Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 615

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Although Traherne belongs among the Metaphysical poets, he is among those Metaphysicals more accurately termed meditative or contemplative poets. “The Salutation” best fits the contemplative poem designation, for its speaker does not engage in a disciplined, structured meditation for the purpose of self-improvement. Instead, he turns his attention to objects outside himself in order to cultivate a sense of wonder and praise their existence. For its effect, the poem depends upon the reader’s ability to share his profound sense of naïve wonder when viewing his own existence and that of the external world.

Although the speaker assumes a kind of quiescent pre-existence of the soul, this theme is more subdued than in other Traherne poems, such as “Wonder” and “Shadows in the Water.” The speaker views himself as having existed beneath dust and chaos for thousands of years, as having been nothing. Such a minimal conception of pre-existence heightens the wonder by contrasting the speaker’s state with the richness and diversity of life on earth. Through identifying himself with dust and nothingness, the speaker magnifies his existence.

Like many lyrics, this one belongs among those that praise external nature and contemplate Dame Kind, with a view toward belonging or uniting with nature, as the more conventional mystic seeks unity with God. The poem attempts to portray all being as miraculous—a source of contemplation—and it conveys Traherne’s own sense of wonder at the mystery of life. It follows his assumption that to praise and celebrate creation, to unite with it, is somehow to possess it. Contemplation, an individual act, enables him to view the world as created for man the individual, and the speaker seems to realize that only through contemplation can he experience a truth of this kind: “The Sun and Stars are mine; if those I prize.”

The wonder and mystery that the speaker celebrates are made partially understandable through his grasp of divine purpose, a canon of faith with the speaker. The speaker can believe that everything was created by God not merely for man as a species but also for himself as an individual. Thus one finds in the poem a mystical version of Protestant individualism. Instead of the more common Puritan version in which the anxiety-ridden individual considers himself the center of a powerful drama of God and Satan struggling for his soul, with the outcome in doubt, Traherne presents the drama of the individual celebrating and seeking union with a totally benign creation, serenely assured that all is directed by God.

In an anthropocentric perspective, he views all of creation as a preparation for his own existence. Resorting to the myth of creation, the speaker depicts the world as an Eden prepared by God for a single soul and as evidence that he has been chosen as God’s heir. In this Eden one finds no trace of the Fall, no evidence of fallen nature, only a fair creation prepared by God for man’s benefit. The speaker naïvely expresses his own response to the strangeness in the form of a concluding paradox:

But that they mine should be, who nothing was,That Strangest is of all, yet brought to pass.

In addition to celebrating the wonders of creation, the poem focuses on the drama of the individual soul. Just as he perceives no evidence of the pain and suffering of life, the speaker feels little unease regarding his own salvation. Yet as God’s heir he must play his part in the mythic Eden of creation. Salvation is an individual matter, and the speaker appears to find a key element as one involving optimistic praise and identification of the self with creation.