Edward Taylor Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Edward Taylor is best known today for his poetry. To his congregation at Westfield, Massachusetts, however, he was far better known for his sermons. He did apparently write the moral sequence of thirty-five poems, “God’s Determinations,” as a guide for members of his congregation, who were unable to assure themselves that they had achieved the state of grace. Even so, the Westfield minister did not intend that his poems should ever be published. There is some indication, however, that he did plan to publish some of his sermons, particularly those gathered together by Norman S. Grabo as Edward Taylor’s Treatise Concerning the Lord’s Supper (1966); these eight sermons attack Solomon Stoddard’s liberal position regarding the admission of persons to the Eucharist who were not always certain they possessed the gift of God’s grace.

The fourteen sermons collected, again by Grabo, as Edward Taylor’s Christographia (1962) deal with two major issues: first, that the “blessed Theanthropie,” God’s Son united with man in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, was a necessary condition created by God to redeem the elect among humankind; and second, that this God-man constitutes the perfect model after whom each of the saints should construct his life. These fourteen sermons correspond precisely in subject matter to poems 42 through 56 of the “Preparatory Meditations,” second series. All these published sermons are necessary reading for serious students of Taylor’s poetry; they reveal his public attitudes toward many issues with which he grapples in his private poetry. In 1981, there appeared a three-volume set, The Unpublished Writings of Edward Taylor (Thomas M. Davis and Virginia L. Davis, editors), which includes Taylor’s church records, minor poems, and additional sermons.

In 1977, an extensive holograph manuscript of thirty-six sermons, dating from 1693 to 1706, was recovered. These as-yet-unpublished sermons treat “types”: events, persons, or things in the Old Testament that represent or shadow forth similar events, persons (particularly Jesus of Nazareth), or things in the New Testament. Taylor’s Diary has been published (1964, F. Murphy, editor); he kept this record during his journey to New England and until he located at Westfield, after graduation from Harvard in 1671. The style of the Diary is candid and immediate; one almost shares with Taylor his vividly described seasickness.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

For today’s readers, Edward Taylor’s finest achievement is his poetry. Those of his own time, however, remembered Taylor for his accomplishments as minister and physician to the Westfield, Massachusetts, community. In his edition of Taylor’s poems, Thomas H. Johnson lists an inventory of the poet’s library that includes the titles of several now arcane books on surgery and alchemy. Appropriately enough, the vocabulary of Taylor’s medical practice often makes its way into his poetry.

Perhaps it was this professional versatility that enabled Taylor to construct elaborate metaphysical conceits with such agility. His poems can bear comparison to the work of John Donne, George Herbert, and Andrew Marvell. Indeed, Taylor’s best poems are among the finest composed by an American.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Craig, Raymond A. A Concordance to the Major Poems of Edward Taylor. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008. An important reference work of significant value to anyone studying the poetry of Taylor.

Gatta, John. Gracious Laughter: The Meditative Wit of Edward Taylor. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989. Gatta, an insightful expositor of Taylor’s poetry, opened up a new avenue of inquiry into Taylor’s acknowledged supremacy as a colonial poet, positing his wit as the bridge between his theology and his poetics. Includes comprehensive bibliography.

Grabo, Norman. Edward Taylor. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1988. Biocritical introduction to Taylor’s life and work is an excellent source of explication of Taylor’s aesthetic and theological influences.

Guruswamy, Rosemary Fithian. The Poems of Edward Taylor: A Reference Guide. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003. A bibliography of Taylor’s poems that is part of the Greenwood Guides to Literature series.

Hammond, Jeffrey A. Edward Taylor: Fifty Years of Scholarship and Criticism. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1993. Five chapters examine Taylor scholarship in chronological order, from its beginnings to the later decades of the twentieth century. Includes bibliography and index.


(The entire section is 428 words.)