brown, who sided with Johnson by aligning Taylor with the metaphysicals. “Metaphysical,” as Warren pointed out, had become a vague term of “eulogy” (1941:355). In his view, a better characterization for pre-neoclassic verse that stressed “false wit” was “baroque,” a “Christian and supernaturalist and incarnational” mode that grew out of the Counter-Reformation (356). Although the great poets linked the baroque sensibility either to cosmology, like Du Bartas, or to psychology, like Donne, Taylor's “minor ingenuities” and homely conceits fell short of either mode (360). Even though he wrote with a “primitive vigor” (366), images like Sharon's Rose in “The Reflexion” both encouraged and frustrated visualization in a manner that revealed his unschooled tastes. Taylor, Warren concluded, was “sometimes a neat little artisan but more often an unsteady enthusiast, a naive original” and “intermittently inspired Primitive” (370) not unlike another “uneven village poet,” Emily Dickinson (371). In his rebuttal Brown insisted that Taylor overcame baroque limitations to become “a full-fledged, if minor metaphysical poet” (1944:186). Defining metaphysical wit in terms of Samuel Johnson's discordia concors and Eliot's “sensuous apprehension of thought,” Brown declared that Taylor was a genuine metaphysical in his ability to cast abstract ideas into colloquial images and thus to merge thought and feeling into a “tight logical structure” (193). For Brown, the presence of unifying structures in the verse justified Taylor's stature not just relative to his contemporaries but as “the best American poet before Freneau and the first (and perhaps only) American Metaphysical” (197).

Each side soon gained adherents. Among the early defenders of a metaphysical Taylor was William B. Goodman, who argued that the courtship letter and pictorial poem that Taylor sent to his first wife Elizabeth Fitch matched the metaphysical mode of the Meditations (1954). The baroque side was taken up, as we have seen, by Jantz, who argued that Taylor wrote in a “typically late Baroque manner” (1944:82). In the mid-1950s Biancamaria Tedeschini Lalli agreed, arguing that Taylor's spiritual goals virtually forced him into verbal excesses normally associated with the baroque as the only means by which he could express his love for God (1956). But Jantz did not accept the standard equation of the baroque with artistic excess. As he observed three decades later, a critical bias against the baroque that prevailed when Taylor rose to prominence reinforced the widespread assumption that he somehow lagged behind English writers (1985:270). Gradually, however, this bias faded, and both terms became less judgmental. For Goodman, Taylor's metaphysical affinities were less a matter of literary classification than of thought patterns natural to a poet for whom the production of polished literature was not the primary issue. Lalli was similarly less concerned with the baroque as a formal rubric than as a verbal embodiment of spiritual intensity. This transformation of terminology would be complete by 1970, when Walter Reinsdorf argued that the essentially metaphysical Taylor sometimes employed a baroque style in which the image “transforms, takes fire, and melts under the pressure of an extreme intensity of religious feeling” (1970:36). In retrospect it seems clear that whether Taylor was a metaphysical or baroque poet depended not only on critical predilections but on the affective level of the poem at hand. Still, the debate was by no means fruitless. While the baroque Taylor arose chiefly because the verse seemed not to hold up to exacting New Critical standards for explication, the emotional underpinnings of the baroque encouraged a shift from purely formal analysis to a focus on the religious and artistic processes informing the texts. Louis Martz and Norman Grabo would soon describe Taylor in contemplative terms that rendered traditional belletristic categories like metaphysical and baroque far less relevant than they had seemed to Taylor's earliest critics.

Meanwhile, other frameworks as broad as the baroque-metaphysical polarity was narrow were soon proposed as keys to Taylor's place in literary history. Perhaps his real roots lay deeper than seventeenth-century England, in the echoes of medieval folk traditions that continued to hold sway in the country hamlets of Leicestershire, where he grew up. Nathalia Wright invoked these traditions by arguing that Gods Determinations resembled a morality play in its frankly allegorical characters, rough prosody, homely language, and doctrinal themes (1946). Taylor had been born near Coventry, where a Corpus Christi procession was still being performed; moreover, poets like Spenser, the Fletchers, Quarles, Joshua Sylvester, Milton, and Marvell could have served as intermediate sources. For Wright, the characters of Mercy, Satan, and other such personified abstractions suggested that Taylor had “a mind more responsive to medieval than to Renaissance influence” (17). Wright's Taylor, who embodied Miller's characterization of the Puritans as the last of the medievals, dwelt in an Augustinian cosmos constructed from dogma and Scripture. While Wright suggested that Taylor's indebtedness to the moralities accounted for the absence of Renaissance classicism in his work, Willie T. Weathers came to the opposite conclusion (1946). Pointing out that Taylor's library contained six volumes of classical poetry, Weathers argued that classical echoes in the verse, especially in Gods Determinations, explained Taylor's deviations from the morality tradition. The debate between Justice and Mercy, for instance, recalled pastoral song contests in Theocritus; Homer was echoed in the martial attacks on Taylor's soul-hero; “Christs Reply” recalled Aphrodite's consoling of the young Eros; the raging Satan suggested the Nemean lion of the Hercules story. Concluding that the “main tenor” of Gods Determinations was “Hellenistic” (19), a characterization that she also briefly applied to a few occasional poems and Meditations, Weathers argued that Taylor suppressed his work because he feared that its classical content would offend his scripturally-bound contemporaries (26). Eight years later Weathers proposed a specific seventeenth-century source for Taylor's “non-Puritan exaltation”: the Cambridge revival of Platonic interpretations of Christian doctrine (1954:2). The Cambridge Platonists, chiefly Henry More and Ralph Cudworth, had developed a more optimistic view of human reason than that espoused by strict Calvinism, along with a greater acceptance of erotic metaphor and symbolism—all traits that Weathers identified as central to Taylor's verse. In Gods Determinations, for example, Taylor combined Calvinism with Platonic “natural theology” as a means of identifying “Calvinistic Law with Platonic Love” (13). Weathers maintained that as a result of the Cambridge influence Taylor rejected Calvinist notions of election and predestination. Arguing that the poem treated “the salvation of all mankind” (13), she assumed that this “good New England Puritan”—despite his universalist beliefs—owed his artistic successes to an influence foreign to his faith (31).

It was quickly becoming obvious that this metaphysical-baroque-Hellenist writer of moralities could be all things to all people. As Lind complained, Taylor studies were becoming a “critical parlor-game” leading “only into a semantic maze” (1948:521). The many-faceted Taylor of the 1940s and the 1950s indeed suggests that critics were putting literary labels before the poems themselves. Clearly, a great deal of careful work was needed before such definitive explanations could be proposed, especially detailed investigations of Taylor's sources, both literary and theological. Although permanently valuable source work would not come until biblical and exegetical structures central to the Puritan imagination were better understood, modest contributions during the first two decades of Taylor scholarship began the necessary spadework. The search for the origins of specific images began in 1948, when G. Giovannini linked the “Artificial Angels” found in “The Glory of and Grace in the Church Set Out” from Gods Determinations with the formal gardens and topiary art of baroque Europe (1948). In the late 1950s Robert R. Hodges traced the allusion in “Meditation 2.56” to the “Artificiall man Aquinas slew” to the legend of Albertus Magnus, who built an automaton—either a talking head or a mechanical woman—that was destroyed by his pupil Aquinas because it interfered with his studies (1959). Specific work on Taylor's archaisms began when Sister M. Laurentia proposed that the “crickling” of “Meditation 1.42” was a cricket, not a pork crackling as Johnson had suggested (1949). Critics also began to pursue source-informed explications of individual poems, usually following Brown in confirming a metaphysical discordia concors and a consequent unity of theme and structure. Anne Marie McNamara, for example, argued for such unity in “Meditation 1.6” by connecting the lily of the valleys in the preceding poem's headnote with Taylor's image of the “Angell” coin (1958). But at this early stage in the scholarship, even small stones could make large waves. McNamara's reading prompted Norman S. Grabo to deny such a close connection between the biblical headnotes and the poems, arguing instead that Taylor based the Meditations on the doctrine preached in the accompanying sermon rather than on the Bible verse at hand (1960d).

In the early rush to validate Taylor's standing in terms of the English canon, contexts provided by the Bible, Puritan theology and rhetoric, and other Puritan poets remained largely undeveloped. Lind offered a sobering corrective to this by pointing out that Taylor's verse had been “snatched up” and “inflated unrecognizably” by critics who ignored the simple fact that he was a New England Puritan poet (1948:520). But like the critics he refuted, Lind was seduced by a predefined label—in his case, “Puritan.” Arguing that the Puritan poem was designed to edify and thus had to be clearly written, Lind found plainness in Taylor where others found sensuality. What critics were praising as “homely imagery,” for example, did not reflect an innovative escape from the dictates of Puritan art but merely fulfilled the poet's adherence to a thoroughly Puritan “principle of intelligibility” (525). For Lind, Taylor's apparent originality resulted from what a Puritan could not help doing: his imagery was “conditioned and shaped at the source of his imagination by the Puritan theories of rhetoric and psychology” (527). Although Lind conceded that the five occasional poems included in the Poetical Works hinted at what Taylor might have achieved if his “poetic genius” had “rested on a basis broader than the theological compulsions of his community,” Taylor the poet only occasionally transcended Taylor the orthodox minister (528). Reprising Tyler's conflict between religion and art in the Puritan sensibility, Lind implicitly applied modern poetic standards not just to Taylor but to the poet's entire culture when he insisted that the “primacy of doctrine over poetic expression” is what “spells the difference between mediocrity and greatness” (527). Although Taylor tried to write acceptable Puritan poetry, he “did not, unfortunately for the modern reader, fail in his appointed task often enough” (530).

While some critics overpraised Taylor because he did not write like a Puritan, Lind devalued him because he did. Still, Lind was the first to answer Johnson's call to read Taylor within his Puritan milieu. Roy Harvey Pearce soon agreed that for all the baroque or metaphysical influences on the verse, what really mattered was “its matrix in Taylor's Puritan culture” (1950:31). Citing Ramist invention as a search for divine order in the world, Pearce described a Puritan “poetics of discovery” rather than sentiment, creativity, or personal expression (42). If Taylor failed to invoke human drama with a sensitivity equal to Herbert's, it was because he was more concerned with “God and God's order” than with the “human experience” of that order (31). For Pearce, Taylor was the antithesis of a confessional poet. “What is primary in the poems is not the poet's experience—the poet as man speaking to men—but rather the meaning and understanding—the discovery—which is the end of that experience” (33). Gods Determinations thus had little dramatic appeal for modern readers because Taylor's deeper interest lay not in personal experience for its own sake but in its revelation of the redemptive scheme. Justice and Mercy were flat characters because they existed only to clarify abstract arguments and not to invoke “any interpersonal dramatic quality” (36). Similarly, Taylor did not develop paradoxes as fully or consistently as Donne because of his overriding belief in the divine resolution of all such enigmas. Finally, Pearce argued that if Taylor seemed to pursue simplistic parallels between the mundane and the spiritual, it was because his Puritan faith made him repeatedly seek “an earthly counterpart—however poor and dim—of that which is ineffably holy” (32).

Although Pearce tried to assess Taylor on the poet's own terms, his implicit definition of good verse doomed even the best Puritan poem to failure. His confirmation that “reading Taylor's poetry, we read his Puritanism” (46) seemed to present the Puritan poem not as art but as theological compulsion. In this he ended up not far from Lind. Puritan culture, Pearce argued, was “inadequate for major poetry” because it “allowed for little play of the individual will—in the last analysis, for little real human drama” (43). Ultimately, Pearce's validation of the “individual will” colored his assessment of Taylor. For him, as for other readers less sensitive than he to historical context, good poetry demanded the more individualistic ethos of a later America that was not so “reactionary, orthodox, and static” (40)—an America of Whitman and Dickinson, for whom Taylor and his contemporaries would serve as primitive antecedents in The Continuity of American Poetry, which Pearce published eleven years later. Pearce's comment that “technique is little or nothing” for Taylor (45) was not a neutral observation but an expression of disappointed modernist aesthetic expectations. There even seemed to be a hint of Wallace Stevens's “poem of the mind in the act of finding / What will suffice” in Pearce's statement that for Taylor, “the end of the poem inhibits the act of composition, and ultimately the act of the poem itself” (43).

Despite this encroachment of post-romantic definitions of good verse, Pearce's stress on Puritan aesthetics played a pioneering role in the scholarship. Equally important, and for similar reasons, was Mindele Black's assertion that Taylor's spiritual intensity was almost—though not quite—fully Puritan (1956). Black argued that Taylor blended the intellective matter of Calvinist theology with a “baroque manner” consistent with Catholic devotional tradition (171). Uncomfortable with the sensuous images derived from this tradition, however, Puritans compensated with a “copious allegorization” (170) that produced an unconscious “aesthetic schizophrenia” embodied in Taylor's split between rigid doctrinal content and baroque verbal expression (180). The tension between Taylor's Calvinist orthodoxy and his evocative treatments of the Bridegroom and the Supper indicated two strains whose “incompatibility” was “itself inherent in the Puritan devotional tradition.” This split, which accounted for Taylor's characteristic juxtaposition of homely with theological diction, explained how an orthodox preacher could write poems suggestive of high Anglican and Catholic devotional modes. Black nevertheless argued that the poet's similarity to Herbert was “established at some cost to Taylor's orthodoxy” (174). Citing sermon 15 from the Christographia manuscript as “typical of the Puritan's attraction to themes which he subsequently tries to explain away” (170), Black finally depicted Taylor less as a Puritan poet than as a harbinger of an “increasing humanization” in Anglo-American religious life and expression (181).

While Pearce saw Taylor as a Puritan whose beliefs partly diminished his poetry, Black saw him as a poet whose emotions partly compromised his Puritanism. Herbert Blau pushed the latter approach to an extreme, thereby bringing the simmering question of Taylor's orthodoxy to a boil (1953). Although Blau, like Pearce and Black, focused on the artistic implications of Puritan theology, he ended up joining Weathers in depicting a decidedly un-Puritan Taylor. For Blau, it was a Calvinistic paradox in which the doctrine of predestination contradicted any possibility of repentance that prompted the compassionate poet to stray from Puritan orthodoxy. Taylor, he maintained, felt far more rapture at the Lord's Supper than his faith allowed; unlike Anglicans and Catholics, he had “no excuse” for his “intense feeling for the ritual as ritual” (338). Moreover, Taylor took the humanistic side in the question of free will versus determinism, especially in Gods Determinations, where his stress on repentance showed his refusal to accept man's predestined inability to repent. Taylor thus adopted a theological fiction in order to make art equal to Donne's and Crashaw's by accepting “the illusion of good works (no illusion for Herbert, but definitely one for a sound Puritan)” (340). Although Blau overlooked Taylor's call to do good works “As if you should be sav'd for doing so” (Poems 444) and thereby labeled as unorthodox the central message of virtually all Puritan texts, he was instrumental in shifting the critical focus from Gods Determinations to the Preparatory Meditations as the sequence “better suited to Taylor's genius” (343), a shift that stimulated a focus on inner processes by which the meditating Puritan could finally be joined to the gifted poet. Most early critics had agreed with Jantz that Gods Determinations was Taylor's “greatest work” (1944:82), though its predominance in early studies was due in part to the fact that Johnson's edition reprinted it entire. Although Blau praised its metrical variety as evidence of Herbert's influence, he criticized its “slight” characterization and unsustained “action” (342). Yet he avoided overstating the poem's flaws, a feature common in most comparisons with Herbert. Blau concluded that although Taylor was capable of imagistic “brilliance” in such poems as “The Reflexion” (346), he often failed “the demands of poetic decorum” because of a gulf between divine tenor and homely vehicle that was intrinsic to the sharp separation of heaven and earth mandated by Puritan theology (359).

Blau prompted timely inquiry not so much into what kind of poet Taylor was, but what kind of Puritan he was. Two years after Blau's essay, Donald E. Stanford began to lay the un-Puritan Taylor to rest by demonstrating that the allegedly unorthodox Meditations articulated a thoroughly orthodox view of the Supper (1955). In contrast to Blau's view that Taylor's sacramentality was unusual, Stanford confirmed at least some degree of mystical experience in Puritan sacramental and devotional life. As he pointed out, Calvin had “asserted the real spiritual presence of Christ at the Lord's Supper and the union of Christ with the believer” (173), and even Cotton Mather, the very embodiment of New England orthodoxy, experienced “ecstasy upon contemplating the Eucharist” (175). Taylor's view that such ecstasy was reserved for the converted was clear from his participation in theological controversy. When Solomon Stoddard, influential pastor of neighboring Northampton, proposed that the Supper be opened to all believers, whether converted or not, Taylor's vehement opposition hardly revealed a shaky or reluctant orthodoxy. The following year Stanford reinforced his case with specific reference to Taylor's anti-Stoddard Meditations (“2.104-109” and “2.111”), which he published for the first time (1956). Adhering to the conclusion of the 1662 Half-Way Synod that the Supper was not a converting ordinance, Taylor sided with Increase and Cotton Mather against his Connecticut Valley neighbor and thus took a position that was conservative even for his time. In Taylor's view, the Synod, the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1648, and Calvin's Institutes had settled the issue: the Supper was properly a “seal” of a spiritual betrothal already made, not a sacrament open to all. Stanford conceded, however, that Taylor's orthodoxy did not make him a better poet, as evidenced by his “homely, colloquial diction, the extravagant tropes, and the all-too-frequent awkwardnesses of phrasing and rhythm” (62). Four years later Stanford cited Taylor's prose to refute Weathers's charge that the poet was a universalist and not a predestinarian (1960b). In his analysis of sermon 10 of the Christographia, Stanford confirmed that Taylor's “rigid Calvinism” inspired “his most powerful writing in poetry and prose” (10). Earlier Stanford had conceded that Taylor's Puritanism did not make him a good poet; here he maintained that Taylor's religious beliefs did not automatically keep him from being one either. Regardless of whether particular texts struck modern readers as successful or not, Taylor's faith was the motivating force behind all of the verse, and not simply an obstacle that the poet had to overcome in order to write.

Stanford was soon joined in the defense of Taylor's orthodoxy by Norman Grabo, who found further support in documents related to the Stoddardean controversy. The first of these was the sermon Taylor preached in 1679 at the founding of the Westfield church (1960b). As Taylor's title suggested, “God's House” was a “particular church” charged with screening out those who were unworthy of the sacrament. Reaffirming Taylor's role as an orthodox minister, Grabo also argued that the Meditations were direct responses to the doctrines featured in the sacrament-day sermons. In contrast to the figure torn between belief and art depicted in much of the early criticism, Grabo's Taylor was a man for whom intellective doctrine and emotional response were inseparable. In the engagingly titled “The Poet to the Pope,” Grabo published Taylor's cordial but firm letter of February 13, 1687/8 to Stoddard, the “Pope of the Connecticut Valley,” along with Stoddard's brief reply (1960c). Written nearly ten years after the “Foundation Day” sermon, Taylor's letter was prophetic of New England's growing attraction to what Grabo called Stoddard's “easier” religion (201). In a third essay Grabo took a broader focus. Although he concurred with Stanford regarding Taylor's orthodoxy, he expanded the definition of what such orthodoxy entailed (1960a). Asserting the existence of mystical and Catholic elements in Puritan devotional life, Grabo argued that such experience was fully articulated by the Mathers and Samuel Willard. Extending Black's stress on the richness of Puritan spiritual life (1956), Grabo maintained that anti-Catholic sentiments did not keep Puritans from drawing on a venerable tradition of Catholic devotion, often filtered through English advocates of meditation like Richard Baxter. Unlike Black, however, he posited no Puritan discomfort in appropriating this tradition. Citing Protestant guides to meditation, Grabo insisted that devotional intensity like Taylor's was perfectly acceptable among devout New Englanders.

After 1960, with the settling of Taylor's Puritan credentials, the debate over what it actually meant to be a Puritan would intensify. The eventual result was a more pluralistic view of Puritan inner experience than earlier critics had been willing to embrace, one in which Wigglesworth's stern thunderings, Bradstreet's conflicted musings, and Taylor's emotional volatility all found a place. Significantly, the question of Taylor's orthodoxy was resolved first in his prose and only later in the poetry. Moreover, the question had been raised in part because critics had been limited to the selections in the Poetical Works, the “topical” poems and “gleanings” that Johnson published in the 1940s, and twenty-six additional Meditations published in the 1950s by Morris Neufeld (1951) and Barbara Simison (1954). As Stanford noted when he published nineteen more Meditations if more of the poetry had been available Taylor would not have seemed so much like a “modified Anglican or a neo-Platonist rather than the Calvinist he actually was” (1957:18). By publishing a much broader selection of the writings, Stanford and Grabo would soon reveal a more representative Edward Taylor, whose connections with the religion and art of early New England could be explored in depth. As a result, critics would return to Johnson's view that Taylor was not so unusual for his milieu as the poems suggested. As Grabo observed, the poet “had no more to hide” than such pillars of the New England Way as the Mathers (1960a:402). And as Grabo would confirm early in the new decade (1962c), Taylor was helping to lift a “veil” from the perceptions of early Americanists by which the old feud between Puritanism and poetry could finally come to an end.


1. Works by Edward Taylor

The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. New York: Rockland Editions, 1939. Reprint, Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1943, 1966.

The Poems of Edward Taylor. Ed. Donald E. Stanford. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1960.

Edward Taylor's Christographia. Ed. Norman S. Grabo. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1962.

A Transcript of Edward Taylor's Metrical History of Christianity. Ed. Donald E. Stanford. Cleveland: Micro Photo, 1962.

The Diary of Edward Taylor. Ed. Francis Murphy. Springfield, Mass.: Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, 1964.

Edward Taylor's Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper. Ed. Norman S. Grabo. East Lansing: Michigan State Univ. Press, 1966.

Edward Taylor's “Church Records” and Related Sermons. Ed. Thomas M. Davis and Virginia L. Davis. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Vol. 1 of The Unpublished Writings of Edward Taylor.

Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard: The Nature of the Lord's Supper. Ed. Thomas M. Davis and Virginia L. Davis. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Vol. 2 of The Unpublished Writings of Edward Taylor.

Edward Taylor's Minor Poetry. Ed. Thomas M. Davis and Virginia L. Davis. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Vol. 3 of The Unpublished Writings of Edward Taylor.

Edward Taylor's Harmony of the Gospels. 4 vols. Ed. Thomas M. Davis and Virginia L. Davis, with Betty L. Parks. Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1983.

Upon the Types of the Old Testament. 2 vols. Ed. Charles W. Mignon. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1989.

2. Critical Works

Altick, Richard D. 1950. The Scholar Adventurers. N.Y.: Macmillan.

Benét, William Rose, and Norman Holmes Pearson, eds. 1938. Oxford Anthology of American Literature. 2 vols. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. Vol. 1.

Black, Mindele. 1956. “Edward Taylor: Heavens Sugar Cake.” New England Quarterly 29: 159-81.

Blake, Howard. 1940. “Seventeenth-Century Yankee.” Poetry 56: 165-69.

Blau, Herbert. 1953. “Heaven's Sugar Cake: Theology and Imagery in the Poetry of Edward Taylor.” New England Quarterly 26: 337-60.

Brown, Wallace Cable. 1944. “Edward Taylor: An American ‘Metaphysical.’” American Literature 16: 186-97.

Cairns, William B., ed. 1910. Selections from Early American Writers. New York: Macmillan.

Damon, S. Foster. 1939. Review of Johnson, Poetical Works. New England Quarterly 12: 777-80.

Fish, Stanley. 1980. Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press.

Foerster, Norman, ed. 1947. American Poetry and Prose. 2 vols. Third edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Vol. 1.

Gefvert, Constance J. 1971. “Introduction.” Edward Taylor: An Annotated Bibliography, 1668-1970. Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press. xiii-xxxiii.

Giovannini, G. 1948. “Taylor's ‘The Glory of and Grace in the Church Set Out.’” Explicator 6 (4): Item 26.

Goodman, William B. 1954. “Edward Taylor Writes His Love.” New England Quarterly 27: 510-15.

Grabo, Norman S. 1960a. “Catholic Tradition, Puritan Literature, and Edward Taylor.” Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters 45: 395-402.

———. 1960d. “Taylor's ‘Sacramental Meditation Six.’” Explicator 18 (7): Item 40.

———. 1962c. “The Veiled Vision: The Role of Aesthetics in Early American Intellectual History.” William and Mary Quarterly 19: 493-510. Reprint, The American Puritan Imagination: Essays in Revaluation. Ed. Sacvan Bercovitch. London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1974. 19-33.

Hart, James D. 1941. The Oxford Companion to American Literature. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Hodges, Robert R. 1959. “Edward Taylor's ‘Artificiall Man.’” American Literature 31: 76-77.

Jantz, Harold S. 1944. The First Century of New England Verse. Reprint, New York: Russell and Russell, 1962.

———. 1985. “Baroque Free Verse in New England and Pennsylvania.” Puritan Poets. Ed. Peter White. 258-73.

Johnson, Thomas H. 1937. “Edward Taylor: A Puritan ‘Sacred Poet.’” New England Quarterly 10: 290-322.

———. 1938. “Poetry.” The Puritans. Ed. Perry Miller and Thomas H. Johnson. Reprint, New York: Harper and Row, 1963. 545-52.

———. 1939a. “Edward Taylor.” The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. New York: Rockland Editions. 11-28.

———. 1939b. “The Discovery of Edward Taylor's Poetry.” Colophon, New Graphic Series, 1 (2): 101-4.

———. 1941. “A Seventeenth-Century Printing of Some Verses of Edward Taylor.” New England Quarterly 14: 139-41.

———. 1942. “The Topical Verses of Edward Taylor.” Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts 34: 513-54.

———. 1943. “Some Edward Taylor Gleanings.” New England Quarterly 16: 280-96.

———. 1944. “Edward Taylor.” Dictionary of American Biography: Vol. 21: Supplement I. Ed. Harris E. Starr. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 681-82.

———. 1966. “Foreword to the Paperback Edition.” The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press. 8.

Jones, Howard Mumford, et al., eds. 1952. Major American Writers. 2 vols. Third edition. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. Vol. 1.

Lalli, Biancamaria Tedeschini. 1956. “Edward Taylor.” Studi Americani 2: 9-43.

Laurentia, Sister M. 1949. “Taylor's ‘Meditation 42.’” Explicator 8 (3): Item 19.

Lenhart, Charmenz S. 1956. Musical Influences on American Poetry. Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press.

Lind, Sidney E. 1948. “Edward Taylor: A Revaluation.” New England Quarterly 21: 518-30.

Lockwood, John H. 1922. Westfield and Its Historic Influences. Springfield, Mass.: privately printed.

Matthiessen, F. O. 1928. “Michael Wigglesworth, A Puritan Artist.” New England Quarterly 1: 491-504.

———. 1950. “Introduction.” The Oxford Book of American Verse. Ed. F. O. Matthiessen. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. ix-xxxiii.

McNamara, Anne Marie. 1958. “Taylor's ‘Sacramental Meditation Six.’” Explicator 17 (1): Item 3.

Miller, Perry. 1939. The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century. Reprint, Boston: Beacon Press, 1961.

———. 1953. The New England Mind: From Colony to Province. Reprint, Boston: Beacon Press, 1961.

————, ed. 1956. The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry. New York: Doubleday.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. 1956. The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press.

Murdock, Kenneth B. 1927. “Introduction.” Handkerchiefs from Paul. Ed. Kenneth B. Murdock. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press. xv-lxxiii.

———. 1948. “Writers of New England.” Literary History of the United States. Ed. Robert E. Spiller et al. New York: Macmillan. 54-70.

———. 1949. Literature and Theology in Colonial New England. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press.

———. 1951. “The Colonial and Revolutionary Period.” The Literature of the American People: An Historical and Cultural Survey. Ed. Arthur Hobson Quinn. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. 1-171.

Neufeld, Morris A. 1951. “A Meditation upon the Glory of God.” Yale University Library Gazette 25: 110-111.

Ong, Walter J., S.J. 1958. Ramus: Method and the Decay of Dialogue. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press.

Pearce, Roy Harvey. 1950. “Edward Taylor: The Poet as Puritan.” New England Quarterly 23: 31-46.

Reinsdorf, Walter. 1970. “Edward Taylor's Baroque Expression.” Greyfriar 11: 31-36.

Sibley, John L. 1881. Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University. 3 vols. Cambridge: C. W. Sever. 2: 397-412, 534-36.

Simison, Barbara Damon. 1954. “Poems by Edward Taylor.” Yale University Library Gazette 28: 93-102, 161-70; 29: 25-34, 71-80.

Spiller, Robert, and Harold Blodgett, eds. 1949. The Roots of National Culture: American Literature to 1830. New York: Macmillan.

Stanford, Donald E. 1955. “Edward Taylor and the Lord's Supper.” American Literature 27: 172-78.

———. 1956. “Sacramental Meditations by Edward Taylor.” Yale University Library Gazette 31: 61-75.

———. 1957. “Nineteen Unpublished Poems by Edward Taylor.” American Literature 29: 18-46.

———. 1960a. “Introduction.” The Poems of Edward Taylor. Ed. Donald E. Stanford. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. xxxix-lxii.

———. 1960b. “The Puritan Poet As Preacher—An Edward Taylor Sermon.” Studies in American Literature. Ed. Waldo McNeir and Leo B. Levy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press. 1-10.

Taylor, Henry Wyllys. 1857. “Edward Taylor.” Annals of the American Pulpit. 2 vols. Ed. William B. Sprague. New York: Robert Carter and Brothers. 1:177-81.

Terry, John Taylor. 1892. Rev. Edward Taylor. New York: DeVinne Press.

Tyler, Moses Coit. 1878. A History of American Literature, 1607-1765. Reprint, Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1949.

Warren, Austin. 1941. “Edward Taylor's Poetry: Colonial Baroque.” Kenyon Review 3: 355-71.

———. 1962. “Edward Taylor.” Major Writers of America. 2 vols. Ed. Perry Miller. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World. 1:51-62.

Weathers, Willie T. 1946. “Edward Taylor, Hellenistic Puritan.” American Literature 18: 18-26.

———. 1954. “Edward Taylor and the Cambridge Platonists.” American Literature 26: 1-31.

Williams, Oscar, ed. 1948. A Little Treasury of American Poetry. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Williams, Stanley T. 1951. The Beginnings of American Poetry (1620-1855). Uppsala: Almqvist and Wiksells.

Witherspoon, Alexander M., and Frank J. Warnke, eds. 1963. Seventeenth-Century Prose and Poetry. Second edition. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World.

Wright, Nathalia. 1946. “The Morality Tradition in the Poetry of Edward Taylor.” American Literature 18: 1-17.

Wright, Thomas Goddard. 1920. Literary Culture in Early New England 1620-1730. Reprint, New York: Russell and Russell, 1966.

Jeff Jeske (essay date 1997)

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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 Davis shows us, Taylor's evolving attitudes toward both his art and the state of his soul underwrite “subtle but clear developments in the poetry.” Taylor's early and mature poems must not be confused, and Davis's study helps us to understand the differences between them.

Equally important to our understanding of Taylor is the half century itself. The period spanning the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries witnessed striking change in the identity of New England Puritanism; by its end, decline and dissolution were well underway. If Taylor is the “typical Puritan” that Norman Grabo terms him, we can expect him to bear that dynamic period's impress both intellectually and theologically. Such is indeed the case.

The story's external elements are well known: increasing worldliness, the secularization of church policies, the loss of the colony's charter, the formation of the Brattle Street church. Davis analyzes, in this regard, the impact on Taylor's ministry and art of Solomon's Stoddard's liberalizing of requirements for admission to the Lord's Supper. Less well charted, however, are corresponding internal shifts within the Puritan intellectual heritage, shifts which proceed from the complexity of that heritage and which move along preestablished fault lines partly in response to the external developments. It is a topographical map of the internal that helps to make sense of both the large-scale evolution of Puritan nature philosophy and the retrograde movement within that evolution of our “typical” poet, Edward Taylor. Such a map enables us to read the intellectual coordinates of nature images where they appear in Puritan literature, whether in sermon, tract, or Taylor's Preparatory Meditations.

Among the tangled components of New England Puritanism are Augustinianism, medieval Scholastic philosophy, humanism, Calvinism, and seventeenth-century ideology. Each of these systems, moreover, amalgamates other systems. Augustine, for example, is indebted to the early church fathers as well as to Plato and Plotinus. Aquinas, who provides a major alternative to Augustinianism, synthesizes early Scholasticism and Aristotle. The Reformers utilized both Augustine and the later Scholasticism of Duns Scotus, while at the same time the humanist movement renewed the popularity of various Greek and Roman modes of thought. Add to this the Neostoicism and the developing scientific naturalism of the seventeenth century, and it is not surprising that Taylor and his contemporaries express diverse attitudes toward nature. To speak of a Puritan “idea” of nature is to refer to a complex hybrid indeed.

Spread over and slightly beyond the time in which Taylor lived and wrote, the map looks something like this: initially, otherworldly concerns informed by Christian Platonism dominate the Massachusetts colony, emphasizing the superiority of spirit to matter and coping with a basic distrust of nature by advising detachment from it. Perry Miller's phrase “the Augustinian strain of piety” indicates the direct source of this mode of thinking, modified as it was by Calvin. When this set of coordinates is dominant, the crystallizing image of nature is that of wilderness set against the enclosed garden of God's church, the two together establishing a mythic framework in which the world—and concrete images of it—have little ontological or epistemological value.

By the mid-seventeenth century, however, a more this-worldly concept of nature replaces the founders' mythic orientation. This concept, latent in the intellectual heritage and shaped not by Christian Platonism but by Scholastic Aristotelianism and humanism, empowers a new image: nature as book. Underlying its use are assumptions different from those associated with the wilderness, an image which continues to appear in election sermons and similar documents restating the Puritan mission and attempting to rekindle piety. The book image assumes that nature is not to be shunned and that its study enables the constructing of a natural theology which can support revelation.

As the eighteenth century approaches, yet another configuration emerges. Nature continues to play an important symbolic function as wilderness, and the concept of nature's intelligibility as book remains seminal. But a more empirical attitude toward the concrete world generally lessens the use of garden/wilderness symbolism in dealing with sense perceptions, and the new science, evolving theories of natural law, and more positive attitudes toward reason modify the book image significantly and in two stages. First, stabilization and objectification diminish nature's identity as a numinous reflection of God; nature becomes instead a source-book of the Divine Will. Second, and somewhat paradoxically, the same process of despiritualizing causes nature to lose importance as a source of theological knowledge and hence as a source of revelation. A third image of nature becomes dominant—nature as machine. This image signals the triumph of secularization and the near-advent of Deism.

Edward Taylor, of course, does not follow this line of development. In fact, as Davis notes, the Preparatory Meditations suggest that he moves in the opposite direction. Where Puritanism becomes more secular, Taylor's preoccupations become more sacramental. 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. Where Puritanism's response to nature becomes more analytic, Taylor's purposes become more meditative and hence more in line with the piety of the founders.

The grand subjects of the Meditations, according to Davis, are “God's miracles, the Incarnation, and the perpetual observance of that miracle in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper” (67), and as Taylor's career proceeds, the Lord's supper becomes more central to his thought, as does Taylor's intent to glorify the risen Christ. Davis notes that Taylor becomes less spontaneous and less individualistic with his imagery. He becomes more “dogmatically and exegetically limited” (139), more restrained by the demands of his texts. In the Series 2 typological poems, he turns from the world's flux to preordained biblical parallels, and in the subsequent poems based on Canticles, he establishes a hortus conclusus, a true place of solace and retreat where he can focus on the anticipated union with Christ which he has sought throughout his career. “In this process of withdrawal from the fallen world,” Davis observes, Taylor's verse becomes progressively “more removed from the facts of his life” (175).

Nevertheless, Taylor is not as simple as this introductory sketch suggests. He inherits the same tangled traditions as his contemporaries, and his mind moves agilely within them. In his writings, despite their prevailing piety, we find the same multiplicity in the use of nature imagery that appears elsewhere in the age. The same fault lines appear in Taylor that would lead to fracture later.


It is essentially a Calvinist idea of nature derived from Plato which informs the founders' piety—John Cotton, signal theologian of the first generation, employs it repeatedly to establish a characteristic otherworldly stance—and it is the image of the wilderness, contrasted with the garden of Christ's church, which he uses most often and eloquently to represent nature. Defining his fellow Puritans as latter-day Israelites and New England as the New Canaan, Cotton places nature in a mythic context. As wilderness, nature is either a place of trial like the biblical wilderness in which Moses, the Israelites, Elijah, Elisha, and Christ spent periods of mortification, or an entity to be transformed into a new Eden. In neither situation does nature have intrinsic value except through its participation in the mythic scheme. As testing site, for example, nature is the environment in which God's church must be established. Yet when this occurs, that which is established—the garden / church—is set apart and has a higher ontological value.

As entity to be transformed, nature-as-wilderness is also devalued. The Platonic dualism underlying Calvin's thought stresses that phenomenal nature, and by extension the entire material universe, has no real value, as it is only as it can be. Composed of material substance, nature is inherently flawed, corrupt, and hence “wilderness.” Only in becoming spiritualized can nature achieve true merit. If man reorders nature on the basis of spiritual principles, if he transforms wilderness into garden, then he partially accomplishes the promised regeneration of nature and restores its positive, prelapsarian condition. What is produced, however, is a radically altered, mythic, quasi-spiritualized counterpart of the wilderness. Material nature disappears in the process, converted, in mystico-sacramental conversion theory, to the garden planted “eastward in Eden.”

Cotton first applies the garden-wilderness motif to the Puritan mission in the sermon delivered to John Winthrop and the four hundred others departing for the New World aboard the Arbella and published as God's Promise to His Plantations. Preached on 2 Sam. 7:10—“Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own”—the sermon introduces the main aspects of the motif, especially the concept of being planted in a special place to fulfill a covenanted role under God's direct supervision. This concept, reflected elsewhere in Winthrop's reference to the “citty on the hill,” provides the impetus for a dualistic treatment of nature. Underlying the idea of the covenanted community is the Augustinian distinction between the cities of man and God, reformulated in Puritan thought in terms of visible and invisible churches. The church of God's elect is the invisible church; in A Brief Exposition of the Whole Book of Canticles, Cotton characterizes it as “a garden enclosed, a fountaine sealed” (110), separated, that is, from the impure world. God Himself, the “Gardiner” and “Husbandman,” has decided to uproot and transplant His people, moving them to a place of safety where “the sons of wickedness shall afflict them no more” (2).

Throughout the departure sermon, Cotton uses the organic metaphor to suggest the mystical quality of the relationship between the saint and God. Church members are part of a “choice generation” and are to be called “trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord” (14). Similarly, in God's Mercie Mixed with His Justice, Cotton announces that “we shall carry our roote with us … and our fruite wille bee more sweet and savoury” (65).1 Once in New England, the church is to send out new shoots, resulting in the multiplication of “one garden into many, one Church into above a score” (Canticles 166). These gardens, of course, are carved out of nature's wilderness, but what links them is a supranatural mode of being.

Within the garden, a special people lives the mystico-sacramental religious experience which God's nearness makes possible. Outside, according to Cotton, all the world is “as a wildernesse, or at best a wilde field where all manner of unclean, and wilde beasts live and feed” (Canticles 104).2 Here live the devil, enemies of the church, and sinners in general: symbolically, the wilderness is a place of reprobacy.3 To protect the garden's inhabitants from these external threats, Cotton asks God to “restraine (the foxes, the little foxes) the enemies of the Church, of greater or lesser power. … These spoiled the vines, hindered the proceeding of the building of the Temple, and the peace of the Church” (Canticles 139). Fortunately for New England, God has separated garden from wilderness by means of the hedges of grace, such that “neither Dragons, nor wild Bores, nor Foxes shall herafter root it up” (Canticles 139). Nature is contaminated, the source of the carnal allurements which provoke men to “actual” sin. In Anne Bradstreet's traditional Platonic dialogue, “The Flesh and the Spirit,” the soul insists, “my ambition Lyes above” (383); Michael Wigglesworth advises the Christian in “A Song of Emptiness” to “Learn what deceitful Toyes, and empty things, / This World, and all its best Enjoyments be: / Out of the Earth no true Contentment springs, / But all things here are vexing Vanities” (The Day of Doom 87).4 John Cotton declares that “the universality of all creatures is vanity” and concludes that “all … creatures are under the Sun, but our happiness is above it … neither can things below the Sun carry us up to a condition above the Sun” (Ecclesiastes 262,11).

Nor does nature offer epistemological benefits. The “light of nature” which processes sense perceptions is weak and consists of “vain imaginings.”5 Even after regeneration, man's ability to evaluate natural phenomena is limited and even dangerous. Repeating the familiar Platonic view that nature is an unstable object of knowledge, Cotton asks, “How should that which is restlesse … procure us setled rest and tranquillity, which accompanieth true happiness?” The saint seeking intellectual stability had better avoid nature, for “the mind of man … is somewhat assimilated into the nature of the object which it studieth” (Ecclesiastes 13). Cotton admits occasionally that secular study of the creatures is a duty imposed by God, but he also points out that too much of such study “drieth up the sweetest moysture of the body” and, more dangerously, may bring “fastidious loathing of Scriptures” (Ecclesiastes 271). If anything, contact with nature should drive man toward more substantial, supranatural concerns and perusal of Scripture. The most that material things can teach, as Calvin had noted, is man's inexcusableness. Beyond this, nature offers little to the saint.


As long as the facts of the Puritan experience supported the concept of a special, covenanted community set apart from an impure world, the garden-wilderness motif viably expressed the Puritan relationship to nature, with an otherworldly attitude resulting. At first the concept did reflect the actual situation. The Puritans clustered in small communities which were separated by dangerous tracts of genuine wilderness. Within these communities, the theocratic New England society instituted rigorous admission requirements to insure the purity of the churches. The founders assumed that the church stock would be replenished by the children of the regenerate, to whom a covenant relationship was transmitted at birth, thereby providing the colonists with a mystical cohesion analogous to the racial relatedness of the Israelites, that other group sojourning in an inhospitable wilderness.

Changes soon fragmented and secularized God's special garden, however. Most immediately, a new generation that did not share the intense zeal of the founders and that was unable to testify to its conversion began to press for church membership. Acknowledging that some provision had to be made to bring these visibly godly under control of the church, such ministers as Thomas Hooker began early to modify the stringent admission requirements, for example by substituting a system of questions and answers for a public relation of saving faith. This more liberal attitude toward church membership became tentatively incorporated in the credal platforms of the 1640s. The result of the changed admission requirements, according to Williston Walker, was that the church became a “half-way house between the world and full Christian discipleship” (250). Meanwhile, Thomas Shephard and others established a definition of regeneracy which restored the Adamic Covenant of Works, with moral actions becoming necessary testimony to Christ's grace. This modification, as well as Hooker's interpretation of conversion as a long, slow process in time, was incorporated in the Cambridge Platform of 1648, initiating movement away from the Pauline concern with immediate participation in Christ and toward moral conduct. Nature was no longer merely a wilderness to be shunned by the elect, but the important site of the working out of one's salvation.

At the same time, sheer familiarity with the wilderness made the Puritans less likely to invest it with the demonic, despite pulpit rhetoric to the contrary. In the beginning, the wilderness was an actual place outside the hedge. Migrations to Connecticut in the mid-1630s, however, breached the enclosure, transforming the wilderness from mysterious territory into land one had to traverse in order to visit friends. Economic survival required that one know the wilderness in order to extract necessary stuffs from it. And did not Scripture itself command that the wilderness be subdued and conquered for human benefit?6 In his letters, John Winthrop expresses confidence that “whatsoever we stand in need of is treasured up in the earthe by the Creator, and is to be fetched thence by the sweatt of our browes” (II.136). Such “fetching,” praised by John Norton as a way of converting the wilderness into “a place of Merchandize” (58), was to help bring about a secularized worldview stripped of the religious preoccupations underlying Winthrop's own asceticism. His son, John Winthrop Jr., who learned well of the abundant buried treasures (e.g., iron, lead) that God had placed in the New England hills, became one of the foremost entrepreneurs of his generation.7 In 1652, the year of John Cotton's death, “worldly-mindedness” appears for the first time as the reason for a fast ordered by the general court. In the late 1650s and 1660s, the cries against worldliness, and particularly against preoccupation with trade, steadily increase. And when the “Reforming Synod” was convened in 1679—the same year that Edward Taylor was elected pastor in Westfield—its analysis of New England's provoking sins revealed that, in general, wordliness was among the chief sins and that mystico-sacramentalism had continued to decrease. The devout had succumbed to the worldly spirit, specifically identified as an “inordinate affection to the world”; the things of religion had been “made subservient unto worldly interests” and “all seeke their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's” (Walker 431, 432).

Preachers continue to employ the garden-wilderness imagery motif as a point of reference well into the eighteenth century, especially in the election sermons, whose purpose was to remind the New Englanders, in Jonathan Mitchel's words in Nehemiah on the Wall in Troublesom Times, that “it is our Errand into the Wilderness to study and practice true Scripture Reformation,” not primarily to achieve material prosperity (28). The same John Norton who approves of the wilderness as a “place of Merchandize” invokes the concept of the garden in the election sermon for 1659 to declare that “it concerneth N. E. alwayes to remember that Originally they are a plantation religious, not a plantation of trade” (17). However, the motif of the church as community detached from nature appears progressively less frequently; beginning in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, sermons reveal a major change in emphasis. The garden appears sadly deteriorated and under constant assault by external enemies. Moreover, it is no longer easy to distinguish clearly between garden and wilderness, mystico-sacramental community and nature. In A Brief Recognition of New England's Errand into the Wilderness, the election sermon for 1670, Samuel Danforth cites a text that must have later seemed prophetic: “The vineyard is all overgrown with thorns, and nettles cover the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof is broken down”(33). Danforth asserts that God is punishing Puritan worldliness by dismantling the hedges which separate the community from the world at large. By removing the founders through death, He has taken “the principal stakes out of our hedges; the cornerstones out of our walls” (74). When King Philip's War erupts in the mid-1670s, Increase Mather interprets this most threatening of all intrusions into the garden as a direct result of God's having removed Himself as protector (The Day of Trouble is Near 6). The natural and political catastrophes which mounted in the decades that followed caused the garden to refer less to the visible church and more, as in the case of Edward Taylor, to the individual.

As the wilderness image became less accurate in describing the actual relationship of the Puritans to nature, and as the garden image became interiorized, a different image became prominent: that of the “book of nature.” Its presuppositions, most notably that one must actively search nature for knowledge of God, better suited the intellectual temperament of the later seventeenth century and differed radically from the presuppositions informing the concept of wilderness. Christian Platonism views the epistemological relationship between man and nature as blasted even after regeneration; Scholasticism, the major source of the book image, asserts that even natural man can—and should—learn much of God and His attributes by investigating nature. In this view, natural theology is not a dangerous distraction but a divinely imposed responsibility.

The image of nature as book actually appears frequently in the writings of early Puritanism, even in Calvinist works. The popular poet Guillaume du Bartas, for example, characterizes nature as a “folio, printed all With God's great Works in Letters Capitall” (7). In so doing, he echoes Calvin himself, who, in an uncharacteristic passage, had admonished his followers to “let the world become our school if we desire rightly to know God” (60). The more representative early Puritan position, of course, is displayed in Richard Mather's remark that those who have none but the book of the creatures are in a perishing condition. Similarly, James Fitch, an orthodox New England Calvinist, insists that “none can learn religion by the book of nature … for the book of nature is blurred by man's sin, the curse is fallen upon the works of Creation, and thus this book is darkened” (1). Nevertheless, for other important shapers of the New England mind, the book was not significantly darkened at all. Johann Alsted, for example, whose compendious Encyclopaedia Scientiarum Omnium provided a “North-West Passage” to the Puritan sciences, concludes from his researches that “a genuine reading of the book of nature is an ascenscion to the mind of God, both theoretical and practical” (Miller 209). Besides, explicit even in such early works of piety as Winthrop's Journal is the pervasive Puritan confidence that the will of God can be read in His Providences. When He preserved a saint in a storm, or caused a blaspheming sailor to drown in public view, it was customary to charge these natural phenomena with transcendent meanings.

Several factors encouraged the substitution of “book” for “wilderness.” Chief among these were elements in the Puritan intellectual heritage which had trusted in nature's knowableness: most notably, Scholasticism, Ramistic logic, and science. Despite the Augustinian orientation of the founders, for example, Scholasticism provided the New England Puritans a systematic mode of understanding the universe. As early as 1653, fifteen years before Taylor's arrival, Harvard theses such as “Quantity is derived from matter and quality chiefly from form” indicated that both physical and metaphysical theories regarding matter's constitution were based not on the Platonic dualism upon which Augustine relied, but on Aristotelian hylomorphism. The Aristotelian principle that entities are indissoluble combinations of matter and form is assumed by such orthodox New England theologians as James Fitch in his widely praised First Principles of the Doctrine of Christ (see Walsh). It is possible, of course, to adapt Scholastic means to Augustinian ends, and Fitch's acceptance of Scholastic views does not prevent his First Principles from being a thoroughly Calvinist work. Nevertheless, Scholastic assumptions chiefly support Scholastic conclusions. When the tenor of Puritan thought became less otherworldly as the seventeenth century progressed, certain important Scholastic conclusions related to nature's intelligibility became more prominent, carrying intellectual consequences which the founders seem not to have anticipated when they brought to New England the Scholastic texts they had studied at Cambridge.

One such consequence was an enhanced attitude toward reason. The Thomist belief that natural reason is an important tool encourages the use of material phenomena in the pursuit of knowledge, thereby confirming a principle which is at least implicit in Calvin.8 In adapting this belief, the Puritans gradually modified their Calvin-inspired distrust of reason and established the foundation for an epistemological rapport with nature. Meanwhile, and of more direct significance, the Scholastic, non-Calvinist conviction emerged that nature itself is stable and thus intelligible. The wilderness image assumes that nature is a shifting—and thus dangerous—object to the mind seeking the transcendent and stable unity of divine wisdom. In the Scholastic view, on the other hand, nature does not house the unstable shadows of divine exemplars but is a concrete piece of divine artisanry, one established on regular, immutable principles analogous to the Stoic lex naturae, which Thomism incorporates. Throughout the seventeenth century, sermons display a lively sense of God's direct and enigmatic participation in human affairs. But again thanks to Thomism, which postulates that God bestows self-sufficiency on nature via secondary causation, the underlying theology becomes progressively more rationalist and God's unpredictability in nature less a factor.

A second important tradition informing the book of nature image was humanism, inasmuch as the classical authors' views on the observable order in—and readability of—nature often reinforced those of Scholasticism and its this-worldly natural theology. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such authors as Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, and Horace were widely studied in New England grammar schools and universities.9 Cicero's Stoic view of man, nature, and the lex naturae became particularly influential, and his writings were cited progressively more often in Puritan sermons, especially as the eighteenth century approached. As at Cambridge in England, Harvard, even before Edward Taylor arrived, also made available the other Stoics, Epicureanism, and atomistic theories of the universe. That natural philosophy served as handmaiden to theology in the this-worldly view clearly justified the allotting of a portion of the academic day to what John Cotton would have regarded as “vain strivings.” Charles Chauncy, early Harvard president and widely respected educator of New England ministers, declared that “whatsoever is contained in the scriptures of the works of God [i.e., nature], and as farr as it concerns a minister to preach all profitable and Scripture trueths, the knowledge of Arts & Sciences is usefull and expedient to him to hold them forth to his hearers” (Miller 85). By designating the works of God as “scriptures” and suggesting to ministerial candidates that they use materials from that source in their sermons, he anticipates the eighteenth-century belief that the book of nature is not only coextensive with, but actually more authoritative than, the book of revelation.

Humanism's most direct effect on Puritan New England's concept of nature came, however, via Ramistic logic. By means of it, Puritanism significantly modified Scholastic this-worldliness and insured future secularizing developments. Ramus's works were widely used throughout New England and studied by Taylor; his Dialectics and Institutiones Logicae were Harvard textbooks. Ramus's method inspired substantial confidence in logic and supported the faith in natural intellect which was already present in Puritan thinking through the Scholastic heritage.10 More directly important for the book-of-nature image, Ramistic logic underlay the influential theories of Puritan theologians Alexander Richardson and William Ames. Richardson regarded nature as encylopaidia, a compendium of divine arts and laws forming a comprehensive system of knowledge about God. Ames extended the same concept: his technometria assumes that the divine attributes are systematically expressed and systematically discoverable in nature. The physical universe is a kind of handbook containing the rules of human activity. Like Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, Ames argues that the goal of all education is eupraxia. Man's entire active life is subject to the technological rules and arts, and these arts, all of which have a divine source, can be derived immediately from the book of nature.

Where Ames differs most from Scholasticism is in reversing Thomistic teleology. Aquinas maintained (as did Aristotle), that the Deity potently causes creatures to strain upward and imitate God as much as possible—most notably His unity. The goal of all creation, then, is a state of final rest, and the aim of knowledge is a tying together of the forms inherent in creatures. In other words, the searching intellect likewise attempts to come to rest in unity. In the Amesian mode of thinking, however, the emphasis is upon God's wish to express Himself in multiplicity. Ames's substitution of physics for metaphysics is prophetic. In 1653, theses technologicae begin to replace theses metaphysicae on the Harvard sheet and continued to appear at both Harvard and Yale until almost the end of the eighteenth century. The pragmatic Amesian emphasis appears in such titles as “True welfare [eupraxia] is the object and end of arts” and “Art is a method of various precepts useful for life.” Such titles reflect the growing moralism in contemporary religious practice and reveal why the book of nature is an indispensable part of the program, even more so than in Scholasticism. In the Thomistic system, with its goal of upward striving, it is possible to exclude nature by relying solely on revelation. In the Amesian scheme, man must consult the book of nature constantly and in detail to further God's purpose, the realization of the arts in all activity. Ames observes that not only do the creatures that constitute the book's pages “declare God's glory,” they “give occasion to us to know, and seeke God” (8, 21).


First-generation Puritans generally displayed only a minor interest in natural science, partly because of the Platonic base of Augustinian piety, partly because of their situation: the early years offered little stimulus for scientific study. In Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century, Samuel Eliot Morison notes that when the college was established in 1636, the curriculum provided by President Dunster, modeled as it was on the Cantabrigian counterpart, exposed students to little about the natural world that Dante did not know, even though courses were provided in astronomy, botany, and physics (I. 215). Despite instruction in geometry, the actual cultivating of a systematic mathematics—the basic language of empirical investigation—did not begin until the second half of the seventeenth century.

Still, there existed in Puritanism a latent interest in natural science, and like the Puritan technological bent, it may well have been in advance of the society at large in terms of secularization, thereby helping to bring forward a climate uncongenial to the founders' piety. A glance at the combination of Puritans and science in contemporary England reveals a telling and prophetic statistic. When the Royal Society was founded in 1663, forty-two of the sixty-eight members were nominal Puritans. The ideals of this organization, which was highly regarded by New Englanders, were at the beginning religious and certainly consonant with Puritan orthodoxy as the latter was expressed in Aristotelian themes (e.g., a God operating in the universe via secondary causes, man as controller).11 The research of the Society's Puritan members became thoroughly secular, however, and their motives increasingly nontheological.

As early as the 1660s, members of the second New England generation began corresponding with Royal Society fellows and reading its Transactions.12 At Harvard, the previous decade had witnessed, along with a new president in Charles Chauncy (1654), the appearance of the new astronomy and physics; both sciences were well established in the curriculum by the year that Zechariah Brigden's New England Almanac for 1659 incorporated a complete exposition of the Copernican system.13 Even before 1672, when John Winthrop Jr. presented the college with a telescope, Harvard students were well aware of contemporary theories of the heavens. Similarly, Newtonian physics won easy acceptance, if not as quickly, and by 1700 had completely replaced its Scholastic predecessor. The Platonic and Aristotelian strains in Puritan thought underlying the images of wilderness and book actually facilitated the process. The Platonic, presupposing the superiority of spirit to matter, made the question of which physics a matter of little importance. The Aristotelian, encouraging human understanding of God's creation, approved any scientific progress that enabled better explication of the divine law published in the universe.

The impact of the converging traditions of Puritan nature philosophy in the late seventeenth century is evident in Edward Taylor's friend, Increase Mather, who combines commitment to the mystico-sacramentalism of the founders with a Scholastic intellectual frame and deep interest in modern developments. On the one hand, he elaborates in such works as A Briefe History of the War with the Indians (1676) the Platonic mythology of garden and wilderness. On the other, his deep indebtedness to Aristotle results in important roles for nature and reason—and for the image of nature as book. In allowing for a natural theology akin to that practiced in England, he does not rely solely upon Scholastic method either. Like the humanists, he can turn against the “pagan master” Aristotle and champion Ramus, Richardson, and Ames. His own humanism plunges him into contemporary empirical science, especially geology, medicine, and astronomy. When in London, he visited Gresham College, an important center of scientific investigation, and in 1684 he helped to found the Philosophical Society, a colonial equivalent of the Royal Society. Throughout his career, he stayed abreast of the Royal Society's Transactions and composed works which reveal technical understanding of the scientific revolution then taking place.14

Mather brings his various attitudes toward nature into precarious balance in the Kometographia. In this work, whose title literally suggests the readability of at least one aspect of nature, he uses a traditional agent of portent, the comet, to argue for nature's general intelligibility. Ostensibly, the work operates in the Calvinist / Platonic mode. Mather opens with the image of an omnipotent God flashing His anger through dread signs and proceeds to develop a traditional major premise, namely, that comets carry specific, ad hoc divine messages. This development takes a familiar tack, witnessed in other works of both Mather and his son, Cotton: namely, the recording of God's special Providences. In the course of exhaustively accounting for all recorded comets from creation through the year 1682, Mather emphasizes God's active, unpredictable role in history. He also notes that God has been more active recently, reflecting the orthodox Puritan belief that God exercises a higher degree of Providence in His covenant. Comets, Mather suggests, are portents having both signal and causal significance. When such ensigns “appear amidst the Heavenly host,” what man observes is the hand of God “writing its Mene, Mene” (n.p.). John Sherman, in the book's preface, asserts in a similar vein that comets are “Red Letters, Asterisms” which have been placed “in the Margent” of nature, the “great and glorious volume of his [God's] Works” (n.p.). Their general purpose, according to Sherman, is “to awaken unto a more heedful attention and serious consideration, the dead hearted sleeping and secure World of Mankind” (n.p.).

Despite the traditional rhetoric, Mather does not ground his book-of-nature image in Augustinian faith, as he does in Essay on Illustrious Providences, published the following year. Rather than accepting his sources' authenticity without investigation, as in the Essay (thus deemphasizing the factual observation of nature), he documents the Kometographia using a purely Scholastic formula, the marshalling of authorities, here comprising “all the wise Men who lived in all former Ages” (131). Moreover, he begins the book with a chapter which approvingly analyzes contemporary scientific research on the subject. Although he occasionally refers to Scripture in this chapter, he mainly seems to want to bring his own statements into line with the theories of Royal Society scientists and their European counterparts. He appeals to relevant contemporary theory (discussing parallaxes, for example) and to contemporary authorities like Kepler and Hooke. In short, he tries to synthesize his theological piety with the new science, and the result is a necessary stabilizing of the phenomenon whose mystery he is attempting to maintain. By recognizing the authority of science and its empirical perspective on nature, Mather concludes that the “great and glorious volume” of God's works can be interpreted by the secular mind because the book is characterized by an observable rational order—the same conclusion supported by Scholastic and Ramist strains in the intellectual heritage. The concept of nature as book, more suited to the interests of the late seventeenth century than was the wilderness, still functions here as theological symbol. But this is a symbolism which does not necessarily make intelligibility solely the province of faith, Scripture, and a saint's regenerated reason.

The obvious conflict between the new science and the traditional orthodoxy that Mather is supporting becomes clear in the Kometographia, boding change for the future. By aligning his work with contemporary scientific theories, he confuses his defense. Such theories tend to repudiate empirically the very argument that he wishes to prove, namely, that comets cannot be predicted because they are the agents of a God whose will man cannot know in advance. Mather easily discredits the occasional chance prediction of astrology, noting that “if an Astrologer (as the blind man hits the mark) chance to praedict right once, more notice is taken of that, than of his mistaking an hundred times over” (17). However, he deals less successfully with the then-current observation that the conjunctions of planets seem to produce comets. Not wishing to contradict his scientific Puritan colleagues, he forces himself into an uncharacteristic admission: “Yet I will not deny, but that a probable conjecture, as to the year of a Comets appearance, may be made from the conjunction of the superiour Planets” (16). If successful conjectures regarding comets can be made by observing natural phenomena, even God's special Providences may indeed be bound by natural law. His Will can then be scrutinized, analyzed, and even predicted—and from a solely secular standpoint. Instead of facing the implications of this concession to mechanism, Mather moves quickly to the safer rejection of astrology noted above. Later in the chapter, when he discusses the empirical observation that comets are not always followed by evils, he manages to work out a solution that tentatively satisfies both his science and his theology: “God may in his merciful providence, cause such sights to be observed that so he might awaken Mortals to Repentance. He sometimes threateneth because he would not strike” (22). Nevertheless, in his zeal to accommodate the new science developed by his fellow Puritans in England, Mather demonstrates a frame of thinking about nature which would eventually help to void the Puritan universe of the numinosity that the latter-quoted statement affirms.

Meanwhile, even the nonscientific-minded of the period generally regard nature intellectually in the this-worldly terms of the Scholastic and humanist traditions. The consensus view is that nature is thoroughly pervaded by reason, so much so that the more Calvinistic orientation of earlier Puritans like John Cotton seems forgotten. In 1700, Mather's son—and John Cotton's grandson—Cotton awards nature virtually unrestricted praise in Reasonable Religion, declaring, “Let Reason look upon the World, the Various Parts of it, the curious Ends of it, the incomparable order of it; it will see a World of Reason” (15).

As the “World of Reason” became an increasingly descriptive phrase, nature became further secularized and objectified. In this context of change, empirical investigation revealed nature to be less a theophany of Divine Will and Wisdom than an exquisite artifact whose intricate order testifies to the ingenuity of the Artificer. An affinity developed for mechanistic theory to explain natural phenomena and the laws which govern their actions. Nature began to be regarded less as a book of revelation than as a handbook of physics and, perhaps secondarily, a digest of practical ethics. Not inappropriately, an important new image emerged: nature as machine. The foundation for such a view already existed, product of developments in continental mathematics and astronomy, and the view itself is implicit in the Puritan intellectual past, specifically in the Scholastic and Ramist belief in the inherent, objective order of the universe. Obviously, once one defines nature as a stable and regular subject of observation, the image of nature as a self-regulating machine, product of a distant Creator, requires only the abandonment of Aristotelian physics. The New England Puritans did not hesitate to follow their English contemporaries in taking that step.

Despite the early predominance of wilderness and book images, nature-as-machine (especially imaged as the clock) occasionally appears even in pre-emigration Puritan writings. John Preston, for example, argues for the evident workmanship in nature by declaring, “When you see the wheeles of a Watch fitted one to another … you say this is done by some Art, this is not by accident; Even so it is in nature”; Richard Sibbes uses the same image in describing how “by a continued kind of creation he [God] preserves all things in their being and working, … If God moves not, the clock of the creature stands” (Miller 225, 234). Numerous American Puritans follow their example in referring to the “wheels of providence,” such that when a contemporary of Cotton Mather's, Ebeneezer Pemberton, describes in The Divine Original and Dignity of Government how “God has in all Ages so turned the Wheels of Providence as might suit the End of Government,” or notes how according to God's direction “the Wheels and Loving Creatures move below,” he recapitulates a long tradition (30, 53).

Cotton Mather uses a traditional conjunction of wheels and watch imagery to argue for nature's intelligibility in Reasonable Religion: “Were Ten Thousand Wheels Casually thrown together, would they fall so, that Seven or Eight of them, would form a well contriv'd Watch?” (15-16). His image does not indicate, of course, that he actually thinks of nature as a self-operating machine that is totally separate from God; the connections which Scholasticism assumes between God and man are too intimate and immediate for Mather's use of the machine image to be more than rhetorical strategy. In the subsequent Christian Philosopher (1721), however, the predominating frame is no longer Scholastic. Throughout this work, Mather displays great admiration for the “harmonious Regularity in the Motion of Bodies” (36). He applies the term “machine” to nature as a whole (87) and to its constituent parts. “Brutes” are “simple Machines” (209); man, a more complex organism, is “a Machine of a most astonishing Workmanship and Contrivance” (222), “a Machine composed of so many Parts, to the right Form, and Order, and Motion whereof there are such infinite number of Intentions required” (232). Such anatomical elements as the “motory Muscles,” he declares, “we find in the Wheels of our Clocks” (271). Mather may deny that a mechanical agency conducts natural phenomena, yet he nevertheless describes the actual working of those phenomena in mechanical terms. In doing so, and by suggesting that a clock-like stability and precision are the properties of all nature, he comes to conclusions regarding Providence similar to those of the mechanists (see Jeske).

In the following decades, the incidence of machine imagery increases and evolves, revealing progressive Puritan acceptance of contemporary science's contention that nature is a machine rather than simply like one in an inductive proof of God's existence. Writings of the late 1720s and 1730s reveal extensive use of science and natural philosophy as occasions for piety, further securing a mechanistic outlook. Benjamin Colman, for example, refers to gravity, magnetism, electricity, and Newtonianism in general; his sermons are orthodox in context, but his use of scientific materials indicates a more modern, less directly theological world-picture than Calvin's. Meanwhile, a general negative attitude develops toward the traditional Puritan learning underlying the nature-as-book concept. Thus, Thomas Prince and Joseph Sewall, in their preface to the 1726 edition of Samuel Willard's Compleat Body of Divinity, apologize for their author's intellectual attachments, noting that “some Readers indeed may find the Author less exact in his Philosophical Schemes & Principles, which happen to be of a more ancient Date. … [O]ur Author chiefly flourish's when we were just emerging out of those Obscurities” (n.p.). What replaces the “Obscurities,” however, are empirical assumptions at odds with the whole structure of Willard's belief, based as it was on Calvin and Ames.

A year after Mather's The Christian Philosopher and Willard's A Compleat Body of Divinity, and two years before Edward Taylor's death, a work appears which best illustrates the new mechanized concepts of Providence and hence of nature: James Allin's The Wheels of the World Govern'd by a Wise Providence. In an otherwise orthodox context, Allin paradigmatically transforms the traditional Puritan “wheels” image into the basis for a non-Puritan, quasi-scientific view of nature. He contends that, despite man's “short and contracted sight,” God's Providence in nature is completely regular, on the model of a machine with a complex system of interlocking gears; even “those motions of the wheels that seem most confused are all regular, and there is nothing casual in them.” Moreover, God is the consummate technician: He “always acts the geometrician, that is in all his works he keeps an exact proportion and harmony” (32). Even special Providences—if there are such—are actually part of nature's regular order, not interruptions of it. Only man's imperfect understanding prevents him from contemplating the machine-like precision of the whole: “There is a wheel in the midst of a wheel. As the lines of circles on a globe intersect one another, so the wheels of the world seem perplexed, and to our view and conception move without any regularity, and run one upon another” (28).

Allin uses Scholastic elements which qualify the secularizing tendencies suggested by the machine, but they still support a deist pattern. By insisting, for example, that the “wheels are moved by some external cause, and have no inherent vital principle of motion” (9), Allin preserves God's active role as “First Mover” whose constant attention maintains nature's order, i.e., “all the wheels of the affairs in the world.” However, by deputing the actual management of nature to angels, Allin removes God from direct participation. In other words, Allin interposes mediate operators who increase the impersonality of God's role of Creator in His creation and whose agency contradicts the more characteristic position, expressed by Cotton Mather, that God “can easily govern the Machine He could create, by more direct Methods than employing such subservient Divinities” (Christian Philosopher 87). Allin's mechanistic interpretation denies both resemblance and the immediate connection of nature and the supernatural. Nature appears instead as a completed and separate monument to God's glory.

The machine image reflects Puritanism appropriately in its final stage. As orthodoxy became more rational, it also became more fixed and rule-bound, more legalistic. When acceptance of science increased, as did confidence in God's commitment to order and design, Puritanism lost the essential spirituality which the nonrational, quasi-mystical Calvinist core had formerly invested in both man and nature. In this new, nonaffective context, Puritanism ceased to be a dynamic entity; the second third of the eighteenth century, in which the final evolution of Puritanism takes place, reveals in effect the mechanization of what had been a vital religious form. In the 1730s, the expanding influence of literal, rational doctrines created relative dislike and suspicion of traditional Calvinist orthodoxy, the basic source of the emotional fervor of the founders. The Great Awakening of the early 1740s, partially a renewal of mystico-sacramentalism, actually brought an opposite effect by stimulating a counterreaction which opposed “enthusiasm” by making right reason the arbiter in religious experience. The Puritan schools remained basically orthodox for another decade, but with a greater admixture of rationalism and moralism. When such representative ministerial spokesmen as Ebeneezer Gay and Lemuel Briant began to enunciate opinions which resembled those of the Deists more than they did Calvin's, Puritanism—as a distinct mode of belief—disappeared altogether, though the sad apologetics of fundamentalism remained.


Edward Taylor's poetry expresses most visibly the ontological and epistemological assumptions of Christian Platonism. Norman Grabo's phrase “mystical introversion” (173) well describes the poet's primary orientation. In a world where, as Taylor declares in his Preparatory Meditations, “The Creatures field no food for Souls e're gave” (“I.1.” 14), the goal becomes transcendence; the fuel for upward flight is the passionate desire for union with Christ, who is pure being. Hence the prolific images of the wedding feast and the often baroque representation of the wished-for access to the mystical body.

The relationship between Taylor's sermons and poems in the process of mystic ascension has been well charted, the two together exemplifying a classical meditative pattern whose goal is heavenly mindedness and whose driving force is hunger for consummation of the intimacy that the poem prefigures. First comes the sermon, which awakens the mind and its rational desires and sets forth Christ's qualities in a rigid intellectual analysis. Then, when the limits of the world-bound mind have been reached, occurs the liberating “O Altitudo,” the flight into colloquy with the object of desire, the flight into song. “Meditating in poetic form,” suggests Karen Rowe, “becomes his [Taylor's] personal process for imprinting spiritual images within his soul in a repeated act … that reminds him constantly of his need for the Savior and reassures him of his status as an elect saint” (249). In both the Preparatory Meditations and Gods Determinations—also primarily a meditation—the movement is away from nature and toward union with Christ.

Taylor establishes nature's lack of epistemological value in his Christographia: “All the Wealth, and Wisdom of this World is not comparable to the Treasures of Wisdom in Christ. … He is altogether the best” (128). Taylor expresses the same principle poetically in the Preparatory Meditations:

The Suns bright Glory's but a smoky thing
Though it oft 'chants man's fancy with its flashes.
All other glories, that from Creatures spring
Are less than that. …

(“2.100.” 31-34)

Given that one's meditative goal is to reflect on divine wisdom and glory, Taylor asks, “Where should the Hongry man goe for good but to the Cooks Shop? Where should the Thirsty go for water but to the Fountain? No man will let his bucket down into an empty Well if he be aware of it. No man will Seek Riches in a beggers Cottage” (Christographia 134).

Not only is the image of grace comparatively indistinct in the “beggers Cottage” of nature, but nature's very position in the Platonist cosmology requires the seeker after the image-in-nature to look away from Christ, who occupies a place either in heaven or, as in “The Reflexion,” “'Tween Heaven and Earth.” To tarry in nature while ransacking it for metaphors is to risk becoming further enmeshed and thus less able to transcend, for “Flesh and Blood, are Elementall things / That sink me down, dulling my Spirits fruit. / Life Animall a Spirituall Sparke ne'er springs” (“II.82.” 8-10). Taylor warns, in sermon 8 of the Christographia, that the physical world is “So ready to inchant the Carnall Eyes of men with her poisonous trinkets” (255).

It is not surprising, then, that Taylor's nature images are so often derived not from direct observation but from the Bible and from exegetical, typological, and emblem traditions: Christ has irradiated the first directly; the latter three provide time-tested metaphorical systems. The fact that Taylor is classed with the metaphysicals provides an appropriate commentary, given that the word itself—“metaphysical”—literally means “beyond the physical.” Further, Norman Grabo notes, unlike the other metaphysical poets, Taylor chooses images which suggest that his poetry is “rooted as firmly in the Middle Ages as it is in his own century” (172).

As Alan Howard points out in “The World as Emblem: Language and Vision in the Poetry of Edward Taylor,” the wild metaphysical juxtaposition of images often demonstrates that Taylor “has moved with rather traditional decorum between two related allegorical comparisons already drawn for him by the church fathers” (362). The emblem tradition existed, according to Howard, as a preexisting “metaphorical landscape” (363), and thus it is within the hearts, candles, trees, and lanterns of that conventional body of images that Taylor's poetry must be read. The insect motif in “Upon a Spider Catching a Fly,” for example, comes directly from two medieval Latin exempla. “Huswifery” derives entirely from the emblem tradition. Grabo argues that “all of Taylor's symbols are conventional in devotional literature” (emphasis mine) and says, “Only his [Taylor's] strange eye for peculiar details, his going one step beyond the convention, and his domesticating his symbols with kitchen details give his symbolism a quaint, sometimes grotesque, individual quality” (154). Specific usages, such as “Heaven's sugar cake” and “Zion's pastry,” may be inventive, but the allegorical subject—the feast—is commonplace.

Given Taylor's theological and artistic preoccupations, it is entirely appropriate that, besides the wedding feast, it should be the garden/wilderness relationship which provides the most predominating imagistic theme in both of the Preparatory Meditations, notably in the series of Canticles poems which depend entirely upon the hortus conclusus motif. For one thing, the opposition of garden and wilderness graphically expresses the fundamental dualism at Christian Platonism's core. There is the perfect, spiritual world of the garden and the corrupted, rank, and inferior world of the wilderness. Nature, Taylor tells us in “I.43.” 7-8, is “Corrupt, a nest of Passion, Pride, / Lust, Worldliness, and such like bubs.” Finding oneself in the latter, the goal of the seeker after grace is to somehow translate oneself, as suggested by Taylor's alchemical imagery, into the former.

Moreover, the garden/wilderness theme accords well with the Puritan's defining errand, permitting direct typological correspondences with the Israelites' exodus from slavery in Egypt to a new covenant in Canaan. Taylor explores these relationships directly in the Preparatory Meditations (e.g., “II.58-61”), finding both social and personal resonance in the imagery. On the one hand, “This Garden, Lord” is “thy Church, this Paradise” (“II.83.” 19); the new Canaan is the Puritan community, established as Winthrop's “Citty upon a Hill.” On the other, the garden is also the wished-for destination and identity of the individual soul. In the drama of salvation, each individual must pursue a course through the wilderness of sin to reach the union with Christ that Taylor's wedding imagery expresses. Hence Taylor's plea,

Then lead me, Lord, through all this Wilderness
By this Choice shining Pillar Cloud and Fire.
By Day, and Night I shall not then digress.
If thou wilt lead, I shall not lag nor tire
But as to Cana'n I am journeying
I shall thy praise under this Shadow sing.

(“II.59.” 31-36)

The poet, himself a part of the “transplanting” from England, asks, “Hast made mee, Lord, one of thy Garden Beds?” (“II.84.” 1). He beseeches, “Open thy garden doore: mee entrance give / And in thy Nut tree garden make me live” (“II.63.” 53-54). This is the “sweet Rosy Bower” set apart from the “gawdy world” in “I.4.”; it is the site of “The fairest Rose that Grows in Paradise,” in whose leaves Taylor seeks to lodge (“I.4.” 16). Within the garden, he will thrive beneath Christ's sunshine (“II.54”) and showers (“II.31”), suck in “Aromatick aire of blesst perfume” (“II.63.” 52), blossom like a lily (“II.69”), feast on “bitter Myrrh” and “Sweet Spices” (“II.84.” 7, 22).

As a garden bed set with “True Love. Herb of Grace with Rosie Sheds” (“II.86.” 33), Taylor expects to enjoy a special ontological relationship with Christ, suggested by his question in “The Reflexion,” “Shall not thy Rose my Garden fresh perfume?” (37). In fact, Christ is not only the gardener but, as suggested in poems imaging Christ as either Rose of Sharon or lily of the valley, a flower planted in Taylor's bed. Thus, in “I.5”:

My Blessed Lord, art thou a Lilly Flower?
          Oh! that my Soul thy Garden were, that so
Thy bowing Head root in my Heart, and poure
          Might of its Seeds, that they therein might grow.
          Be thou my Lilly, make thou me thy knot:
          Be thou my Flowers, I'le be thy Flower Pot.

(“ll.” 1-6)

Taylor also uses the “knot” image in “Upon Wedlock, and Death of Children,” where he envisions himself being planted in “A Curious Knot God made in Paradise” (“l.1”) and then himself knotting out in his children. In this poem, Christ is depicted as external to the garden: His is the hand which comes “from glory,” guarded by angels, to crop his children / flowers and bring them to heaven. However, in “II.40,” which Taylor composed upon the death of his “primrose” son, James, the poet suggests that Christ's indwelling in the garden can heal his acute sorrow. Taylor asks,

Yet let the Rose of Sharon spring up cleare,
          Out of my James his ashes unto mee,
In radient sweet and shining Beames to cheer
          My sorrowfull Soule, and light my way to thee

(“ll” 13-16)

The recurrent negative note sounds when, in assessing his relationship to the heavenly gardener, the poet looks within optimistically only to “finde my Garden over grown with weeds” (“II.4.” 2; cf. the “throng of Stinking Weeds” in “II.131”). This discovery leads logically to fear of abandonment, for, if the Lord has established Taylor as one of his garden beds, Taylor expects that He will have “Stub'd up the Brush, toore up the Turfy head,” “Combt it with thy Harrow teeth likewise,” and “set therein thy Myrrhy Trees that so / Sweet Spice might in this Garden bed forth flow” (“II.84.” 3, 4, 5-6). The inevitable discovery of the wilderness element, partly a contamination from outside the hedge, reinforces his orthodox desire to flee the things of this world. It is from without that comes the “inkefac'd sin” that destroys paradise in “The Reflexion,” from without that blows the “Hellish breath” that singes the plumes of Taylor's children in “Upon Wedlock, and Death of Children.” In a turn on the knot image that demonstrates the danger to the soul / garden of the external world's intrusion, Taylor notes in “I.24.” 29 how “Earth's Toyes ware Knots of my Affections”: the budding, in other words, may no longer serve the Lord.

Before the Fall, nature's situation was wholly different:

That Bowre, my Lord, which thou at first didst build
Was pollished most gay, and every ranck
Of Creatures in't shone bright, each of them filld
With dimpling Glory …

(“2.28.” 1-4)

But now it is a scene of “Beauty blasted” and “Bliss befrighted,” and Taylor occupies “This lowest pit more dark than night” (“II.77.” 18). The New Jerusalem exists elsewhere, not in this world, which Taylor, like John Cotton before him, characterizes as a “Wilderness of Sin.” He as well as his congregation must turn away, seek purification, bid farewell to “My Old-New Cloaths my Wildernesses Ware” (“II.10.” 21).

It is true that Taylor specifies that his wilderness is “the unplanted wilderness of New England's frostbitten clime.” As Grabo notes, Taylor's gardens are “curiously removed to New England, where grains as well as flowers abound” (152). Nevertheless, one can argue that the particularization of images in Preparatory Meditations, the linking of his theme to a specific physical place, signifies not a lapse from the prevailing Platonism but the poet's deliberate extending of allegory to fuel further his flight from place. As Alan Howard notes of Gods Determinations, the individual image often exists “only at the point at which it touches the idea of God. … Each image is … shorn of any associations with the context from which it was drawn, cleansed of the penumbra of connotations which belong to the world of accidental appearances rather than of essences” (382). Where the images of the lower world are concerned, the poet asks appropriately, “Should Stars Wooe Lobster Claws?”

Given Taylor's use of garden/wilderness imagery, especially to define allegorically his relationship with Christ, given his specific interdictions of the natural world, and given his stated hesitancy to look at it, much less seek traces of the divine glory there, one must tentatively classify Taylor as far less of a “nature poet” than Anne Bradstreet, far less a prefigurer than Jonathan Edwards of the Puritan—and Transcendental—nature philosophy that was to come.

A keen student of Ramistic logic, Taylor validates nature's positive ontological and epistemological status despite his Platonism. For example, in Preparatory Meditations, he characterizes nature as:

Thy Lower House, this World well garnished
          With richest Furniture of Ev'ry kinde
Of Creatures of each Colours varnished
          Most glorious …

(“II.93.” 13-16)

The poet suggests that, after the Fall, nature still expresses the divine prerogative and the divine glory. Christ continues to sustain nature directly: it is the site of “Love Divine,” “Love” which “doth swim / Through veans, through Arteries, Heart Flesh” (“II.34.” 27-28).

Even had Taylor not known the Scholastic texts, he would have found this other, more positive, perspective in Scripture. The predominating atmosphere in both Testaments is this-worldly. As a record of temporal history, the Old Testament shows no bias for detachment but rather savors of earthly experience and high esteem for God's works. Likewise, the Synoptic Gospels and non-Pauline Epistles display respect, if not affection, for the things of the world. Matthew's Gospel, in contrast to John's, floods a mystic twilight with the common light of day. The ennobling of material existence by Christ's Incarnation, an afterthought in Paul and John, is continually highlighted in the convincing Synoptic presentation of Jesus as a living person.

Neither does the Synoptic Jesus recommend detachment. Passages advising the surrender of personal property and the severing of familial relationships, and statements such as “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 16.25), only seem to support a world-denyingness as far-reaching as Paul's. The difference is that the Synoptic Jesus does not recommend denying earthly things because they have innate defects. The more immediate reason is that, because the Kingdom of God is at hand, bringing with it total dissolution of the status quo, whoever wishes to participate in the Kingdom must see to the immediate spiritual preparations God requires. The Synoptic Jesus does not devalue nature intrinsically; He approves of the rain, the sunshine, and the lilies of the field (Matt. 5.45, 6.28-29).

The Synoptic Jesus preaches conversion but not absorption into a mystic body which is at odds with nature. In declaring “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18.3), Jesus advises man to seek metanoia, the change of heart which brings about a changed manner of living. Synoptic conversion does not consist in ontological transformation, and individual salvation in the Synoptics does not depend upon separation from the world but upon obedience to God's will in it (Matt. 7.21).

In the Preface to Gods Determinations, Taylor declares that God “Gave All to nothing Man indeed, whereby / Through nothing man all might him Glorify” (“ll.” 37-38). In doing so, he specifies another type of conversion that man can accomplish: the conversion of nature into an expression of the divine glory which it already implicitly embodies. In the Christographia, Taylor reminds us that the “whole Creation doth bring all its Shining Glory, as a Sacrifice to be offered up to God from, and upon the Altar of the Rationall Creature in Sparkling Songs of praise to God” (312). Ironically, nature is superior in this enterprise to the human product, for “Nature doth better work than Art” (“II.56.” 43). Art is but “Nature's Ape.” Nevertheless, man is enjoined by God—and by Richardson and Ames—to use his art to celebrate and perhaps explicate the divine glory found in the world.

It is not surprising, then, that Taylor's poetry provides a digest of images drawn from nature. Moreover, even though these images often do come secondhand through Scripture, the poetry remains grounded in the concrete circumstances of Taylor's life so much so that, as William Scheick has demonstrated in “‘The Inward Tacles and the Outward Traces’: Edward Taylor's Transitions,” a coherent interpretation of some of the Meditations depends upon thorough knowledge of seventeenth-century lore. In general, Taylor's multiple roles as minister, physician, and cultivator yield a rich fabric of specific, sensory images which contribute a kinesthetic quality to his poetry. Karen Rowe observes that the poems “abound with tropes of disease, putrefactions, scatology, of rivers, gardens, farming, wine casking, weaving, games, cookery, birds, beasts, insects, journeys” (246). We find references to cockerils, tennis balls, tobacco, oaten straw, the “linsy-wolsy loom,” inoculation, candied apples, and marigolds used to treat trembling of the heart. This “Earthy Globe” is a “Cocoe Nut” (“II.34.” 1). We find “Canoes” which are “Paddling with joyes along Christ's bloodstream” (“II.78.” 32). Where the soul is the womb, “Christ is the Spermadote” (“II.80”).

Nature also has great epistemological value for the poet. In imitating Christ, one may not ignore that the Savior's life was a teaching life, that He used parables to bridge the spiritual and the temporal, dignifying nature in the process. For the poet eager to share in both the hidden knowledge and the living Covenant of Grace, nature offers a bridge via metaphor. Though blasted by the Fall, nature remains a repository of divine wisdom, and this wisdom is implicitly available to human understanding. “Oh the wisdom of the Works of the Creation!” declares Taylor in the Christographia:

Cast an eye upon the Elementary Bodies from the Stars to the Centre of the earth, the Various Sorts of Birds, fowls the various Sorts, and Kinds of Beasts, Dragons, Scorpions, Worms, Insects, Fishes, etc. So the variety of Herbs, Flowers, Bushes, Shrubs, plants, Seeds, Fruits, trees: and all these made exactly according to the Draught of the Decree, in Nature, Matter, Form, Shape, Size, Properties, Qualities, Vertues, Spirits, Tempers, Springings, growing, Durations, Decayings, to keep their Natures, Seasons, etc., and so successfully on to go by the hand of Providence to the end of the World. I say, the Wisdom that hath done all this, and chiefly that hath made Man, and put Wisdom into the inward parts, is Wonderfull. Here is Wisdom indeed.


In acknowledging that nature displays divine wisdom, Taylor draws upon the rich Renaissance concept of the “book of nature,” a concept central to the emblem tradition that Taylor found so influential in his art and whose assumptions are reflected in such Taylor statements as “There stands imprinted upon the nature of the creation a declaration of the will of God in semblences of one part unto another; and one thing unto another. So also in the disposal and management of the whole, and of each part” (Grabo 89-90; emphasis mine). Finding that this view of nature's epistemological usefulness conflicts with his more otherworldly orientation, Taylor reconciles it by claiming it for only the elect. Like Jonathan Edwards, who posits a “new sense of things” as a condition of regeneracy, a new sense that enables one to comprehend divine revelation not only in Scripture but in nature, Taylor identifies a new “discerning,” one that is specific to the spiritualized person and unavailable to the unconverted (see North). In the context of the Lord's Supper, this discerning enables the communicant to perceive the body of Christ in the sacrament. In the context of the physical world, it enables the perception of God's wisdom in nature by allowing one to see beneath the defilement which the Fall has spread over creation, a defilement that Taylor repeatedly depicts in the Preparatory Meditations: the state of sin is a state of blindness; Christ provides the “Eye Salve” to correct the “Sin blind Eye” (“2.147”). The infusion of grace is a shower of beams of glorious light that dispatches darkness and permits true vision.15

If divine wisdom is manifest in nature and available to the regenerated sense of the saint, and if the highest goal is union with the Savior, it is not surprising that yearning for nature should arise. Granted, unlike Edwards, Taylor does not reach out with feeling to nature for the divine essence—there is no hint of pantheism—but he does reach out with his regenerated reason to explore the creaturely field of vision and claim it for poetic use. It is worth noting that Taylor shares with his contemporaries great confidence in regenerated reason's efficacy. His faith—and his sermons—are extensively based in the intellect. Noting his prodigious output, Karen Rowe calls him a “defiant intellectual” (25), and Norman Grabo suggests that he emphasized reason “even more than most of his colleagues, and they are startling for their rationality” (45). The result, when Taylor applies reason to nature for poetic purposes, is the formation of types and tropes. The legitimacy of both depends on a commitment to nature's intelligibility as a book.

Taylor understands the nature of divine illumination to mean that typological relationships inhere in nature: the light of divine glory shines through natural phenomena (the types) to fall directly on the antitype, Christ himself, who reflects it back outward in turn. Thus Taylor's phrase “The glory of the world slickt up in types” (“II.1.” 13) and his suggestion of specific typical relationships (e.g., sun/Son) which the regenerated eye can perceive. On this basis, Karl Keller claims kinship for Taylor with Jonathan Edwards and beyond with the Transcendentalists (“The World Slickt Up in Types”). Edwards, of course, for whom the traditional concept of the book of nature is also integral, moves much farther than Taylor, actually defining a system of specific typological correspondences in Images or Shadows of Divine Things. In doing so, he integrates Lockeian empiricist epistemology and fundamentally alters the essence of the typological scheme. Exegetical typology is linear and historical; for Edwards, “type and antitype [are] present together in the eternal mystical moment that transcend[s] all time in a ‘sweet’ and beautiful experience of union” (Lowance 243). Taylor does not pursue such nature-bound mystical possibilities. Nor does he believe that nature offers an equally weighted alternative to scriptural revelation. Nevertheless, by establishing that typological relationships do exist in nature, he lays an epistemological foundation for the developments that Edwards embodies.16

Perhaps realizing the dangerous implications of natural types, Taylor is much more comfortable with tropes, i.e., fanciful, individually fashioned correspondences between observed phenomena and spiritual truth. Tropology takes two chief forms in Taylor. One, a distinguishing feature of the Preparatory Meditations, is the often “metaphysical” use of images from nature in metaphor and analogy, as in “Meditation I.4,” where Taylor establishes a correspondence between the use of syrup of roses as purgative with Christ's role of “chymist” and the use of his blood as purgative. The second is Taylor's “spiritualizing” of nature's events. Orthodox Puritan tract writers and sermonizers ardently sought moral meanings and lessons in Providence's events and used these to “improve” readers and listeners. Taylor, characterizing the world as “big belli'd with all Wonders rare” (“II.89.” 6), follows their lead.

Where Taylor's metaphors and analogies pay tribute to the creating wisdom expressed statically by “The Works of Creation,” spiritualizing often takes as its province the kinetic “Managing Wisdom” expressed in “The Works of Providence”: “Creation having brought all things into being, doth forthwith deliver them up into the hande of Providence to mannage and Conduct them thro' the various Successions of the world unto the uttmost period of time … in all their Actions, Passions, Motions, Mutations, Uses, Influences, Complections” (Christographia 115). Taylor acknowledges in the same passage that “such knowledge is too wonderful for me,” but this limitation does not prevent him from speculating on the meaning of events.

The seventeenth century, in David Hall's words, presented a “world of wonders,” a universe full of events which demonstrated the presence of the supernatural, both divine and demonic. Miracles demonstrated not only God's power to suspend natural order but also His wish to communicate His will, however veiled this might be from men's minds. Karl Keller documents how Taylor collected “remarkable Providences” throughout his career, as early as his Harvard notebooks. His commonplace books reveal him “hunting constantly for evidence of the divine in the phenomenal, bizarre, and exotic” (Example 61). He furnished examples of such Providences to Increase Mather for Mather's use in his Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences, published in 1684.

Demonstrating again the usefulness of the book image, this fascination with collecting Providences, along with the corresponding tendency to moralize them, occasionally appears directly in the poetry, as in “Upon the Sweeping Flood August: 13.14, 1683,” where Taylor allegorizes the significance of the overflowing of the Connecticut and Woronoco rivers:

Oh! that Id had a tear to've quencht that flame
          Which did dissolve the Heavens above
          Into those liquid drops that Came
                    To drown our Carnall love.
Our cheeks were dry and eyes refusde to weep.
Tears bursting out ran down the skies darke Cheek.
Were th'Heavens sick? must wee their Doctors bee
          And physick them with pills, our sin?
          To make them purg and Vomit, see,
                    And Excrements out fling?
We've griev'd them by such Physick that they shed
Their Excrements upon our lofty heads.


Such spiritualizing, unlike his flirtation with natural types, reaffirms orthodoxy. Based on the conviction of Providence's fundamental unknowability, expressed in miracles that transcend common sense, spiritualizing keeps human reason within limits and supports Taylor's keen preference for more certain knowledge of the resurrected Christ found in Scripture and for a life pitched in the world of spirit rather than the world of nature. Addressing Christ, Taylor declares, “Life Naturall indeed is in the Bill / Thou with thy Father drest up, it to buy. / Life Spirituall much more; which ever Will / As Heaven doth Earth, all Naturall Life out Vie” (“II.89.” 31-34).

Still, Taylor is also willing to approve of the empirical investigations that in his time were charting the harmonious regularity of God's “Managing Wisdom,” wisdom that, in being better known and understood, could no longer be “too wonderful” for poetic use. Ironically, the same minister / poet who had fought with Solomon Stoddard to preserve the garden helps to secure—and, given future developments, simultaneously undermine—the image of nature as book.

Edward Taylor, grandson Ezra Stiles later observed, “was … Very curious in Botany, Minerals, and nat. History.” Among the volumes of his large library were numerous texts related to science and medicine. The diary he kept aboard ship on his passage to America, with its detailed observation of fish and birds, was only the prelude to the recording which occupied him throughout his active life as a minister, cultivator, and physician. Following studies in natural history at Harvard, he set himself at Westfield to copying extracts from other authors and combining them with his own observations in two large compendia, one dealing with metallurgy and the other, his Dispensatory, with plants and their medical applications. Karl Keller notes the “scientifically sensitive eye” demonstrated in observations regarding natural phenomena which Taylor sent to Increase Mather in 1681 (Example 61).

Keller goes on, however, to emphasize Taylor's limitations as a scientist. He states that, unlike Cotton Mather,

who worked with smallpox inoculation, ornithological nidification, plant hybridization, psychiatry, and theories of disease—Taylor was little more than a conventional religious consoler, bloodletter, and herb-healer. He did not have the open and encyclopedic mind of Mather; he was neither erudite nor original.


Taylor's world was chiefly Ptolemaic and his interest in it theological. He distrusted his senses and regarded the universe as shot through with special Providences that carried the direct voice of an inscrutable creator. Scientific observations served only to strengthen faith, and they remained subordinate to it—thus the absence in Taylor's writings of inductive reasoning, the keystone of the modern scientific method.

Taylor's subordination of scientific learning is clearly evident in his poetry. Even the special Providences that he observed in nature tend not to appear, and when they do it is to serve a meditative end. Though the phenomenon is noted, the poet's attention does not tarry there; the goal is transcendence, not empirical analysis. William Scheik observes that Taylor does employ contemporary scientific knowledge when, in “Meditation II.10,” he compares Joshua to a comet and suggests the same relationship between Joshua and Christ that current theory posited as existing between comets and the sun (“That Blazing Star” 10-11). But whereas Increase Mather had acknowledged a damaging kinship with his science-minded colleagues in acknowledging that “a probable conjecture” could be made about comets by observing the planets, and Cotton had gone even further, citing Seneca's prediction “that a time should come, when our Mysteries of Comets should be unfolded” and declaring that such time “seems almost accomplished,” especially given Halley's calculations for predicting a comet's return (Christian Philosopher 43-44), Taylor focuses squarely on the comet's signal role and on the typological relationship between Joshua and Christ:

Our Joshua doth draw his Troops out to
          The Lunar coast, this Jericho the world
And rounds it while the Gospell Levites blow
          Their Gospell Rams Horn Trumpets till down hurld
          Its walls lie flat, and it his sacrifice
          Doth burn in Zeale, whose Flame doth sindge the
As Joshuah doth fight Haile Stones smite down
          The Can'anites: so Christ with Haile Stones shall
Destroy his Enemies, and breake their Crown.

(“II.10.” 31-39)

Appropriately, given Taylor's concurrent role of physician, it is medical imagery that appears most frequently of the “scientific” images. It is here, if anywhere, that we see Taylor moving—if only preliminarily—along the path leading to modern, secular science. In “‘This Brazen Serpent is a Doctors Shop’: Edward Taylor's Medical Vision,” Catherine Rainwater demonstrates that, although Taylor's medical references often depend upon the more traditional Galenic philosophy, he is clearly attracted to the “new medicine” of Paracelsus, which attributes disease to the invasion of the body by foreign substances and looks to the natural world for curative agents. Taylor is able to synthesize Paracelsus with Augustinian theology through a significant common element, namely, the interpretation of physical disease as an outward sign of spiritual affliction. The Paracelsan healing act necessarily includes a spiritual dimension. Plants, herbs, and chemicals are “ordained channels for spiritual healing” (Rainwater, “Brazen Serpent,” 60). Given the close correspondence between natural and spiritual phenomena, the Paracelsans regard nature as a book that, along with the Bible, can lead to God's truth. It is not surprising that, as both a minister and a physician treating with herbs, Taylor would find Paracelsan medicine interesting. The system also accords well with his willingness to see nature as an instructive book: because of the close correspondence they posit between material and spiritual phenomena, the Paracelsans logically also regard nature as a book, a book that along with the Bible can lead to God's truth. The framework takes on an added numinous character for the christocentric Taylor, who regards nature then as the conduit for Christ's immanent healing influence.

Examples of poems containing Paracelsan-related medical references appear in both series of Preparatory Meditations. In “The Reflexion,” Taylor identifies Christ not only as “Meat” but “Med'cine”; the poet seeks to be infused inwardly with the healing agent of grace: “let thy spirit raise my sighings till / These Pipes my soule do with thy sweetness fill” (ll. 17-18). Corresponding to the supernatural agent, though, is the physical agent, that can treat the physical ill that follows from and mirrors its spiritual counterpart.

Taylor provides a catalogue of such physical agents—Catholicons, Palma Christi, Gilliad's Balm, Unguent, Apostolorum—in “Meditation I.4,” agents whose healing action resembles “The Reflexion's” “Golden Spade” of grace, which can “cleare this filth away.” Just as the heavenly “Chymist,” God, distils “Oyle, Syrup, Sugar and Rose Water” from the Rose of Sharon / Christ into a “Cordiall” which can ease “Heart burns Causd by sin” (“ll.” 43-47), so can the human chemist “make a Physick sweet, sure, safe.” Of this poem, Davis comments that Taylor is “perhaps too insistent on bringing into the poem all the medicinal plants he can think of in contrast to Sharon's Rose … too insistent on running the range of ailments” (56). Ironically, it is this intrusion of sheer physicality that threatens the poem's complex thematic texture, this in a poem that opens with establishing the poet's preference for Christ / the rose of Sharon over the allurements of the “gawdy World.”

Poems influenced by Paracelsan thinking also occur in Series II, where Taylor is otherwise retreating from the affairs of the world and toward union with Christ. “Meditation II.61,” for example, links the physician's caduceus with the serpent that Moses lifted on a wooden pole to heal the spirits of the querulous Israelites (a type of Christ on the cross) and lays out the Paracelsan notion that like heals like:

This Brazen Serpent is a Doctors Shop,
          On ev'ry Shelfe's a Sovereign remedy.
The Serpents Flesh the Sovereign Salve is got
          Against the Serpents bite, gaind by the eye.
          The Eyebeames agents are that forth do bring
          The Sovereign Counter poison, and let't in.

(“ll.” 31-36)

Underlying such poems is Taylor's acceptance of a system in which (1) a fixed book (nature) can be read and interpreted by a fixed body of knowledge, and (2) man can use the results of this reading empirically and concretely to bring positive benefit to the world in a process that not only images but may be the actual vehicle of Christ's healing activity. For Taylor, this system is itself sacramental and thus conservative. Nevertheless, Rainwater argues convincingly that Taylor's eclecticism in grafting a Paracelsan vision onto his orthodox poetry demonstrates how he “resembles many of the great innovators of his age in his progressive attitudes toward change and uncertainty” (“Brazen Serpent” 53).17

Though referring to current theories of comets or optics, Taylor displays no inclination, as Cotton Mather does in the Biblia Americana, to reconcile the new learning with Scripture directly. He is content to let the new material stand as just one more source of knowledge to be used in support of his poetic aims. Given his predominating piety, Taylor appears unaware even of the potential for conflict that the assimilation of empirical science brings. After all, his own fixation on the eternal guarantees that the distance between the world and the craftsman God portrayed in Gods Determinations does not secularize the former. Nevertheless, in legitimizing empirical science as a touchstone for understanding, however indirectly, Taylor makes it possible for others who are less spiritually focused to study nature for its own secular merits and in a larger sense to dichotomize theology and science.

Taylor displays this tendency himself in the unfinished poem titled “The Great Bones of Claverack.” The occasion for the poem was the discovery, in July 1705, of giant bones and teeth in New York. As in earlier instances where Taylor recorded unusual events, he copied the account of this discovery into his diary. After more bones and teeth were found in 1706 and Taylor himself was able to witness one of the teeth, he recorded his observations and began writing the poem. What is striking about the observations, notes Lawrence L. Sluder, is that they are “notably objective and lack any Biblical references, whereas both Governor Dudley and Cotton Mather, the latter reporting the curiosity to the Royal Society, make references to Biblical types” (267).

The poem consists of a prologue and two subsequent sections (apparently of an intended three), for a total of 190 lines. What is remarkable—for Taylor—is that, like his recorded observations of the discoveries, the poem features empirical observation free of theological “improvements.” In the Prologue, God scarcely appears. Sluder notes that this section of the poem contains imagery that can profitably be compared with that in “Meditation II.47,” a poem based on the same theme of “Originall Spring or rise of [nature],” but that

in his poem on the bones Taylor has taken a personal relationship and abstracted it to the natural world, from the Tree of Life to the Tree of Nature. In the Meditations, Taylor talks of himself and he cannot talk of himself without in the same breath mentioning God; but when he perceives Nature in this poem, he perceives nature's wonders as predominant, while God the Prime Mover is in the background.


Recalling the mediate operators of the “natural theology” tradition, which was peaking in England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Taylor delegates supervision of the earthly realm to “Nature.” Thus, in the Prologue, it is “kinde nature that raised up these monstrous Bulks of Humane kinde.” No mention is made of the sustaining influence of Christ or the Holy Spirit. The secular emphasis also appears in the poem's two following sections, “The Gyant described” and “The Description thus Proved,” where it is human reason, rather than piety, which engages directly with the wonders both to measure and to verify. What is verified is not God's but “Natures glory.” The “sweet musicke” of the earthly sphere, Taylor declares in the Prologue, is produced not by the heavenly host but by nature herself—“By all her Bagpipes, Virginalls and Harps.”

Never in his extant poems does Taylor employ the image of nature directly as “machine.” However, the Preparatory Meditations are laced with the images of clocks, comets, magnets, and current theories of optics, all of which, as his contemporaries demonstrate, can be used to support the nature-as-machine concept—once the assumptions underlying a poem such as “The Great Bones of Claverack” are developed and expanded.


Karen Rowe has observed that, partly because he is “at the nexus of so many traditions,” Edward Taylor “has continued to defy ready assimilation into single categories” and that he “raises issues as fascinating as they are problematic” (xi). A survey of his poetry suggests that, in terms of Taylor's views of nature and use of nature imagery, Rowe is correct. Platonic, Scholastic, and, to a much lesser extent, contemporary scientific thought intermingle in his poetry, helping account both for its richness and, ultimately, for the contradictions which in a larger view characterize Puritanism itself in his period.

What holds together and dominates the various strands in Taylor's thinking is his Augustinian piety. Poetry and sermons alike are Christocentric. Types, emblems, and images from nature all unify ultimately in the Savior, and the poet's trajectory is upward, away from the world even as he celebrates it. Norman Grabo suggests that only once in the Meditations, in “II.99,” does Taylor “describe a natural phenomenon as if he wished to capture its nature rather than to apply it to some other use,” and that “even in this description of the moon, the focus immediately shifts upward as the moon's illumination appropriately disappears in the light of the Sun of Righteousness” (151). Generally, Taylor finds even the “Excellency in Created Shells” insufficient, for “Choise things” are “a Shaddow,” and types merely dull shades compared with the Lord's dazzling glory (“II.1.” 8, 14, 16).

Nevertheless, “Choise things” do exist, and there is an “excellency” in the lower world. Nature is not only a wilderness but a book in which can be read God's wisdom. Rainwater suggests in this regard that “over the years, Taylor more and more confidently interprets the new and strange phenomena of a revised Book of Nature as signifiers in a system circumscribed by a constant book of God” (“Brazen Serpent” 57). In this view, nature exhibits an independent positive value which can be maintained even if the spiritual and temporal split, as happens progressively in the eighteenth century. Unlike Jonathan Edwards, Taylor does not show pantheistic tendencies in his works, such that when the split begins to occur, a dangerous chasm opens: God remains transcendent, detached; nature, as in “The Great Bones of Claverack,” becomes independent and partly the source of its own glory. For Taylor himself, this division is not consequential. For others, though, and for Puritanism generally after Taylor, nature loses its spiritual charge, and when it does, mystical flight using nature as a springboard becomes more difficult.

It is not easy to reconcile empirical science and a sacramental universe. Moreover, the implications of the view that God has established everything with the original act of Creation, and that events unfold without His active intervention, are obvious. Without special Providences, the image of nature as wilderness, at least as it was defined by the Puritan fathers, has little meaning. Even the image of nature as book loses its descriptiveness once it is agreed that causality in the creatures does not immediately reflect divine principles but demonstrates the activity of a secondary agent—nature itself. As secularization increases, nature inevitably becomes little more than a physics text detailing the formulae with which an immaterial Creator works when setting material nature in motion. Increase Mather, who posits the concept of nature-as-book as well as embraces the new science, recognized this difficulty and after the Kometographia did not deal with the issue directly again. In Illustrious Providences, he retreated to an atomistic version of divine control, attempting to reinvigorate the otherworldly belief in special, supernatural dispensations by focusing almost exclusively on Providences, many of them fantastic, which occurred in New England. Later, he solaced himself with chiliasm. Cotton Mather demonstrated a similar retreat after The Christian Philosopher. Having contributed to a more empirical view of nature, he backtracked from natural theology to regard nature more conservatively as chiefly an occasion for pious spiritualizing.

Edward Taylor did not approach this juncture. Davis notes his “total commitment to a crumbled system of values” (204) and charts his progressive withdrawal from current events, a withdrawal into what in Gods Determinations he had called “God's Curious Garden fenced in / With Solid Walls of Discipline.” This withdrawal would have lessened his awareness that the grand intellectual drama spanning his period was reaching its climax. What had been taking place within Puritanism was no less than the most comprehensive reformulation of nature philosophy in the history of Christianity, a reformulation proceeding from the joining together of two previously irreconcileable points of view represented respectively by “otherworldly” Augustinianism and “thisworldly” Thomism. Of greater importance with regard to the intellectual traditions of the past, this was to be the last such reformulation and the final time the major Christian proto-ideas of nature would together play a central role in the life of a culture.

Ultimately, each idea—one leading to the image of wilderness, the other to the image of book—failed to describe the reality of the colonists' experience. Each was then slowly discarded in a shift made possible by the distinctive flexibility of Puritan thought, a flexibility enabling New England Puritanism to be the site of a dynamic coming-to-terms of early American philosophy with its historical European traditions. The collective Puritan “idea” of nature that evolved, its multiplicity reflected in Edward Taylor's imagery, was thus neither failure nor aberration but a necessary first step, a prelude to American Deism, to Emersonian Transcendentalism, and to the major philosophical redefinitions of nature to come. We do not see the final transition actually occur in Taylor, but in studying the uses of nature in his poetry we can see why it was to happen shortly thereafter.


  1. For another use of similar imagery, see Johnson 81.

  2. On this point, Cotton and his most insistent opponent, Roger Williams, agree. In The Bloody Tenent yet More Bloody, Williams declares how “the world lies in wickedness, is like a wilderness or a sea of wild beasts innumerable, fornicators, covetous, idolaters, & c. with whom God's people may lawfully converse and cohabit in cities, towns, & c., else must not live in the world but go out of it” (44).

  3. Thus Thomas Shephard declares in Parable of the Ten Virgins that the wilderness is where the man who neglects prayer should live (2:58).

  4. Elsewhere, Wigglesworth uses the same Platonic terms to describe man's present relationship with nature, calling him a “pilgrim,” the body “an useless wight,” and the earth “a prison” (Meat Out of the Eater 19).

  5. For Cotton's negative attitude toward human reason, see Some Treasures Fetched out of Rubbish (9, 28-29).

  6. Thus Leo Marx observes, “To describe America as a hideous wilderness … is to envisage it as another field for the exercise of power” (43). For a general discussion of Puritan “improvement” of the wilderness, see Carroll 181-97.

  7. In contrasting John Winthrop with his son, Richard S. Dunn portrays the “secularization of the New England conscience.” He describes John Winthrop, Jr., who launched New England's first industrial projects, as “a man of the Restoration, cosmopolitan, tolerant, and worldly, charming and wily, an entrepreneur who practiced the new science and technology” (vi).

  8. In fact, this development was in part an organic outgrowth of the garden motif. George Williams, speaking in Wilderness and Paradise in Christian Thought of the development of that motif in early New England, refers to a “Paradisic theme” in the community of learning: “Though reason had been impaired by the Fall, the dedicated community of scholars might still hope, through self-discipline and the integration of faith and reason, to rectify the error of primal man and safeguard knowledge, human and divine, from distortion and fragmentation.” (157).

  9. See Middlekauf. Samuel Eliot Morison concludes in The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England that “Puritanism in New England preserved far more of the humanist tradition than did non-Puritanism in the other English colonies” (17).

  10. One secularizing by-product of the Ramist confidence in reason was modification of the early Puritan doctrine of mystico-sacramental conversion. Thomas Hooker and Thomas Shephard, whose descriptions of preparation were “tailored in several specific ways to requirements deriving ultimately from the Ramist dialectic,” contributed to an interpretation of the process of conversion quite different from Cotton's. For them, conversion was “less of an enigma, and more a recognizable sequence of events than it was for Calvin” (Parker 159).

  11. As Claude Lloyd notes in “The Literary Relations of the Royal Society in the Seventeenth Century,” clergy dominated the Royal Society throughout the first ten years of its existence (271). He also suggests that the reason so many Puritan divines took part in this enterprise was not purely scientific; rather, natural philosophy “offered refuge from political as well as theological disputes”—and Charles II was a staunch advocate of its practice (65). See also Purver.

    An early prototype of the Royal Society described by John Evelyn in a 1659 letter to Robert Boyle—though never actualized—postulated a semimonastic society organized as a college and dedicated as much to prayer as to scientific examination (Lloyd 59-60).

    In defending the Royal Society in “Some considerations touching the usefulness of Experimental Natural Philosophy” against attacks by clerical opponents of natural science, the Puritan Boyle states two Scholastic principles succinctly in declaring that “two of God's principal ends were the manifestation of his own glory and the good of men.” He argues that “those, who labor to deter men from sedulous inquiries in to nature, do take a course which tends to defeat God of both those mentioned ends” (Klemm 190).

  12. A fitting example is John Winthrop, Jr., who, besides being a technologist and entrepreneur, was also an avid scientist. Chosen a fellow of the Royal Society at its first regular election in 1663, he maintained contact with important Society members—notably, Boyle, Hooke, and Newton. He brought at least two telescopes to America, and his scientific library was the largest and most influential in the colonies until near the end of the seventeenth century.

  13. Morison notes the irony in the fact that while the church fought the new astronomy in other countries, the New England clergy actually propagated it, chiefly through the almanacs: “The clerical Harvard Corporation, with a clerical President, watched over by clerical overseers, sponsored these almanacs, which for the most part were composed by candidates for the ministry” (Harvard College 217).

  14. In fact, Mather actually abets the revolution. In his preface to An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences, he calls for a “Natural History of New-England” according to “the Rules and Method described by that Learned and excellent person Robert Boyle Esq” (n.p.). Boyle's method was a contributing factor in the rise of empiricism in England. See also Lowance, Increase Mather, 80-92.

  15. William Scheik, in “Edward Taylor's Optics,” explains the “mysterious transition [in Taylor's poetry] between the postlapsarian spiritual eye as an Aristotelian reflector and the regenerated spiritual eye as a Platonic emitter of light.”

  16. Taylor's more conservative typological practice is evident in Series II of the Preparatory Meditations, where he devotes himself to explicating biblical rather than natural types. It is worth noting that in this practice, Taylor is “tracing the hand of God in his providential intrusions into history” (Davis 140) and thereby assuming that events in the world can yield knowledge of God, even if here in secondhand terms.

  17. See also “Edward Taylor's Reluctant Revolution: The ‘New Astronomy’ in the Preparatory Meditations,” in which Rainwater explores Taylor's awareness of and use of Copernican scientific data in “theological, aesthetic, and intellectual accommodation to the new astronomy.” She concludes that, though Taylor's poetry “reveals aesthetic nostalgia for the pleasant order of the crystal spheres,” the poet “responded to cosmological revision without the overt mental anguish suffered by many of his English Metaphysical counterparts” (4-5).

Quotations from Edward Taylor's Preparatory Meditations cite the Series number, Meditation number, and line number(s), if any. Taylor's poetry is taken from The Poems of Edward Taylor, edited by Donald E. Stanford. The poem entitled “The Great Bones Dug Up at Claverack” appears in Edward Taylor's Minor Poetry, edited by Thomas M. and Virginia L. Davis.

Works Cited

Allin, James. The Wheels of the World Govern'd by a Wise Providence. Boston, 1727.

Ames, William. The Marrow of Sacred Divinity. London, 1642.

Bartas, Guillaume du. Bartas: His Devine Weekes and Works. 1605. Translated by Joshua Sylvester. Gainesville, Fl.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1965.

Bradstreet, Anne. The Works of Anne Bradstreet. Edited by John Harvard Ellis. New York: Peter Smith, 1932.

Calvin, John. A Commentary on Genesis, 2 vols. Translated by John King. London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965.

Carroll, Peter. Puritanism and the Wilderness. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.

Cotton, John. A Brief Exposition of the Whole Book of Canticles. London, 1642, 1655.

———. A Brief Exposition with Practicall Observations upon the Whole Book of Ecclesiastes. London, 1654.

———. God's Mercie Mixed with His Justice. London, 1641.

———. God's Promise to His Plantation. Boston, 1686.

———. Some Treasure Fetched out of Rubbish. London, 1660.

Danforth, Samuel. A Brief Recognition of New England's Errand into the Wilderness. Cambridge, 1671.

Davis, Thomas M. A Reading of Edward Taylor. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992.

———. Edward Taylor's Minor Poetry. Edited by Thomas M. and Virginia L. Davis. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

Dunn, Richard. Puritans and Yankees: The Winthrop Dynasty of New England, 1630-1717. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1962.

Fitch, James. The First Principles of the Doctrines of Christ. Boston, 1679.

Grabo, Norman S. Edward Taylor. New York: Twayne, 1961.

Hall, David D. Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England. New York: Knopf, 1989.

Howard, Alan B. “The World as Emblem: Language and Vision in the Poetry of Edward Taylor.” American Literature 44 (1972): 359-84.

Jeske, Jeff. “Cotton Mather: Physico-Theologian.” Journal of the History of Ideas 47 (1986): 583-94.

Johnson, Edward. Wonder-working Providence of Sions Saviour in New-England … 1654. Reprint. Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1974.

Keller, Karl. The Example of Edward Taylor. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1975.

———. “‘The World Slickt Up in Types’: Edward Taylor as a Version of Emerson.” In Typology and Early American Literature, edited by Sacvan Bercovitch, 175-90. Cambridge: University of Massachusetts Press, 1972.

Klemm, Friedrich. A History of Western Technology. Translated by Dorothea Waley Singer. New York: Scribners, 1959.

Lloyd, Claude. “The Literary Relations of the Royal Society in the Seventeenth Century.” Diss., Yale, 1925.

Lowance, Mason I., Jr. “‘Images or Shadows of Divine Things’ in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards.” In Typology and Early American Literature. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1972.

———. Increase Mather. New York: Twayne, 1974.

Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Mather, Cotton. The Christian Philosopher: A Collection of the Best Discoveries in Nature, With Religious Improvements. 1721. Edited by Josephine K. Piercy. Reprint. Gainesville, Fl.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1968.

———. Reasonable Religion. Boston, 1700.

Mather, Increase. The Day of Trouble is Near. Cambridge, 1674.

———. An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences. Boston, 1684.

———. Kometographia. Or a Discourse Concerning Comets … Boston, 1683.

Middlekauf, Robert. “A Persistent Tradition: The Classical Curriculum in Eighteenth-Century New England.” William and Mary Quarterly 18 (1961): 54-67.

Miller, Perry. The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century. New York: Macmillan, 1939.

Mitchel, Jonathan. Nehemiah on the Wall in Troublesom Times. Cambridge, 1671.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century. 2 vols. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936.

———. The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England. Ithaca, New York: Great Seal Books, 1956.

North, Michael. “Edward Taylor's Metaphors of Promise.” American Literature 51 (1979): 1-16.

Norton, John. The Heart of N-England rent at the Blasphemies of the present Generation. Cambridge, 1659.

Parker, David L. “Petrus Ramus and the Puritans: The ‘Logic’ of Preparationist Conversion Doctrine.” Early American Literature 8 (1973): 140-62.

Pemberton, Ebeneezer. The Divine Original and Dignity of Government. Boston, 1710.

Purver, Margery. The Royal Society: Concept and Creation. Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1967.

Rainwater, Catherine. “Edward Taylor's Reluctant Revolution: The ‘New Astronomy’ and the Preparatory Meditations.American Poetry 1 (Winter 1984): 4-17.

———. “‘This Brazen Serpent is a Doctor's Shop’: Edward Taylor's Medical Vision.” Studies in Puritan American Spirituality 2 (1992): 51-75.

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———. “Tending the Lord in All Admiring Style: Edward Taylor's Preparatory Meditations.Language and Style 4 (1971): 163-87.

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Shephard, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Shephard. 3 vols. Edited by John Allbro. New York: AMS Press, 1967.

Sluder, Lawrence L. “God in the Background: Edward Taylor as Naturalist.” Early American Literature 7 (1973): 265-71.

Taylor, Edward. Edward Taylor's ‘Christographia.’ Edited by Norman S. Grabo. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.

———. The Poems of Edward Taylor. Edited by Donald E. Stanford. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960.

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Wigglesworth, Michael. The Day of Doom: or, a Description of the Great and Last Judgment. Boston, 1662.

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Raymond A. Craig (essay date 1997)

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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.

Bay Psalm Book

Several times each week, Edward Taylor would open a psalter, as would Puritans and Pilgrims all over New England. Greeting these readers, nearly regardless of the psalter or edition, were the same few epigraphs, such as the Pauline injunction above from Col. 3:16 or the following, similar injunction from Ephesians, partially quoted on the New England Psalm Book title page and quoted in full on the title page to Henry Ainsworth's Book of Psalmes:

Ephe. 5.18.19. Be ye filled with the Spirit: speaking to your selves in Psalms, and hymnes, and spiritual Songs: singing & making melodie in your hart to the Lord.

Another popular choice was the injunction from James 5:13: “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” When one of the passages did not appear, the editor would refer or allude to the passage elsewhere—as in the opening of Ainsworth's preface:

I have enterprised (Christian reader) this work, with regard of Gods honour, & comfort of his people; that his word might dwel in us richly, in al wisdom; and that we might teach and admonish our selves, in psalmes & hymnes and songs spiritual.

(Sig. ∗∗2)

Sing psalms, sing hymns, sing spiritual songs—this is the lesson of the New England psalters. In most literary histories, however, the psalters represent a different lesson: these garbled psalms are the poems of an unpoetic people, restrained or damaged by a scowling aesthetic. This different lesson is supposedly presented to us by no less an authority than John Cotton, whose admonition at the end of his preface to the Bay Psalm Book, “Gods Altar needs not our pollishings,” is said to belie a literary sensibility in the production of the translation and, by extension, in Puritanism itself.1 To ignore the emphasis that all the psalters place on the right use of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is to ignore both an explicit concern for art and the foundation of Puritan poetics—and, of course, Edward Taylor's poetics. The concern in both the psalters and Cotton's preface should be recognized as a legitimate interest in the attractions of poetry or song, which conflicts, to some extent, with the desire for “great plainness of speech” that Paul advocates in other epistles.2 In this essay, I delineate the Puritan poetics that is explicit in the work of Cotton, Ainsworth, and other exegetes, one that derives from Paul and Augustine and that defines for us the poetics at work in Edward Taylor—a poetics that moves beyond that suggested by most readers of Taylor's poetry, especially those who see the poems as verse merely informed by familiarity with the Scripture. I argue for a poetics, “a peculiar elegance,” in Taylor's work that derives from but also extends biblical intertextuality into poetry.

When, in 1612, Ainsworth published his psalter, which was used later by Pilgrims in New England, he attempted to resolve the conflicting demands of accuracy (he felt his translation should be “agreable to the original Hebrue” and “retain the grace of the Hebrue tongue” [Sig. ∗∗2]) and aesthetics in the outward features of poetry and song—diction, meter or measure, and tune—by providing annotations to clarify and change them whenever necessary to make the verse appealing.3 Cotton's awareness of the problematic qualities of psalm and song is quite clear in both his preface to and important treatise on the Bay Psalm Book, Singing of Psalmes, a Gospel Ordinance.4 In both texts, but especially in the treatise, Cotton demonstrates a sophisticated literary sensibility through a series of dichotomous distinctions—distinctions between “Spiritual elegancies” and “artificial elegancies,” spiritual gifts and God-given gifts of “Nature and Art,” the right use of these gifts to produce spiritual songs and the implied incorrect use of God-given gifts in the production of “drunken songs” and “wanton sonnets,” and “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” fit for public performance and spiritual songs fit for private devotion. Before Cotton, Ainsworth had described a similar distinction, suggesting a broader acceptance of poetry:

The scripture sheweth us two sorts of psalmes. First such as were written by the Prophets, (and specially David,) to be left unto the church as a part of the Canonical word of God, Luk. 24.44. Secondly such as were uttered by voice in the assemblies, and now written, but served for the present use of the church, as other gifts of doctrine, interpretation & c, I Cor. 14.26.

(A Preface, declaring the reason and use of this Book, n.p.)

Cotton, of course, elaborates significantly on the types of songs permissible, and his explanations in Singing of Psalmes make clear the tension between poetic and “plain” language. Moreover, Cotton's explanations make an explicit statement on Puritan poetics that justifies the psalters and may in turn be applied to the production of various kinds of poems in New England. Unlike the condemnation of poetry implicit in his prefatory admonition, Cotton's defense of English psalms presents us with the model for a new taxonomy of Puritan poetry.

Despite the modern insistence that Cotton and other translators ignored literary concerns altogether, Cotton's admonition in the preface clearly presupposes a literary sensibility and a sophisticated understanding of biblical poetics. Cotton bases much of his argument for singing psalms in English and English meter on his recognition of poetic qualities that differentiate Psalms from other books of the Bible: “The psalmes are penned in such verses as are su[i]table to the poetry of the hebrew language, and not in the common style of such other bookes of the old Testament as are not poeticall” (Sig. ∗∗2). From this premise, Cotton argues that translating the Psalms into English meter follows the Lord's prescription:

The Lord hath hid from us the hebrew tunes, lest wee should think ourselves bound to imitate them; soe also the course and form … of their hebrew poetry, that wee might not think of ourselves to imitate that, but that every nation without scruple might follow as the graver sort of tunes of their owne country songs, soe the graver sort of verses of their owne country poetry.

(Sig. ∗∗2)

Of course, on the heels of this argument follow the more cautious remarks for which Cotton is famous and that lead to the final warning not to polish God's altar:

Neither let any think, that for the meetre sake wee have taken liberty or poeticall licence to depart from the true and proper sence of Davids words in the hebrew verses, noe; but it hath beene one part of our religious care and faithfull indeavour, to keepe close to the originall text.

(Sig. ∗∗2)

However, it needs to be seen that the admonition itself is made necessary not by an absence of literary sensibility, or even a rejection of it, but by Cotton's anticipation of the literary expectations of his audience:

If therefore the verses are not alwayes so smooth and elegant as some may desire or expect; let them consider that Gods Altar needs not our pollishings: Ex. 20.1.

(Sig. [∗∗4]).

Why else was the meter supposed to be “smooth,” the phrasing “elegant”? We need not rely on a reassessment of Cotton's language, however, to illustrate Cotton's literary sensibility; in Singing of Psalmes, he fully develops both his spiritual and literary concerns. While he is most concerned with defending the Bay Psalm Book and the public singing of psalms, he draws on a received aesthetic of scriptural language that is in harmony with both Pauline injunctions—to “sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” and to use “great plainness of speech.”

Cotton's admonition is grounded in the belief that the Word “bee so full and so perfect” that the spirit of the Word need not be altered, that altering “the stamp of the Word of God” would be blasphemous, and, most importantly, that, as “Gods Altar,” the Scriptures have their own “peculiar elegance.”5 The highly nuanced notion of “full and perfect” and “peculiar elegance” of the Scriptures was commonplace for the Puritans and other Protestants. The translators of the King James Bible, for example, observed the fullness and perfection of the Scriptures and, despite considerable license in their translations, felt that the Word was not altered (although considerable discussion of the problems of phrasing and style appears in the prefatory remarks).6 Rather, the Bible has either “peculiar eloquence” or, as exegete Benjamin Keach states in the preface to Tropologia, “peculiar elegance.” For Keach, this is due to the “royal descent, or divinity of the Scriptures,” which comprises both the “Spirit of God speaking in them” and “that extraordinary and inimitable style wherein they are written”:

The style of the sacred Scripture is singular, and has peculiar properties, not elsewhere to be found; its simplicity is joined with majesty, commanding the veneration of all serious men.

(ix, xv)

Keach traces the concept of special elegance, or eloquence, of the Scripture not to Paul but to Augustine in the Confessions:

Augustine says, That the Scriptures seemed rude and unpolished to him, in comparison of Cicero's adorned style, because he did not then understand its interiora, or inward beauty; but when he was converted to Christianity, declared, That when he understood them, no writing appeared more wise or eloquent.


In De Doctrina Christiana, and in language that Keach and Cotton also use, Augustine elaborates on scriptural style that he finds so striking:

It is not the qualities which [sacred] writers have in common with the heathen orators and poets that give me such unspeakable delight in their eloquence; I am more struck with admiration at the way in which, by an eloquence peculiarly their own, they so use this eloquence of ours that it is not conspicuous either by its presence or its absence.


Throughout books 1 and 2 of De Doctrina Christiana, Augustine argues that the right use of knowledge is in understanding the eloquence of the Scriptures, in understanding the “unknown and ambiguous signs” there. The “peculiar eloquence” is crucial to meaning and provides “unspeakable delight” through, in part, its simplicity or plainness of speech. In effect, Augustine and the later Puritans were recognizing a distinction between adorned style and the “plain style” of the Scriptures, the latter's inward beauty exceeding that of outward ornament. The tension evident in Paul's Epistles is resolved in Augustine, in which it is seen as “paradox.” Later commentators, Ainsworth, Cotton, and Keach among them, do not seem to view this as tension or paradox; it is instead a quality of the Word, and potentially of most language acts. Cotton expresses this fundamental concept explicitly in Singing of Psalmes, arguing that because the Psalms are “the divine Meditations, and spiritual expressions of holy men of God in Scripture, which God hath prepared for the setting forth of his own glory,” the translation must “expresse lively every elegancy of the Holy Ghost” (29, 56).7 In both his preface and treatise, Cotton is concerned with the edification imparted by singing and reading the Word—both of which, in Cotton's view, share the same status of ordinance as hearing the Word opened through the preacher's sermon. Thus, Cotton's admonition has much to do with the possible marring of the Word by an inept translator of the spiritual elegancy. However, if the spiritual elegance is maintained, then the Word may be used in other applications—for which Cotton finds scriptural justification. That is, the Word may be used for new songs.

Cotton devotes an extensive passage in the treatise to demonstrating how the spiritual elegance of the Word makes new spiritual songs possible, and he provides some insight into what spiritual elegance might be. Citing the “Song of the Lambe” in Rev. 15:3, which “point[s] at sundry songs of David,” Cotton lists the “Song of the Lambe” on the left side of the page and the passages from the Psalms on the right side to demonstrate how spiritual songs are composed (28):

Rev. 15.3 Psal.86.10.
Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almightie. Thou are great, and doest wondrous things, thou art God alone.
Ver. 8. Among the Gods, there is none like unto thee, nor any works like thy works.
Psal.111.2. The works of the Lord are great.
Ver. 4. And Wonderfull.
Ver. 7. The works of his hand are truth and judgement.
Just and true are thy wayes, Thou King of Saints. Psal.71.22. O thou Holy One of Israel.
And ver. 4. Thou onely are Holy. Who shall not feare thee, O Lord, and glorifie thy Name? For all Nations shall come and worship before thee. Psal.86.9. All Nations whom thou hast made, shall come and worship before thee, O Lord, and glorifie thy Name.
Psal.9.16. The Lord is knowne by the Judgement which he executeth.
For thy Judgements are made manifest. Psal.64.9. All men shall feare and shall declare the worke of God; For they shall wisely consider of his doings.

He cites Psalms 86 and 111 as containing “those special sentences, which were fetched from thence, though with some finall variation” (28). In citing these passages, Cotton demonstrates his belief in the Scripture as a “single composite whole.” The “pointing” he finds here is a way of establishing a continuity between two ideas and two texts; he perceives them as already absorbed into the same “whole.” In fact, the Old Testament source could be said to have undergone a change in meaning as a result of the “pointing” in Revelation, although Cotton is not creating the meaning—he is merely “opening” the Scriptures—the “finall variation” is certainly greater than we might expect.

Cotton's treatment of the new song is instructive on spiritual elegance in one other way as well. Cotton introduces the new song with a passage that suggests an awareness of intertextual patterns between the Psalms and the poem in Revelation; he identifies the spiritual significance of these special sentences in a new context while he simultaneously calls on the spiritual significance of the Psalms to which the new song alludes:

The Song of the 144000. followers of the Lambe, it is not expresly said to be a New Song, but as it were a New Song, Rev. 14.3, New to them who had been wont to heare the worshippers of the Beast to sing and rejoyce in their own merits, and superstitious devotions: And new also in respect of the renewed affections, wherewith they sang it: But yet the same ancient Song which the sheepe and Saints of Christ, were wont to sing, even in Davids time, of the righteousnesse of Christ, even of his onely, and of their owne blessednesse in his not imputing their sinnes to them. Thus Davids Psalmes in the spirituall use and sence of them are new Songs, or as it were New Songs, to this day, unto all that are renewed by grace.


Here, Cotton argues a scriptural precedent for direct quotation, paraphrase, and more tacit forms of allusion to the Word as a strategy for creating new songs and poems. Some critics have pointed to the overriding concern for accuracy in “the stamp of the Word” as the underlying cause of the bad poetry in translations of the Bay Psalm Book as well as in other Puritan poetry that depends on and alludes heavily to the Scriptures. Cotton's remarks in the treatise suggest, however, that the special elegancy of the Word produces strategies that enrich the poetry primarily through extensive forms of paraphrase and allusion to the Bible, beyond the use of biblical tropes as a kind of shorthand, as described by Barbara Lewalski (86-104). If we are to believe Cotton, respect for the Word does not deny a Puritan poetics; it is the very foundation of that poetics.

In chapter 10 of Singing of Psalmes, Cotton also acknowledges the sense and use of “artificial elegancies” in the translation of Hebrew psalms into English verses. After having established the lawfulness of singing psalms, Cotton's defense of the translation rests on the distinction between spiritual gifts (with the power of grace) and “Nature and Art,” or gifts for “outward work”:

It might as well be said, the translating of the Hebrew Scriptures into English, is not a spirituall gift, but a Grammaticall, or Rhetoricall gift. Whatsoever the art or skill be, Grammaticall, Rhetoricall, Poeticall, they are all of them gifts of God (though common) and given chiefly for the service and edification of the Church of God.


In this chapter, Cotton is arguing primarily for the use of meter and for the arrangement of lines, or sentences, into English verses, and clearly this passage calls for much more art and skill to be employed in the service of spiritual song. His argument proceeds out of a recognition of the artificial elegancies of the original Hebrew psalms:

… for it is an artificiall elegancy which the holy Pen-men of Scripture used that they penned the Psalmes, and such like Poeticall books of Scriptures not in prose, (which men use in common speech) but in verse, which observe a certain number and measure of syllables, and some of them run in meeter also, as those know that know the Hebrew.


Cotton knows that the Hebrew tunes are hidden, are unknown to translators, but in a subsequent passage he finds it appropriate “to expresse all the artificiall elegancies of the Hebrew Text, so farre as we are able to imitate the same in a translation” (56). Ainsworth before him made a similar (if briefer) argument, wishing to “retain the grace of the Hebrue tongue” (Sig. ∗∗2).

While neither Ainsworth nor Cotton saw the use of artificial elegancies as essential to the spiritual value of the Psalms, both argue for their use. Moreover, as part of the activity of exegesis, Cotton also recognizes a discursive activity or intertextual patterning that occurs between texts (or within the “single, composite whole”) as a result of allusion. Cotton does not use allusion as a “literary device,” a “Poeticall gift”; it is nonetheless a principal device of exegesis and, in the production of spiritual songs or translations of Hebrew psalms, an aspect of spiritual elegance. In Singing of Psalmes, Cotton's defense of psalm translation and psalm singing is a poetics that combines the essential spiritual elegancies of the Word with the artificial elegancies of nature and art.

Cotton's argument extends beyond a defense of the psalters, however, because he provides a scriptural precedent for the use of nature and art in the production of new spiritual songs. While Cotton argues in his preface that there is no precedent for ministers composing their own psalms, in Singing of Psalmes he encourages “any private Christian” to compose spiritual songs and further argues that Christians could “compile a spiritual Song out of Davids words of praise dispersed in several Psalmes of David, and other Psalmists in Scripture, and to sing them, composed together as a Psalme of praise unto the Lord” (28-29).8 Moreover, he also defines the occasions of spiritual songs:

2. Wee grant also, that any private Christian, who hath a gift to frame a spirituall Song, may both frame it, and sing it privately, for his own private comfort, and remembrance of some Speciall benefit, or deliverance. … Neither doe we deny, but that in the publique thankesgivings of the Church, if the Lord should furnish any of the members of the Church with a Spiritual gift to compose a Psalme upon any speciall occasion, hee may lawfully be allowed to sing it before the Church, and the rest hearing it, and approving it may goe along with him in Spirit, and say Amen to it.


This earlier passage does not focus on the use of David's Psalms. Instead, Cotton describes several types of spiritual songs, which in turn we find among the Puritan poets: paraphrastic poems or translations of poems, spiritual songs composed entirely of “Davids words of praise,” and now new spiritual songs of praise or thanksgiving. To all these private poems, Cotton adds public psalms—the only apparent restriction is that they must be devotional.9

Not all Puritan poems are devotional, but the vast majority do conform to Cotton's prescription for spiritual song. Taylor, of course, is best known for the devotional Preparatory Meditations—which, as Rosemary Fithian Guruswamy has demonstrated, owe much to the psalm tradition—but he also paraphrased Job, Psalms, and David's Lamentation for Saul and Jonathan as well as the Songs of Moses, Deborah and Barak, and Hannah. He wrote songs of deliverance (“Upon my recovery”), songs of thanksgiving, and a number of elegies—all poems falling within Cotton's definitions of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs and thus within the Pauline tradition. Moreover, Taylor, of all Puritan poets, seems most aware of the poetic application of special elegance, evidenced by his use of quotation and extensive and complicated use of scriptural allusion.

Edward Taylor's poetry has received much more praise than blame from modern critics, but a survey of the criticism makes clear the confusion his poetics engenders. Alan Shucard describes the principal complaint: Taylor's imagery is inconsistent and excessive. Shucard attributes “Taylor's roughness” to a point of doctrine turned rhetorical strategy; Taylor's language is intentionally imperfect to reflect his own imperfection when compared to the divine (29-31). Albert Gelpi also puzzles over the poetics despite his favorable assessment that Taylor is “foreshadowing an indigenous American poetic tradition” (15). Gelpi attributes Taylor's idiosyncratic language to the deprivation of the wilderness:

Why should Taylor's fancy turn so frequently to gold, gems, perfumes, liquors, brocades, incense—things which were clearly not part of his life at Westfield? The question implies the answer: exactly because his rich and convoluted imagination dwelt in a wilderness. … The insufficiencies of nature and society drove him into the privacy of his imagination where his passionate nature could articulate the Puritan vision of the city on the hill which John Winthrop had voiced to the first shipload of Puritans in the misery and anxiety of their earthly condition.


These two arguments accurately describe two critical approaches to the “flaws” in Taylor's poetics, critical approaches that are neither necessary nor accurate. Taylor's imagination did not dwell in the wilderness, nor was it convoluted; Taylor's imagination dwelt in the Bible and was no more convoluted than Christian and Puritan exegesis of the period.

Taylor's poetry has been vigorously and successfully defended against these and similar charges by a number of critics.10 William Scheick argues, for example, that there is “an adept poet behind the mask of the Lisping Child” and that while Taylor's “unity of expression” is unusual (129-30), it is unified either through his Puritan epistemology or through some native human desire to exercise the imagination—exercise purportedly denied by the Puritan view of the world. The key to the adept poet, as Scheick and Michael Clark argue in “The Subject of Text,” is in understanding the dependence of Taylor's poetry on his view of language, specifically the Word.11

This critical examination of Taylor's use of scriptural materials has been underway for some time. Barbara Lewalski successfully articulates the importance of the emblem book and meditation tradition to Series 1 of Preparatory Meditations but finds Taylor unable to adopt biblical tropes “as his own” (108). Karen Rowe's work on Taylor's typological sermons and Series 2 of the Meditations impressively documents the importance of Scholastic typology to these poems. Thomas M. Davis, Rosemary Fithian-Guruswamy, and Jeffrey Hammond have also defined Taylor's cosmology and poetics in relation to the scriptures and exegetical texts with which Taylor was familiar. Davis demonstrates persuasively that “Taylor's sole model was the Bible” (203), while Fithian sets out the specifics of the Davidic influence in Taylor's Meditations. In Sinful Self, Saintly Self, his recent work on the Puritan reader's experience of poetry, Hammond defines the Puritan aesthetic as always grounded in theology, in exegetical traditions, and, significantly, in “biblical patterns.” Hammond goes somewhat further in articulating the nature and uses of biblical patterning to explore the intertextual relation between Taylor's poems and the “biblical metatext” in the Puritan imagination.

I extend these arguments by suggesting that Taylor's use of the Scripture's “peculiar eloquence” extends to the nonhistorical, tropological use of the Word. The study of biblical poetics as understood by Cotton and others demonstrates that Taylor's inconsistent imagery and “roughness” may be understood as a coherence of spiritual significance—revealed not through reference to a textually bound biblical object or event but instead through the spiritual meaning of scriptural word and phrase in the new context.12

Clearly, Taylor's allusive strategies suggest a fierce faith in the potency of the Word and words. Moreover, the poems suggest that Taylor's use of exegesis and his general conception of language produce a poetics that, if not unique to Taylor, at least approaches a definition of Taylor's poetry as poetry. So, while an understanding, however belated or nostalgic, may be derived from examining Taylor's exegetical sources (and indeed, I rely significantly on that method of reading Taylor's poetry) or his “subjectivity,” we must explore more carefully those moments when the language of the exegetical commentary becomes poetic product.

Taylor's poetics does not seem to develop as a process per se. However, for the purpose of defining the poetics, various “levels of poeticity” may be located in the poems, particularly as they are indicated by Taylor's allusive strategies. At one level, Taylor employs the poetics of the revealed Word, the intertextual play suggested by the notion that the Bible is a single, composite whole, a notion that is also strictly within the exegetical tradition. Taylor's poems, insofar as they employ this biblical poetics, rely on the “peculiar eloquence” of the Word for meaning and coherence. Taylor expands this basic element of Puritan poetics by employing this same intertextual play between select images across the Preparatory Meditations. This results, finally, in full intertextual play across a broad range of meditations—a sophistication we suspect but have not located precisely and that demonstrates how Taylor modifies the “peculiar eloquence” of the Word into his own poetics.

Taylor's allusive strategies center on his understanding of the relationship between grace and the Word. Taylor repeatedly tells us how his poems work, as in this early meditation:


Thy Humane Frame, my Glorious Lord, I spy,
          A Golden Still with Heavenly Choice drugs filld;
Thy Holy Love, the Glowing heate whereby,
          The Spirit of Grace is graciously distilld,
          Thy Mouth the Neck through which these spirits
          My Soul thy Violl make, and therewith fill.
Thy Speech the Liquour in thy Vessell stands,
          Well ting'd with Grace a blessed Tincture, Loe,
Thy Words distilld, Grace in thy Lips pourd, and,
          Give Graces Tinctur in them where they go.
          Thy words in graces tincture stilld, Lord, may
          The Tincture of thy Grace in me Convay.
That Golden Mint of Words, thy Mouth Divine,
          Doth tip these Words, which by my Fall were
And Dub with Gold dug out of Graces mine
          That they thine Image might have in them foild.
          Grace in thy Lips pourd out's as Liquid Gold.
          Thy Bottle make my Soule, Lord, it to hold.

Christ, as “the Word made flesh,” is the “Golden Mint” that can foil Taylor's poetry in golden grace. The poem suggests, as Stanford's note remarks, that “Taylor hopes his words will be adorned with the golden image of Christ” but also that the spirit of grace and the Word are virtually synonymous. Taylor's words “foild” are tipped in the Word, in the Scriptures; despite his own fall, Taylor wishes to speak the Word of God—singing praise out of God's grace, pouring forth grace that depends on the Word.

This meditation on Ps. 45:2 establishes early in the several decades of Preparatory Meditations the essential poetic strategies of these poems. The meditation opens with the citation of the psalm, which is a wedding song, a royal psalm that praises a Hebrew king upon his wedding, advises and praises the bride, and calls for the perpetual celebration of the king.13 In the headnote to the Geneva version, the principals as well as the spiritual meaning of the psalm are made explicit:

1 The maiestie of Salomon, his honour, strength, beautie, riches & power are praised, & also his marriage with the Egyptian being an heathen woman is blessed, 10 If; that she can renounce her people & the loue of her countrey and giue; her selfe wholly to her housband. Under the which figure the wonderful maiestie & increase of the kingdome of Christ and the Church his spouse now taken of the Gentiles is described.


This Christological interpretation of the psalm, featuring Solomon as a figure of Christ as well as the allegorical marriage of Christ and the Church, is perhaps revealed to Taylor through the allusions in this psalm to the Song of Solomon and understood in the half-verse Taylor does not cite: “Thou art fairer than the children of men” (Ps. 45:2a).14 So construed, Psalm 45 reveals Taylor's favorite themes: the faith, hope, and love of Christ necessary for the fruitful marriage of Christ and saint, for sanctification and glorification.

In this poem, moreover, we find perhaps the first treatment of poetry and poetics. The initial verse of Psalm 45 draws writing and singing praise together: “My heart is inditing a good matter; I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” The psalmist's invocation thus locates the source of the “good matter” and overflowing heart in the king. The singer of the psalm sings under the direct influence of Solomon or, typologically, Christ. In Christographia, Taylor comments on this verse and directly connects gold and the Word in the image of the “Golden tongue”:

All Scriptures of the Prophets are but the Ebullitions of this Authority, the Prophets say, as Ps. 45. I. My tongue is … a pen of a ready writer. Indeed every Writer of Scripture was the Golden tongue, and Spiritual Pen of this great prophet.


Further, the second verse attributes to Solomon—and, through figuration derived from the collated verse at Luke 4:22, to Christ—this unique quality of speech: “gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.” “Gracious words” are “Grace in thy Lips pourd out as Liquid Gold.” Allusion to these verses makes clear the connection between the Word and “Liquid Gold”; grace is the ink in which Taylor hopes his own pen and words will be “dubbed” and “tipped.”

The process of grace's influence is explained in the meditation literally and, with the collation of allusive passages, discursively. The meditation does not quote Psalm 45 except in the repetition of the half-verse cited at the beginning of the poem, “Grace in thy lips is pourd out,” and again in lines 9 and 17. However, the key metaphor of the third stanza, gold as the spirit of grace, as grace itself, alludes to the gold wedding garment of the bride in verse 13 of the same psalm: “The king's daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold.” Wedding garments receive a great deal of attention from biblical commentators because of the parable of the unwilling guest (Matt. 22:1-14). As Keach explains, “By wedding garment is intended Christ's righteousness, or imputed righteousness, which is put on the soul by faith for justification” (473). The use of the garments and gold links these figures of grace. In his Christian Dictionary, Thomas Taylor specifically cites Ps. 45:13 as a metaphor; gold is “the most pure graces of the spirit; to wit, faith, hope and loue. Psal. 45,10. Her cloathing is of broidred Gold” (198).15 Keach also expands on this figure of grace and may have been Taylor's source for the image of “Gold dug out of Graces mine”:

So those that would be enriched with the word of God, have much of it in their heads and hearts, must take pains; they must dig in these golden mines, as it were, for it.


For Edward Taylor, as Norman Grabo tells us, the “wedden garment is absolutely necessary to the celebration of the wedden supper. … [The Lord's Supper is] styled a wedden feast” and “implieth the marriage of Christ and the soul” (37). Thus, the meditation must be seen as a natural continuation of the Canticles unit that precedes it; moreover, the poem also conflates several other scriptural texts and ideas.

Through meditation on Ps. 45:2, Taylor develops a multifarious description of grace and, ultimately, of the wine of the Lord's Supper. Christ's “Humane Frame” (echoing Ps. 103:14) contains the “Spirit of Grace … graciously distilld” (recalling Deut. 32:2, “my speech shall distil as the dew,” and confirming Luke 4:21-22, “[21] This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. [22] And all bare him witness and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth”). As “the Word made flesh,” Christ may convey grace to Taylor—through the Word and through the sacrifice. Grace “convay[ed]” imparts grace to the vessels into which it is poured; that grace restores the image of God within, which was besmirched by the Fall. Thus, the pouring forth of grace parallels the pouring of wine into the earthen vessel that is Taylor. With grace now in his heart, Taylor has “the tongue of a ready writer,” “inditing a good thing”; his heart and words are foiled in grace, the image of God is restored to heart and word.16

While the poem moves through three ostensibly disparate images, we find in the scriptural yoking of grace and gold the unity of spiritual meaning that is important to Taylor and that clarifies the disparity. Christ's distillation of the Word produces “Heavenly choice drugs,” a tincture of gold, a tincture of grace. Grace, in turn, mints new words with this “Liquid Gold,” this ink of gold, a new wine put into Taylor's ink “Bottle” and his “Soule,” alluding in the last line to Matt. 9:17 and maintaining a bifurcated imagery of containers with both scriptural and domestic sources.17 Taylor's understanding of Psalm 45, and of the Scriptures generally, hinges on Scripture that interprets Scripture; his notion of poetry hinges on his understanding of the transformative potential of words dubbed “with Gold dug out of Graces mine.”

Of course, Taylor is aware of the “inward beauty” Augustine found in the eloquence of the Scriptures, but he explores this inward beauty in ways that we seldom see in other Puritan poetry. In “Meditation I.7,” Taylor does use Scripture to interpret elements of Psalm 45, but he is not producing a new psalm that merely interprets the original Christologically, although this is one effect of the intertextual patterning. Rather, Taylor's meditation takes the psalmist's invocation, which links the tongue and speech to the overflowing heart, and expands it by conflating scriptural allusions that are models of the action of grace: the bride puts on the “broidred gold” wedding garment; the Word is distilled; new wine is put in new bottles. These scriptural models of grace become personal models of the process of grace in the meditation. Thus, as models of language, the allusive key words and phrases extend the action of grace beyond the literal limits of the scriptural text: scriptural language, Taylor tells us, “give[s] Graces Tinctur in them where they go.” We may further extend Taylor's transformation: we may say Taylor is “broidering” in gold his own “wedden” garment with the Word and his words of poetry. Without this speculative extension, Taylor's allusive strategies in Preparatory Meditations are at least an exploration of the Word's power to create spiritual meaning in the wider world of the poet's personal experience. Simply, Taylor, aware of the intertextual patterning of the Scriptures, applies the same principle to his own poetry: the Word interprets the Word, and the Word interprets Taylor's experience.


The extensive intertextual patterning of “Meditation I.7” is not present in all the meditations. Often Taylor develops a single metaphor or, in Series 2 of the Meditations, a single type identified in the “title” of the meditation, in the biblical citation. This more straightforward allusive strategy recalls that of Michael Wigglesworth: the entire poem is derived from the biblical citation, perhaps with amplification from other biblical texts. The presence of these narrowly focused poems, especially at the beginning of the meditation “units,” confirms Norman Grabo's and Barbara Lewalski's suggestions that the Series 1 units follow a program of meditation based on the Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper (Grabo xx; Lewalski 396-97). While these poems initiate or complete the meditation “units” within Series 1 by presenting the paradigms on which the other poems in the unit depend, they are generally not dependent on allusive play or intertextual patterning for meaning or unity.

The “legal unit” meditations of Series 1 reveal the range of allusive strategies within these sequences as they follow this meditation program. In this case, the poems are but one exploration of “the contract celebrated in the ‘wedden feast’ of the sacrament” (Lewalski 396-97).18 The legal aspects of the “contract” are not emphasized here; the opening meditation on 1 John 2.1, “An Advocate with the Father” (1.38), develops the figure of Christ as the “believing sinner's” advocate and thus refers most directly to the final judgment. While the biblical figure for Christ as advocate appears only in 1 John (the term “advocate” appears only once in the Bible), it is nevertheless an important figure. In Thomas Taylor's Christian Dictionary, the figural definition is the occasion for arguing against the “Romish Synagogue”:

[An advocate is] one, that pleadeth the cause of beleeuing sinners at the barre of Gods justice. Christ alone performes this office, by the euerlasting merite of his death. I. John 2.2. We have an Aduocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. Heere fals downe the multitude of Aduocates set vp in the Romish Synagogue, to Christ his great dishonor, who onely is our Advocate, because he alone is our Propitiator, or Reconciler.


The figure is also developed extensively in Keach's Tropologia (408-13).

In a telling departure from these two commentators, Edward Taylor, in his Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper, attributes the quality of advocacy not to Christ but to Christ's blood. The blood of Christ, writes Taylor, is

advocating blood. Hence Christ is an advocate. He pleads their case with His Father in case of their sins. So that if the Accuser lay in any charge against them, He is ready to plead for them against the same, if I may speak after the manner of men, and He pleads for a pardon of their sins. This blood stands up and in effect saith, “I have paid their debts. I have in my hand an acquittance for their sin, and justice cannot seek nor receive her satisfactory pay at the hand both of debtor and surety.” Thus doth this blood plead on the account of God's people as it is advocating blood, and this is sweet to contemplate.


The logic of the exegesis in Thomas Taylor's Christian Dictionary suggests that the death of Christ results in his advocacy. Edward Taylor follows this logic, of course, but employs synecdoche (bloodshed in place of the sacrifice) from the beginning of his explanation. Furthermore, even here, in this relatively simple explanation, he employs exergasia: the blood is Christ, who is advocate; the blood “stands up” as advocate; and so on. Taylor attributes this function to the blood because the “new covenent [is] in My [Christ's] blood, and the soul's receiving of it imports the new covenent it's entered into with God in Christ” (204). As he explains in this section of his Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper, the soul's “receiving” of the covenant is the soul's putting on the “wedden garment,” a consistent metaphor used in the Preparatory Meditations and itself a figure of judgment. The intertextual patterning apparent here (Taylor juxtaposes scriptural passages throughout his Treatise arguments) he terms “the mystery of the Gospel” (205).

Despite this potential, the first meditation of the Legal Unit (1.38) demonstrates neither the exergasia nor the intertextual patterning of “Meditation I.7.” The poem proceeds through seven stanzas, each focused on a single aspect of the figure of the advocate. The language, with a few exceptions, derives from domestic sources: Law, Court of Justice, Pannellst, Bench, Bribe, Colourings, Pettifogger, Atturny. Some of the legal language does appear in the Bible; the language of the Lord pleading the case, repeated so often in the meditation, is repeated just as often in Psalm 119,19 which expresses the link between the “uprightness of the heart” and submission to the law—a link not developed in this meditation, but one very important to “Meditation I.40.”

Other allusions lend little to this meditation. In the first stanza,

Oh! What a thing is Man? Lord, Who am I?
          That thou shouldst give him Law (Oh! golden Line)
To regulate his Thoughts, Words, Life thereby.
          And judge him Wilt thereby too in thy time.
          A Court of Justice thou in heaven holdst
          To try his Case while he's here housd on mould,

(“I.38.” 1-6)

the term “golden Line” evokes a concept common to the Old Testament; the line is “a measuring rope … put for a country or tract of land, because it was measured by it, as Amos vii. 17” (Keach 6). Taylor uses the term as metaphor, which he may have found in 2 Cor. 10:15-16 and to which he adds the adjective “golden” to clarify the role of grace in the application of judgment. In the third line, “To regulate his Thoughts, Words, Life thereby,” Taylor alludes to Col. 3:17.20 These are the two most recognizable allusions (other than 1 John 2:1, cited in the title), yet neither is echoed or developed beyond the first stanza. The other six stanzas flesh out the advocacy metaphor in a manner strikingly similar to that of Keach, who lists an activity or quality of an advocate in one column and then applies that characteristic to Christ in a “parallel.” In stanza 6, for example, Christ accepts no fees:

This is his Honour, not Dishonour: nay
          No Habeas-Corpus gainst his Clients came
For all their Fines his Purse doth make down pay.
          He Non-Suites Satan's Suite or Casts the Same.
          He'l plead thy Case, and not accept a Fee.
          He'l plead Sub Forma Pauperis for thee.

(“I.38.” 31-36)

Keach argues that

a good and worthy Advocate is of so noble and generous a disposition, that he will plead the cause of the poor out of pity, rather than they should miscarry. Parallel. The Lord Jesus stands not on fees, or gratuities, for indeed none are able to give unto him a reward for his work, but he acts on the same terms that God gives wine and milk, and that is, “without money, and without price. Whosoever will, may come” and take his advice.


The advocacy metaphor, which is developed thoroughly in the poem's image, idea, and language, gives the poem the kind of unity we expect of the metaphysical poets.

Taylor employs this same metaphor in “Meditation I.39” but uses allusion to bring intertextual patterning and greater depth and richness to the metaphor. While drawn once again from 1 John 2:1, the phrase Taylor chooses for the title is different and focuses on man sinning: “If any man sin, we have an Advocate.” As is clear from the poem, the shift to “any man” helps focus the metaphor of advocacy in face of personal sin. Taylor's use of this as the primary metaphor of the poem is not so much an elaboration of Christ's advocacy as it is a direct application of the metaphor to Taylor's own condition.

Taylor employs, however, several other metaphors—ostensibly unrelated metaphors—in the making of “Meditation I.39.” The opening stanza is a typical and graphic description of sin:

My Sin! my Sin, My God, these Cursed Dregs,
          Green, Yellow, Blew streakt Poyson hellish, ranck,
Bubs hatcht in natures nest on Serpents Eggs,
Yelp, Cherp and Cry; they set my Soule a Cramp.
I frown, Chide, strik and fight them, mourn and Cry
To Conquour them, but cannot them destroy.

(“I.39.” 1-6)

The use of “dregs” that set the soul to cramping recalls several verses, primarily verse 8 of Psalm 75:

(7) But God is the judge: he putteth down one and setteth up another.

(8) For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall ring them out, and drink them.

Here, the wine bears grace, which acts against sin through wrath and affliction. Dregs then, the bitterest remains, the impurities within Taylor, are to be resisted but are the result of judgment. This allusion to Psalm 75 links dregs, sin, and the law and thus links dregs and advocacy in the poem.

The most important allusion, to James 3:1-3, provides the metaphor of bridle and reins:

(1) My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. (2) For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man and able also to bridle the whole body. (3) Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

Taylor's selection of “If any man sin” in his citation of 1 John 2:1 emphatically echoes James 3:2. Taylor is this “any man,” as he claims in the opening lines. The sin, however, is described in the mixed metaphor that at once relies on both a temporal and biblical referent—one elaborating the other in a confusion of dregs, bubs, eggs, and, in the second stanza, horselike imps and devils:

I cannot kill nor Coop them up: my Curb
          'S less than a Snaffle in their mouth: my Rains
They as a twine thrid, snap: by hell they're spurd:
And load my Soule with swagging loads of pains.
Black Imps, young Divells, snap, bite, drag to bring
And pick mee headlong hells dread Whirle Poole in.


The metaphorical reins control the imps and devils; in James 3, they control “every kind of beasts” as well as man's body and especially his tongue and speech (which indicate the state of the soul):

(6) And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. (7) For every kind of beasts and of birds and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and that been tamed of mankind: (8) But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

Taylor finds in the 1 John 2:1 citation the “rough” metaphor of James 3. In an additional play of allusion, Taylor puns on a homonym found in the Bible: “reins” is also the kidney, the seat of the affections. Keach explains: “The heart and reins are put for inward thoughts and affections. … ‘God searches the heart and reins’” (14).21 As poet and physician, Taylor must have been delighted to find this “spiritual meaning”: the kidneys collect impurities of the body (flesh) and, in Taylor's use, relieve the soul that cramps with dregs, with sin.

In the later stanzas of “Meditation I.39,” Taylor employs images of the passion of Christ to describe in metaphor the atonement the sacrifice offers. Karl Keller calls them

mixed and unclear metaphors in which Taylor finds the artful magic of Christ at work. On the anvil of life Christ can somehow hammer atoning nails out of flesh and blood that will hold man eternally. He can somehow use his blood for arguments out of his grave. Dying he can somehow live. These make little sense. It is left to Christ to make them more than mere fancifulness.


Of course, these did make sense to Taylor, not only in the “artful magic of Christ” but, more accurately, in the magic of the Word. Keller refers to the blacksmith metaphor of the fifth stanza:

I have no plea mine Advocate to give:
          What now? He'l anvill Arguments greate Store
Out of his Flesh and Blood to make thee live.
          O Deare bought Arguments: Good pleas therefore.
          Nails made of heavenly Steel, more Choice than
          Drove home, Well Clencht, eternally will hold.

(“I.39.” 23-30)

The metaphor is supported by the simile of the Word as both fire and hammer, as moved by the Spirit to break the stony heart of the sinner (Jer. 23:29) and to fasten “the nails of conviction,” leaving the “dreggy and impure part behind” (Keach 582, 578). The “Nails made of heavenly steel” leave an imprint of visible proof of the sacrifice that makes Christ's advocacy possible (John 20:25): “The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd” (Eccl. 12:11).

Clearly, the imagery of the poem's opening stanzas is an unusual, “inconsistent” mixing of dregs of wine, imps, and devils controlled with reins, curb, and snaffle; but it is imagery made consistent through the conflation of allusions to 1 John, James, Psalms, and Job. The closing stanzas similarly combine details of the passion of Christ with Old Testament passages that interpret those details and communicate both the need and the process of propitiation. Taylor's mixing of images and metaphors, his spiritual exergasia, relies on allusion to the Word for authority, meaning, and its own “peculiar eloquence”—the beauty of Taylor's “rough feet.”

The final poem of this series, “Meditation I.40,” cites 1 John 2:2, “He is a Propitiation for our Sin,” but Taylor moves away from the figure of Christ as advocate. Rather, he collates allusions to 1 John 1 and John 19, confessing his sin in images that are clearly domestic but that also recall details of the Crucifixion. Taylor acts on the wisdom of the epistle—“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8)—with the strategy of meiosis (“my sin is greater than thy grace” [“l.” 48]). As in other poems, Taylor employs exergasia, expanding on the filth of his heart, his sin, in a series of unrelated images:

Still I complain; I am complaining still.
          Oh! woe is me! Was ever Heart like mine?
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.

(“I.40.” 1-6)

Taylor's focus on his heart, so important throughout the Preparatory Meditations, is supported by the scriptural precedent in Psalm 119, to which Taylor alluded in “Meditation I.38.” The heart must be clean, upright in order for the Lord to “Plead my cause” (Ps. 119:154); thus, the filthy heart makes pleading the case all the more extraordinary.

In the following stanzas, however, the images for the heart change; the heart is now the site of games through which Satan “sheeres his fleece,” teaches sin, and shuffles grace away.

Was ever Heart like mine: So bad? black? Vile?
          Is any Divell blacker? Or can Hell
Produce its match? It is the very Soile
          Where Satan reads his Charms, and sets his Spell.
          His Bowling Ally, where he sheeres his fleece
          At Nine Pins, Nine Holes, Morrice, Fox and Geese.
His palace Garden where his courtiers walke.
          His Jewells Cabbinet. Here his Caball
Do sham it, and truss up their Privie talk
          In Fardells of Consults and bundles all.
          His shambles, and his Butchers stale's herein.
          It is the Fuddling Schoole of every sin.
Was ever Heart like mine? Pride, Passion, fell.
          Ath'ism, Blasphemy, pot, pipe it, dance
Play Barlybreaks, and at last Couple in Hell.
          At Cudgells, Kit-Cat, Cards and Dice here prance.
          At Noddy, Ruff-and-trumpt, Jing, Post-and-Pare,
          Put, One-and-thirty, and such other ware.
Grace shuffled is away: Patience oft sticks
          Too soon, or draws itself out, and's out Put.
Faith's over trumpt, and oft doth lose her tricks.
          Repentence's Chalkt up Noddy, and out shut.
          They Post, and Pare off Grace thus, and its shine.
          Alas! alas! was ever Heart like mine?

The shift to these temporal images seems to have little to do with law, advocacy, and propitiation; the only possible link is to the casting of lots for Christ's garments in John 19:24:

They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots.

The gambling fulfills the prophecy of Psalm 22, just as the confession of sin, according to 1 John, is necessary for atonement. The gaming imagery, however, need not be linked directly to this possible allusion; the conflation of games in this description of Satan's play upon the soul demonstrates Taylor's propensity for applying the method of scriptural eloquence to nonscriptural materials. Here, Taylor mixes what Robert D. Arner identifies as folk images and metaphors with commonplace “scriptural” language (the words “sin” and “Hell,” the phrase “sheeres his fleece,” and the characterization of Satan engaging the players “Grace,” “Patience,” “Faith,” and “Repentence”). Taylor conflates different games and gaming activities, puns on the names of the games, and develops Satan's activities in both folk images and spiritual terms. We should see this as exergasia of a different sort, a “temporal” exergasia, and as an extension of the special eloquence of scriptural language into temporal language.

The remaining stanzas of “Meditation I.40” describe the action of grace as a result of atonement; here, Taylor conflates images in 1 John 1:7 of light and cleansing (“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin”) and the language of John 19:34 (“But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water”). The blood and water is the “clear stream” necessary to bleach Taylor's soul clean in “Zions Bucking tub.”

And let thy Sun, shine on my Head out cleare.
          And bathe my Heart within its radient beams:
Thy Christ make my Propitiation Deare.


The meditation is the required confession of sin that will allow this cleansing to occur. Thus, the Legal Unit concludes with the application of the scriptural text to Taylor's personal life. Taylor actively answers the question of “Meditation I.39”: “What shall I doe, my Lord? what do, that I / May have thee plead my Case?” In the process, he moves from the uncomplicated articulation of the initial figure of Christ as advocate, through the articulation of the need and process of propitation in the middle meditation, to the final hopeful confession. The play of allusion, particularly in “Meditation I.39,” is Taylor's method for understanding the potency of the Word and Christ (as “the Word made flesh”); he understands the paradigm through the “mystery of the Gospel.”


As a significant number of the Preparatory Meditations in Series 2 are based on types of Christ, Karen Rowe is justified in arguing that “Taylor's typological vision is at the very heart of his poetic creativity, there by distinguishing him from tropological poets” (xiv). Using Taylor's Upon the Types of the Old Testament, Rowe analyzes sermons and corresponding Preparatory Meditations in Series 2 and argues that the sermons and Preparatory Meditations are the last formal work on typology in England or America. Although in her final chapter Rowe suggests Taylor's poetry is best when it ventures beyond typology into tropology, her primary interest is in demonstrating Taylor's use of types. Even Taylor's distinctly typological poems, however, are enriched by the use of allusions not directly associated with the specific type of meditation—that is, he still uses the poetics developed in Series 1 in this more narrow poetic context.

Throughout the early Series 2 Meditations, Taylor seems to be struggling with meditation on the type. “Meditation II.6,” on Jacob as a type of Christ, is such a poem. It opens with Taylor's preferred structure, a confession of sin and a shift to meditation on a type:

I fain would praise thee, Lord, but finde black Sin,
          To stain my Tunes my Virginalls to spoile.
Fetch out the same with thy red blood and bring
          My heart in kilter, and my Spirits oyle.
          My Theme is rich: my Skill is poore untill
          Thy Spirit makes my hand its holy quill.
I spy thyselfe, as Golden Bosses fixt
          On Bible Covers, shine in Types out bright,
Of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, where's immixt
          Their streaming Beames of Christ displaying Light.
Jacob now jog my pen, whose golden rayes
          Do of thyself advance an holy blaze.

Although the metaphor of the quill or pen of grace may be found in Psalm 45 (to which Taylor alludes in “Meditation I.7”), Taylor does not allude to any distinct scriptural text in these two stanzas beyond the use of proper names.

In the next three stanzas, Taylor develops Jacob as type. As Rowe points out, Taylor “relies upon manifest analogies between the Old and New Testaments” (67).22 Thus, little in the poetic description of Jacob as type goes beyond what we find in either Samuel Mather's or Benjamin Keach's expressions of it. Mather, like Taylor, cites Isa. 49:3 as the passage that “intimates” that Jacob is a type of Christ; he interprets Jacob's “Sojourning” and “Wrestling” as the two points of comparison, noting Jacob's travel to and from Egypt “by Joseph's hand” and his purchase of “his two Wives,” as well as Jacob's taking “of the Name of Israel.”23 Keach cites these same comparisons organized by different headings. Keach, Mather, and Taylor often allude to or cite the same verses as sources of these comparisons; for example, Taylor's lines “The Name of Israel in Scutcheons shows / Thou art Gods Prince to batter down his Foes” (“ll.” 17-18) allude to Gen. 32:28, to which Keach also alludes and which Mather cites.24 Finally, Taylor's expression of the type does not elaborate on either commentator's work, and, of course, Taylor may have used Mather's description as a source. Indeed, the second stanza as an introduction to the type, suggests that the poem is not an exploration of type but instead a poem about meditating on types, which is confirmed by the sixth stanza:

In all those Typick Lumps of Glory I
          Spy thee the Gem made up of all their shine
Which from them all in thickest glory fly
          And twist themselves into this Gem of thine.
          And as the Shine thereof doth touch my heart,
          Joy sincks my Soule seeing how rich thou art.

(“II.6.” 31-36)

In this stanza we also find the introduction of disparate images that have little connection to the type but have source texts in the Bible. The opening line links the image of the stem and branches in the previous stanza with the image of lumps in Rom. 11:16, “For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” The next metaphor, the “Gem made up of all their shine,” is more difficult to trace to a specific source text, but Keach describes the “metaphorical mentions of gems” as a “description of the glory and inward splendour of the church of Christ” (130) and identifies the source in Isa. 54:11-12,

(11) … I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. (12) And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.25

Taylor's use of carbuncles and gems confirms this; he often employs the metaphor, using these terms interchangeably, as he does in “Meditation II.34.”26

The play of allusions is no different from that in the Series 1 Meditations. Only one allusion linked to Jacob as a type lends any intertextual patterning to the poem. When he is met by other principal figures in Genesis, Jacob is embraced by them (Gen. 29:13, 33:4, 48:10).27 In the final stanza of “Meditation II.34,” the phrase “mine Embraces shall thy worship be” suggests that Taylor embraces Christ as the figures of the Old Testament embraced Jacob; the embrace is not typological but figural. As Rowe correctly suggests, Taylor uses types because “he seeks inclusion in the New Testament dispensation” (250); however, this is the same motivation for the earlier Preparatory Meditations. While Rowe sees typology as central to Taylor's “poetic creativity,” “Meditation 2.34” suggests that the typological element of Taylor's “poetic creativity” is overestimated. Rather than “manifest analogies between the Old and New Testament,” Taylor seems more reliant on manifest tropes of grace. At this point in the Meditations, Taylor has developed an exergasia of images of grace: light, flame, golden light, lines of light, beams, golden ladders, lines of gold, lines written with a tincture of gold, jewels and gems of light, and jewels and gold woven into the wedden garment. In this meditation on a type, Taylor depends in every stanza on images he has already developed elsewhere.

Not all poems depend on this cluster of tropes; other patterns evolve—especially in Series 2. When Taylor turns to the ceremonial types, he explores images and metaphors that the personal types do not offer. In these poems, Taylor demonstrates the widest range of allusive strategies of any of the Puritan poets: his poems employ quotation, echo, and paraphrase not only of disparate biblical passages but also of typological conceits that are independent intertextual constructions.

One such typological conceit is manifested in “Meditation II.27,” which uses the purification ritual of the Old Testament to interpret Heb. 9:13-14. The meditation begins with the usual scriptural citation followed by a phrase from the verse. In this case, Taylor takes only the phrase “How much more shall the Blood of Christ etc.” from Heb. 9:14, but it is clear from the poem that he has a series of verses in mind—specifically, Heb. 9:13-15:

(13) For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:

(14) How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

(15) And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Initially, then, Taylor uses one form of allusion, the direct quotation, to cite not just the single verse but the entire concept of justification and sanctification made possible through the sacrifice of Christ. Additionally, these verses themselves allude to other biblical verses—Lev. 16:14 (“the blood of bulls and of goats”), Num. 19:2 (“ashes of an heifer”) and 1 John 1:7 (“the blood of Christ cleanseth”). Later in the chapter, the writer (traditionally considered to be Paul) alludes to Lev. 14:4, to the cleansing ritual that Taylor employs at length in this meditation; thus, the typological conceit is explicit in the Scriptures. The Bible itself provides some play of allusion, bringing verses together to form a concept in the process Cotton terms “Scripture interpreting Scripture.” Taylor develops the biblical play of allusion, this intertextual play, in his use of leprosy as a metaphor for inward filthiness, for sin, and in his use of the purification rituals described in Lev. 13 and 14, as both types and metaphors for the cleansing of the soul by the blood of Christ.28 Beyond the typological conceit, however, is allusion to other biblical texts, collated to amplify the typological conceit.

In the opening stanza of “Meditation II.27,” Taylor contemplates Christ in New Jerusalem, “Bedeckt … with Glories shine alone”:

My mentall Eye, spying thy sparkling Fold
          Bedeckt, my Lord, with Glories shine alone,
That doth out do all Broideries of Gold:
          And Pavements of Rich Pearles, and Precious Stone
          Did double back its Beams to light my Sphere
          Making an inward Search, for what springs there.

(“II.27.” 1-6)

The allusion to Rev. 21 illuminates the point of comparison in the poem.29 Upon glorification (in heaven), the image of God on the individual soul is free of impurities, is restored completely. Taylor, with his “mentall Eye,” compares the clothes of glory with the issues of leprosy he presently wears.

The clothing theme is maintained through the poem by other allusions. In line 49, “And put it Gold-Ring-like on my Right Thumbe,” Taylor conflates the cleansing ritual of Leviticus with a passage in James 2:2 in which the disciples are instructed to make no distinction between those outwardly clothed in affluence, for they are as in need of the Gospel as those poorly arrayed. As in previous poems that allude to the “wedden garment,” being clothed with the gold ring and gems (of Christ's blood) is being clothed with grace itself. Further, Taylor alludes in the final stanza of this poem to Exod. 19:10-14, in which Moses links sanctification and the cleansing of clothes; Taylor writes, “And clothe my heart and Life with Sanctity.”

In another allusion to the cleansing process, Taylor invokes “Gospells Razer”:

Sprindge Lord mee With it. Wash me also in
          The Poole of Shiloam, and shave mee bare
With Gospells Razer. Though the Roots of Sin
          Bud up again, again shave off its hair.
          Thy Eighth dayes Bath, and Razer make more gay,
          Than th'Virgin Maries Purifying day.

(“II.27.” 37-42)

By using the term “Razer,” Taylor alludes not to Leviticus—the term does not appear there—but to any of a number of Old Testament sources.30 In most of these passages, the razor is used to remove the hair, which itself is an indication of strength. In the seventh stanza the “Gospells Razer” removes sin—sin so strong the razor must be used twice.

In the same stanza, Taylor's “Wash me in / The Poole of Shiloam,” an echo of John 9:7-11, is quite typical of his poetry. Yet it seems out of place, the odd line that doesn't fit the overall conceit. Yet, when we examine the allusion, we find it refers to a passage in John which retells the miracle that affirms Jesus as “a Prophet” or messenger of God. Jesus spits on the ground and with the spittle makes a clay. Spreading the clay on a blind man's eyes, he tells him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. Cleansing his eyes, the man recovers his sight. Applied here, this is the “Miracle” that Taylor calls for in lines 19 and 20 of “Meditation II.27,” “Woe's mee. Undone! Undone! my Leprosy! / Without a Miracel there is no Cure.” The sanctifying spittle contrasts with his own “uncleane Spittle”; it is the cleansing that brings eternal life. Thus, Taylor's allusive strategies are not limited to the use of typological conceits, even in poems that correspond to the sermons on the use of types. Taylor conflates passages from throughout the Word to confirm the power of the “Scripture to interpret Scripture” and to reveal the “poetry” of the Word. More importantly, we see in this poem (and throughout Series 2) that Taylor has developed intratextual strategies: he echoes himself, alludes to an image of grace but invokes the entire cluster of images, and is able within a single poem to refer to several images of grace in successive stanzas, even though the poem is controlled not by images of grace but by the cleansing metaphor. Furthermore, he applies these strategies not only to scriptural allusions but also to temporal imagery as well, conflating disparate images to describe better the overwhelming emotional or spiritual state in which he finds himself.

The “peculiar elegance” of Taylor's poetry depends, first, on his awareness and use of the paradoxical injunctions of Paul, as developed by Augustine and later Protestant exegetes, and, secondly, on Taylor's ability, as poet, to recast biblical allusions to create intertextual patterning, to create new meaning in new contexts, to create new songs according to the prescription of Cotton's Singing of Psalmes. In reading Taylor's poems, we need to recognize the spiritual significance that unifies the “mixing of language,” both spiritual and temporal, to recognize the moments when Taylor makes biblical allusion into images of a personal vision. While for Taylor the creation of new meaning is still explicitly the work of grace, the “Golden mint of words,” and the “pouring forth of grace,” the intertextual and intratextual play within his poetry results from a sophisticated understanding of language that he brings to the making of new poems. In this regard, Taylor is clearly the most sophisticated of the Puritan poets, but his “peculiar elegance” points to a new understanding of what is poetic about Puritan poetry.


  1. Cotton, Preface (1640), Sig. ∗∗4. Throughout, I have retained the original spelling in quotations of original texts.

  2. Both passages cited on psalter title pages come from Pauline Epistles (Colossians and Ephesians); the Pauline injunction for “great plainness of speech” comes from 2 Cor. 3:12. Compare also Paul's distinction between man's “excellency of speech and of wisdom” or the “enticing words of man's wisdom” and the power of the “Spirit” in 1 Cor. 2:1-5.

  3. Ainsworth provides both verse and prose translations of the Psalms as well as annotations, which were intended for those trained in Hebrew and for “general use” (Sig. ∗∗2). Ainsworth's preface, which is significantly shorter than the Bay Psalm Book preface, nevertheless treats most of the same issues—and significantly for my argument, Ainsworth devotes the bulk of it to “aesthetic” issues.

  4. Singing of Psalmes, a Gospel Ordinance was published in London in 1647 and 1650. Much of the material in his preface to the Bay Psalm Book is contained in this treatise, although the admonition against polishing God's altar is not. Published in London just as the second edition of the Bay Psalm Book was going to press in New England, the treatise was published again as the Dunster-Lyon revision was going to press and may be seen, therefore, as a defense of both the first and second psalters, especially in light of Cotton's reference to the revision late in the treatise.

    Although I refer to John Cotton throughout, the authorship of Singing of Psalmes is open to speculation. Everett Emerson indicates in John Cotton that Thomas Shepard shared in the writing of the treatise (11). Zoltán Haraszti cites a note (124 n. 6) in Cotton's edition of the treatise written by the younger Thomas Shepard, who quotes pastor Edward Buckley quoting Cotton as having attributed “the chief hand” in the treatise to Thomas Shepard.

  5. Expressed here in the words of the translators of The Holy Bible (King James Authorized Version) in “The Translators to the Reader.”

  6. For the comments on style and phrasing (“bee so full and perfect”), see ibid.

  7. In studies of his sermons and exegesis, various critics have demonstrated Cotton's awareness of the “elegancy of the Holy Ghost” in sermons, which derives from the Protestant belief in the Bible as “a single composite whole” and a desire to allow the language of the Scripture to explain the sense of the Scripture. Edward H. Davidson sets out Cotton's training in the Protestant exegetical tradition in “John Cotton's Biblical Exegesis: Method and Purpose.” Two other recent works have examined the “logic” of Cotton's exegesis and found it less than logical. Teresa Toulouse finds that Cotton brings scriptural passages together as “images” and allows his audience to find or build the meaning out of the juxtaposition of those scriptural images (see “John Cotton and the Shaping of Election,” 13-45). Eugenia DeLamotte argues for Cotton's “subtle technique of illuminating signs by juxtaposing them with the abstractions they signify, but without allowing the translations to supplant the actual language of the Biblical text” (51).

  8. Not unique to Cotton or Puritans, the practice of bringing scriptural verses together to form new edifying works was common in the sixteenth century. In English Metrical Psalms: Poetry as Praise and Prayer, 1535-1601, Rivkah Zim cites works by John Fisher, Thomas Rogers, Henry Bull, and Anthony Cope, all of whom compile verses from Psalms (29-30). In addition, George Herbert argues for a similar exegetical practice in A Priest to the Temple: “The third means is a diligent Collation of Scripture with Scripture” (Stewart 61).

  9. Although Cotton is not directly addressing the writing of poetry, he does argue that “all men are likewise bound to sing to the praise of God in their deliverances, and comforts”—to quote just one short passage from chapter 9. The chapter suggests that even those without the spiritual gifts “necessary to make melody to the Lord in singing” have a duty to sing anyway. Spiritual songs composed “in faith” are acceptable because praise is a duty and also because praise or thanksgiving is not “an opening of the Word” of God to man but “an opening of the heart” of man to God (44).

  10. Both Jeffrey Hammond, in “Reading Taylor Exegetically: The Preparatory Meditations and the Commentary Tradition,” and Michael Schuldiner, in “Edward Taylor's ‘Problematic’ Imagery,” refute the notion of Taylor's inconsistent imagery and suggest that Taylor's poems are better understood in the context of his resource materials: texts in Taylor's library and exegetical works of various (chiefly Protestant) commentators. Arguing for specific types of source materials, various critics find Taylor consistent within a particular poetic or religious tradition: Lewalski's Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric on Taylor's use of the traditions of religious meditation; E. F. Carlisle on the “deep structures” of Puritan rhetoric that give form to Taylor's “Puritan poetry” in “The Puritan Structure of Edward Taylor's Poetry”; Norman S. Grabo's Edward Taylor, as well as his introduction to Edward Taylor's Christographia, for the importance of the sermon to Taylor's poetic and the structure of the Preparatory Meditations; Karen E. Rowe's Saint and Singer: Edward Taylor's Typology and the Poetics of Meditation for the influence of scholastic typology, meditations, and sermons on types in Series 2 of Preparatory Meditations.

  11. In Clark, Taylor is the study example. As in Cotton's arguments for the singing of spiritual songs, formulations of exegetical method and “plain style” are crucial to the Puritans' and Taylor's poetics. As a minister, Edward Taylor was acutely aware of the power of verbal relationships within the Bible, of the power of Scripture that interprets Scripture. In commentary on the Puritan exegesis, Clark argues that the exegetical method of the Puritans “echoed their psychology by divesting the scriptural image of its temporal dimension” (“‘The Crucified Phrase’” 287). Divestiture of the temporal bonds of the image is but one step in the “exegetical process” of the poems. The Word in the new context still bears the image of Christ and thus carries the promise of grace to the new context.

  12. Hammond's “biblical metatext” might be said to contain this “spiritual significance.” I wish to focus upon Scripture's special eloquence as the license by which the Puritan poet, and specifically Taylor, may modify the biblical metatext by creating new meaning in new contexts. Additionally, Taylor applies the method of special eloquence to temporal language as well, creating new meaning in nonbiblical tropes and imagery.

  13. “Royal Psalm,” in Die Psalmen, is Hermann Gunkel's classification; see also McCullough 6-7.

  14. Taylor had already written several meditations on Canticles by this time (Meditations I.2-6); verses 8 and 14 echo Song of Solomon 1:3-4. Keach cites Ps. 45:2 in his exposition of the figural “Church compared to a Wife” (689-92): “The Church, and every true believer, by being espoused and married to Christ, the Lord Jesus, hath a near, a dear, a strong, and most precious complacency in Christ; he is more than father, mother, sons, or daughters. ‘He is fairer that the sons of men’ (Ps. 45.2)” (691).

  15. Thomas Taylor cites verse 10 but quotes 13.

    Keach also describes the scriptural use of gold as simile for the Word: “The word of God most gloriously decks and adorns every true Christian, that hath store of it in his heart, in whom it dwells richly. The Church is said to be clothed with wrought Gold; the word of God, and the graces thereof, are doubtless intended thereby” (573). Although Keach does not cite Psalm 45 as one of the source texts, the language of his description echoes this text convincingly.

  16. Scheick best delineates Taylor's views concerning grace and faculty psychology, particularly as they appear in the poetry.

  17. The container images are typical of the Preparatory Meditations, of course, and each container has both a domestic and scriptural source. Scriptural sources for these images are cited in previous paragraphs.

  18. See also Lewalski's discussion of this theme at 176-77.

  19. Karl Keller suggests that Taylor intentionally misuses the Scriptures, confusing the roles of the lawyer and advocate in Meditation I.39. However, Taylor's source of “confusion” is likely Psalm 119. See Keller 110.

  20. “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”

  21. The phrase “heart and reins” appears in Psalms (7, 26, 51, 73), Proverbs (23), and Jeremiah (11, 17, 20).

  22. Rowe indicates that “Taylor's poetic rendering virtually glosses” the typological sermon in his Upon the Types of the Old Testament (66).

  23. See Mather 85-86.

  24. See Keach 974-75; Mather 86. As Gen. 32:28 notes, Israel means “God's prince.”

  25. Neither “gem” nor “gems” appears in the Bible.

  26. See lines 3 and 21.

  27. “Embraced” is sparingly used in the authorized Bible; these verses are the word's first three appearances. Taylor also uses “to embrace,” most often in meditations on Canticles, where the verb also appears (2:6; 8:3).

  28. Rowe discusses the types in this poem (135 ff.).

  29. Rev. 21:23 describes the city, which “had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.”

  30. See Isa. 7:20, for example: “In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the head: and it shall consume the beard.” The razor metaphor is described by both Keach (177) and Thomas Taylor. The latter's definition includes the reference to Isaiah, and he interprets razor to mean “a fierce and cruell enemy, which destroyes and cuts downe all, as a sharpe Rasor shaues and cuts all bare” (389). See also Num. 6:5, Judg. 13:5 and 16:17, 1 Sam. 1:11, and Ps. 52:2.

Works Cited

Ainsworth, Henry. The Book of Psalmes: Englished both in Prose and Metre. Amsterdam, 1621.

Arner, Robert D. “Edward Taylor's Gaming Imagery: ‘Meditation 1.40.’” Early American Literature 4 (1969): 38-40.

———. “Folk Metaphors in Edward Taylor's ‘Meditation 1.40.’” Seventeenth Century News 31 (1973): 6-9.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. Confessions. Translated by J. G. Pilkington. Vol. 14 of The Works of Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, edited by Marcus Dods. Edinburgh: Clark, 1876.

———. De Doctrina Christiana. Translated by Marcus Dods. Vol. 9 of The Works of Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, edited by Marcus Dods. Edinburgh: Clark, 1873.

[The Bay Psalm Book.] The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre. Cambridge, Mass., 1640. Facsimile edited by Zoltán Harastzi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956.

The Bible and Holy Scriptures conteyned in The Olde and Newe Testament. Geneva, 1560. Facsimile edited by Lloyd E. Berry. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969.

Carlisle, E. F. “The Puritan Structure of Edward Taylor's Poetry.” American Quarterly 20 (Summer 1968): 147-63.

Clark, Michael. “‘The Crucified Phrase’: Sign and Desire in Puritan Semiology.” Early American Literature 13 (1979): 278-93.

———. “The Subject of Text in Early American Literature.” Early American Literature 20 (1985): 120-30.

Cotton, John. Preface to The Bay Psalm Book. Cambridge, Mass., 1640. Facsimile edited by Zoltán Harastzi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956.

———. “The Preface to the Bay Psalm Book: Richard Mather's Original Draft in the Boston Public Library, now First Published.” More Books: The Bulletin of the Boston Public Library 4 (1929): 223-29.

———. Singing of Psalmes, a Gospel Ordinance. London, 1650.

Davidson, Edward H. “John Cotton's Biblical Exegesis: Method and Purpose.” Early American Literature 17 (1982): 119-38.

Davis, Thomas M. A Reading of Edward Taylor. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992.

DeLamotte, Eugenia. “John Cotton and the Rhetoric of Grace.” Early American Literature 21 (1976): 49-74.

Emerson, Everett. John Cotton. Boston: Twayne, 1990.

Fithian, Rosemary. “‘Words on My Mouth, Meditations of My Heart’: Edward Taylor's Preparatory Meditations and the Book of Psalms.” Early American Literature 20 (1985): 89-119.

Gelpi, Albert. The Tenth Muse: The Psyche of the American Poet. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975.

Grabo, Norman S. Edward Taylor. New York: Twayne, 1961. Rev. ed., Boston: Twayne, 1988.

Gunkel, Hermann. Die Psalmen. Göttingen: Vandenhocck & Ruprecht, 1926.

Hammond, Jeffrey A. “Reading Taylor Exegetically: The Preparatory Meditations and the Commentary Tradition.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 24 (1983): 347-71.

———. Sinful Self, Saintly Self: The Puritan Experience of Poetry. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993.

Haraszti, Zoltán. The Enigma of the “Bay Psalm Book.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956.

The Holy Bible. Authorized King James Version, 1611.

Keach, Benjamin. Tropologia; A Key to Open Scripture Metaphors, together with Types of the Old Testament. London, 1681. Facsimile reprint. Preaching from the Types and Metaphors of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 1972.

Keller, Karl. The Example of Edward Taylor. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1975.

Lewalski, Barbara Kiefer. Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979.

Mather, Samuel. The Figures or Types of the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Edited by Mason I. Lowance, Jr. 1705; rpt. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1969.

McCullough, W. Stewart. Introduction to Psalms. Vol. 4 of The Interpreter's Bible. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1955.

[The New England Psalm Book.] The Psalms Hymns And Spiritual Songs of the Old and New Testament, faithfully translated into English metre. Edited by Henry Dunster and Richard Lyon. Cambridge, Mass., 1651.

Rowe, Karen E. Saint and Singer: Edward Taylor's Typology and the Poetics of Meditation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Scheick, William J. The Will and the Word: The Poetry of Edward Taylor. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1974.

Schuldiner, Michael. “Edward Taylor's ‘Problematic Imagery.’” Early American Literature 13 (1978): 92-101.

Shucard, Alan. American Poetry: The Puritans through Walt Whitman. Boston: Twayne, 1988.

Stewart, Stanley. George Herbert. Boston: Twayne, 1986.

Taylor, Edward. Edward Taylor's ‘Christographia.’ Edited by Norman S. Grabo. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.

———. Edward Taylor's Minor Poetry: Volume 3 of the Unpublished Writings of Edward Taylor. Edited and with an introduction by Virginia Davis and Thomas M. Davis. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

———. Edward Taylor's Treatise Concerning the Lord's Supper. Edited by Norman S. Grabo. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1966.

———. The Poems of Edward Taylor. Edited by Donald E. Stanford. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960.

Taylor, Thomas. Christian Dictionary Opening the signification of the wordes dispersed generally through [Holie] Scriptures of the Old and New Testament tending to increase Christian knowledge. London, 1612.

Toulouse, Teresa. The Art of Prophesying: New England Sermons and the Shaping of Belief. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

Zim, Rivkah. English Metrical Psalms: Poetry as Praise and Prayer, 1535-1601. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

William J. Scheick (essay date fall 1999)

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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, controversially adapts Roman Catholic history and liturgy.

Throughout the poem the human body is likened to a ship, a metaphor also prominent in Taylor's “Meditation 1.28.” “Meditation 1.30” opens with an image of the human body as “The finest vessell” ever “fram'de” now “ruinde” by its creator's “Enemy” (2, 6). As a result of humanity's “Fall” (7)—also a nautical term referring to a vessel's failure to keep its stern to the wind—everything is “Broke, marred, spoild, undone, Defild [and] doth ly / In Rubbish” (5-6) under the “Hatch betwixt Decks” (4) of the shiplike body. The destruction of the “scutchons” that originally “hung” on a “Wall” (10, 9) below deck is particularly painful to the narrator, who is responsible for the body/vessel granted him by his Lord. These escutcheons bore his Lord's coat of arms, or “the Image of” (10) the Lord. That is, they reflected the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in the triad of reason, will, and affections composing Adam's prelapsarian soul (Scheick 93). These interior blazons demonstrated humanity's original association with the noble entourage of the Lord, but with their dishonorable loss and the resultant destruction wreaked by “th'Divells” (23), not even Angels can “up heave” the narrator's body/ship with “their Heart Strings” (12). This nautical reference to the hulling up of a boat by means of a strong rope refers to the dire straits of the narrator. His body/ship is doomed to sink in the “lopt” (choppy) sea of life unless the Lord intervenes and re-outfits it for the journey.

Restoration of seaworthiness is indeed possible. There is the “stem of Davids stock” (13), Christ, whose sacrificial death is likened to the preparation of timber for such a refurbishment. The narrator images Christ's crucified body as “dry / And shrivled” with “most green […] lopt” (13-14), which alludes to the removal of small branches from a felled tree during the production of lumber; and he images Christ's blood as “sap” and “sovereign Sodder,” providing “Cement” (15, 18) to join the new wood installed above and below deck (the body). “Sill, Plate, Ridge, Rib, and Rafter me with Grace” (28) importunes the narrator as he worries about being a mere “bag” (27) (a nautical term for the lowest part of something). “[H]ang thy saving Grace on ery Pin” (30), he adds, simultaneously referring to the fulcrum seat for oars, pegs securing boards, and nails on which to suspend wall decorations, including escutcheons. He summarizes his petition in the fifth stanza: “Thou Rod of Davids Root, Branch of his Bough / My Lord, repare thy Palace, Deck thy Place.” As the related play on pin and deck suggests, the narrator requests both the re-decking of his ship (the body) and the refurbishment of its interior decor (the soul).

In the penultimate stanza, the narrator's petition for items to be replaced in the renovated “Cabbins” below deck intimates his particular relationship to his Lord. He asks for a “Rich Coate of Male thy Righteousness, / Truths Belt, the Spirits Sword, the Buckler Love / Hopes Helmet, and the Shield of Faith” (38-40). The narrator, we now see, is a warrior prevented from joining his master in battle because his ship and its equipment were destroyed in an earlier (Adamic) skirmish with his Lord's “Enemy.” When he requests that the floor of his quarters below deck be covered “with Orient Grace” (32), the word Orient identifies him as a crusader in need of re-outfitting if he is to participate in his Lord's Holy War (the culmination of the Reformation) as a latter-day Christian knight.

Most important among the items he needs to complete the pilgrimage is the restoration of the “Scutchons of thy Honour” (41). The initial gift of these coat-of-arms shields—the interior trinity of reason, will, and affections making up “the Image of” his Lord—was destroyed. He needs a new set to “make [his] Sign.” By sign the narrator means that these blazons would signify his redemptive association with his Lord's pilgrim entourage (the saints). But here the word surprisingly also refers to the sign of the cross: “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The inclusion of signing during the baptismal ceremony in The Book of Common Prayer was a liturgical site of Puritan objection (Cuming 103), and as a Congregationalist, Taylor would not likely have signed himself. Nevertheless, this Roman and Anglican Catholic practice is faintly inscribed in “Meditation 1.30,” where, oddly, Taylor seems comfortable with it. The allusion to baptismal signing comes naturally at this point in the poem because the reference to the coat-of-arms shields (1) immediately follows the image of “the Shield of Faith” (40) (alluding to Baptism); (2) symbolically represents reason (Father), will (Son), and affections (Holy Spirit); and (3) specifically alludes to the cross adorning the shields and the clothing of medieval crusaders.

The East (Orient), as the desired destination of the crusading narrator, is emphasized in the final stanza of “Meditation 1.30,” which concludes: “New Glory then shall to thyselfe arise.” The imagery here suggests that were the crusader enabled to traverse the turbulent sea of life and meet his Lord in the Holy Land at the end of time, it would be like the Lord greeting himself. That would be so because the crusader, enlightened from within, would bear his Lord's “Sign” (41), the sign of the cross reflecting (like a mirror) its original divine source. The narrator would then enjoy a victory “Garland” (42) as strong as a nautical barrel rope (the martyr's crown promised to medieval crusaders, who believed that eternal life would be the fate of anyone who fell in holy battle against the heathen). The crusader/narrator hopes to participate in the eschatological fulfillment of his Lord's mission in time, which he (like many Puritans) believes will include the conversion of the Jews in the Near East.

In many ways the Reformation rewrote the Renaissance (Shuger 193), and as a Reformed poet, Taylor's use of dramatic monologue appropriates a Renaissance dramatic convention despite expressed Puritan antipathy for the theater. In many ways, too, Protestants rewrote Catholicism (Franchot 3-15), and as a Protestant poet, Taylor's allusions to the crusades, the Knights of Christ, the martyr's crown, and especially the sign of the cross appropriate Roman Catholic matter, even though such “corruption” was anathema to the Puritans.

Works Cited

Cuming, G. J. A History of Anglican Liturgy. London: Macmillan, 1982.

Franchot, Jenny. Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism. Berkeley: U of California P, 1994.

Scheick, William J. The Will and the Word: The Poetry of Edward Taylor. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1974.

Shuger, Debora Kuller. The Renaissance Bible: Scholarship, Sacrifice, and Subjectivity. Berkeley: U of California P, 1994.

Stanford, Donald E., ed. The Poems of Edward Taylor. New Haven: Yale UP, 1960.

Rosemary Fithian Guruswamy (essay date 2003)

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Last Updated on July 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9579

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.

(“Med. 2.128”)

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
          The Worlds bright Eye's dash't out: Day-Light so
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
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.


  1. For a full discussion of the intellectual development of this image cluster, see Jeske 30-33, 47-48.

  2. These critics include Gatta 143; Hammond, Fifty 25; Gelpi 33; and Hambrick-Stowe 55.

  3. Cheryl Oreowicz uses Meditation 1.7 to explain Taylor's spiritual use of alchemical imagery (108).

  4. 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.

Works Cited

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.

Further Reading

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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.

Hass, Robert. “Edward Taylor: What Was He up To?” American Poetry Review 31, no. 2 (March-April 2002): 43-54.

Discusses the surprisingly high quality of Taylor's poetry and the peculiarities of his poetic style.

Lewalski, Barbara Kiefer. Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979, 536 p.

Detailed coverage of the history and criticism of English and American Christian poetry from 1500-1700.

Munk, Linda. “Edward Taylor and the Feast of the Tabernacles.” In The Devil's Mousetrap: Redemption and Colonial American Literature, pp. 70-94. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Discussion of Taylor's contribution to the ongoing Puritan discourse on the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Murphy, Francis. “Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor.” In Columbia History of American Poetry, edited by Jay Parini, pp. 1-15. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Discussion of the early Puritan poetry of Bradstreet and Taylor, including biographical information.

Patterson, Daniel. Introduction to Edward Taylor's Gods Determinations and Preparatory Meditations: A Critical Edition, edited by Daniel Patterson, pp. 1-46. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2003.

Discussion of Taylor's life and career with an overview of the main critical approaches to Taylor's work.

Rowe, Karen E. Saint and Singer: Edward Taylor's Typology and the Poetics of Meditation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986, 341 p.

Book-length study of the heritage of Puritan typology and Taylor's place within that tradition.

Additional coverage of Taylor's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: American Writers; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 24; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-Studied Authors and Poets; Exploring Poetry; Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 11; Literature Resource Center; Reference Guide to American Literature, Ed. 4; and Twayne's United States Authors.

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