In the contemplative lyric “The Salutation,” Thomas Traherne celebrates the wonder of life through the eyes of a first-person speaker who has only recently become aware of life’s gifts. The lyric consists of seven regular six-line stanzas, forty-two lines total. What begins as a celebration of existence becomes by the end a religious poem in praise of the Creator.
In the first stanza, the speaker addresses parts of his physical body—limbs, eyes, hands, and cheeks—to inquire why they were originally hidden from him. Where, he asks rhetorically, was his speaking tongue? The questions imply a common theme in Traherne’s poetry: the pre-existence of the soul. He implies that the parts of his body have also been hidden from consciousness, that they too have been in existence. Thus what is celebrated is in one sense not pre-existence but a newly acquired mental awareness of existence.
In the second stanza, the speaker acknowledges that his pre-existence was unconscious, that he remained thousands of years beneath the dust in “Chaos” and now welcomes his lips, hands, eyes, and ears as newly discovered treasures. Acknowledging in the third stanza that he has been nothing, the speaker also welcomes sensory pleasures as joys he has discovered and experienced. Stanza 4 lauds the richness of these joys, comparing them metaphorically to gold and pearls. To the speaker it appears that human joints and veins contain more wealth than all the...
(The entire section is 440 words.)