The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Huswifery,” written in the late seventeenth century, is perhaps the best known work of Edward Taylor’s poetic canon. It is meditational in form, one of several periodic exercises designed to place Taylor in a correct spiritual posture for communion with Christ, literally through the Lord’s Supper and metaphysically through a spiritual union brought about by faith. Almost always religious, Taylor’s poetry is influenced by the great English Metaphysical poets John Donne, George Herbert, and Richard Crashaw. Like them, he joined disparate fields of experience and often offered bizarre juxtapositions of images.

“Huswifery” takes its unusual rural imagery not only from the primitive location of Taylor’s pastorate but also from his memories of his boyhood home in England, where he earned a living from the soil and perhaps sheared and spun wool as part of his daily labor. In his early youth, Taylor may also have been employed in the weavers’ shops of the nearby town of Hinckley.

Stanza 1 implores God to use Taylor as His spinning wheel and to provide a holder for the flax of faith in the words of Holy Scripture. Taylor breaks down the weaving image further by associating functions of the parts of the spinning wheel with various human characteristics. His affections become the “flyers” (revolving arms which twist the wool into yarn); the soul is the spool which collects the thread; and conversation is seen as the reel which...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Huswifery” may be placed in a category of emblematic poetry—collections in which engravings or woodcuts of moral symbols or types were printed with a motto or a series of short verses. Although the poem is grammatically simplistic, it revolves around a complex metaphysical conceit, the art of clothes making. Taylor’s three stanzas (a Trinitarian reference) break down the conceit, extending the meaning by an analytic comparison of its parts. Thus Taylor first portrays the spinning of the yarn, then the weaving of a fabric on a loom, and finally the construction and completion of a finished garment or robe. Other rhetorical devices used by Taylor are polyptoton, the repetition of a word functioning as different parts of speech (for example, “reel” in lines 5 and 6 as both a noun and a verb), and ploce, a core or base word modified by various affixes (for example, “glory” becomes “glorify” in line 16 and returns to its original form in line 18).

Rhyme in the six-line stanzas follows an ababcc pattern, with some near rhyme illustrated in the use of “memory” and “glorify” (lines 14 and 16) and “choice” and “paradise” (lines 11 and 12). Taylor also utilizes syntactical inversions (“my conversation make,” line 5) and stylistically parallels Old English alliterative verse by maintaining a caesura or pause at the middle of each line.

Since Taylor has been known to use anagrams and acrostics in his verse, some mention should also be made of the first and last letters in each line. The letters m, t| A, and e occur consistently and may be rearranged to form the words “team” and “mate,” suggesting the symbolic joining of God and man that is mirrored in the text.

Although there is an occasional roughness in Taylor’s word choice and awkward rhyming, the colloquial diction often attains the cosmic meaning desired by the author. It symbolizes the joining of the sinner with the Savior, the eventual union of the elect with Christ, and the predestination of all saints, no matter how lowly, to transcendent glory.