The Poem

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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 rest of the world.

Stanza 5 represents a major change of emphasis, a pivotal point in the lyric, for the speaker who has celebrated his sensory pleasures now reflects upon them as gifts from God. From nothingness, the speaker has arisen into a world of greater objects and substances—earth, seas, sky, day, sun, and stars. All of these, he declares, become his—presumably because he celebrates them, reflects upon them, and admires them.

In stanza 6, the speaker expresses his conviction that God has prepared all the wonders of the world for his existence and that all creation serves him. Mythically like an Eden, wide and bright, the world created for the speaker brings with it an assurance that God has adopted the speaker as his son and heir, that he has received title to a great legacy.

In the final stanza, the speaker rejoices in the novelty of his existence, the strangeness of all things outside himself that were created for him. The world is “fair,” its contents “Treasures” and “Glories.” The greatest wonder is that all was created for one who once was nothing. The speaker thus celebrates the Creator through praise of the creation and through his understanding of its purpose.

Forms and Devices

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Among the poem’s most creative conventions is the introduction of the first-person speaker. In the first stanza, reference to his “Speaking Tongue” suggests that he has just begun speaking, like an infant who has become aware of his own body and senses and is struck with wonder at their power. The speaker does not remain at that stage, however; he quickly develops a sense of his being and of mental categories (abstractions) such as time. He is able to admire the universe outside himself and to discern the purpose of its creation. Optimistically finding everything created pleasant and good, he celebrates the Creator through celebrating creation. Throughout his development, the speaker maintains a tone of naïve and innocent wonder as he celebrates himself, the world, its purposes, and the Creator. Thus, Traherne presents a developing intellect from childhood to maturity, but the speaker retains the child’s sense of wonder and optimism throughout. In his Eden there is neither a serpent...

(This entire section contains 405 words.)

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nor a Fall; the fictive speaker’s mind develops and expands without any awareness of guilt and sin.

Each of the poem’s six-line stanzas, rhyming ababcc, exhibits an unusual metrical pattern: two iambic feet in line 1, four in line 2, five in line 3, three in line 4, and five in lines 5 and 6. Traherne also uses repetition to create emphasis and conviction. In the final stanza, the word “strange,” or one of its variants, occurs six times, employing the schemes of repetition called “ploce” and “polyptoton.” The device creates a tone of incantation that urges acceptance of the poem’s message.

The poem’s diction is simple, even plain, reminiscent of the Puritan plain style of the seventeenth century. Adjectives such as little, fair, bright, glorious, and wide are typical of the poem’s simple and basic vocabulary. Nouns, on the other hand, suggest biblical origins of the plain style and add to the religious and elemental emphasis created by the poem: God, Eden, dust, gold, glories, joys, eternity, chaos, abyss. The rich imagery is dominated by sight images, some quite general, others specific and vivid. Earth, seas, light, and day contrast with the more specific gold, pearl, cheeks, and limbs.

Figures of speech seem conventionally chosen in order to make abstract ideas more concrete or to heighten the reader’s sense of value. The limbs of boys, for example, become sacred treasures, and the world as prepared by God becomes a glorious store.