The Poem

“Innocence” is a medium-length poem with sixty lines divided into five parts, each containing three rhyming four-line stanzas (quatrains). It follows an intricate metrical pattern and rhyme scheme. The first three lines of the beginning stanza of each part are in iambic pentameter, while the shorter fourth line is in iambic tetrameter. These first stanzas rhyme aabb. The second stanzas in each of the five parts of the poem are entirely in iambic tetrameter and rhyme abab (words such as “love” and “remove,” which occur in the second stanza of part 2, were pronounced so that they rhymed in the seventeenth century). The first, third, and fourth lines of the third stanzas of each part of “Innocence” are in iambic tetrameter, with the second lines being in iambic trimeter. They also rhyme abab.

“Innocence” is the fourth poem in a sequence of thirty-seven, known as the Dobell poems in honor of the man who first published the manuscript containing them. In the preceding three poems, Traherne describes how new and marvelous everything seemed in infancy and childhood, in the Eden-like world that God had prepared for him. In “Innocence” he elaborates upon what most thrilled him as a child—as he states in part 1, that “I felt no Stain, nor Spot of Sin.” The title thus refers to the state of innocence that the speaker enjoyed then and to which he desires to return now as an adult. Speaking from the authority of personal experience, the poet expresses wonder at the completely natural and spontaneous state of joy he experienced in his childhood. All he...

(The entire section is 657 words.)

Forms and Devices

Traherne is one of the so-called Metaphysical poets, a loose grouping of seventeenth century poets who imitated the dazzling poetic innovations of John Donne. Donne’s poetry, a poetry of aspiration, was noted for its exuberant rhythms, striking verbal displays, surprising imagery, and artistic intelligence. For Donne, a poem was “a naked thinking heart”—it was an expression of an intense fusion of thought and feeling. Traherne’s poem exhibits the energy and flair of Metaphysical poetry generally. It makes a convincing presentation, through universal light/dark metaphors, penetrating paradoxes, and bold imagery, of a more holistic state of being.

Light imagery is present in parts 1, 4, and 5 and is associated with the felicitous state of childhood innocence. Light is both the literal light that shone in Eden and the symbolic light of pure goodness, in contrast to the darkness of guilt and evil. Paradoxically, this benign light filled even the nighttime, for Traherne says that “the very Night to me was bright.” It is as if his mind was fully enlivened by blissful awareness even when sleeping. Perhaps the most stunning image in the poem is that of the boy in the bubble, the “Adam in a Sphere/ Of Joys.” The picture of a little Adam floating joyously in a soap bubble conveys memorably the sense of wonder and freedom that epitomize Traherne’s conception of childhood.

An underlying paradox in the poem is parallel with an idea...

(The entire section is 516 words.)