Thomas Traherne Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

The reputation of Thomas Traherne (truh-HURN) is based primarily on his religious works, both in poetry and prose. His treatises include Roman Forgeries (1673); Christian Ethicks (1675); and the meditation Centuries of Meditations (1908). His works have been collected as The Works of Thomas Traherne (2005-2009).


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Thomas Traherne is usually categorized with the seventeenth century Metaphysical poets, although his poetry lacks the quality of wit that characterizes John Donne’s and George Herbert’s work. His poetry is religious and philosophical and bears closest comparison with that of Henry Vaughan, to whom it was attributed when first discovered in a London bookstall in 1896. Plato is the ultimate source of Traherne’s thinking, both in verse and prose, and his works demonstrate his reading of many other writers in the Platonic tradition, including Saint Augustine, Saint Bonaventure, Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and the Cambridge Platonists. Scholars have generally judged Traherne to be more interested in philosophy than poetry. Perhaps as a consequence, his prose works have received more critical attention than his poetry, especially Centuries of Meditations, a devotional work in the Anglican tradition of Lancelot Andrewes and Donne. Christian Ethicks, published the year after Traherne’s death, was the only systematic treatise intended for the educated English layman to appear in the thirty years following the Restoration. Because of the attention he paid to infant and childhood experiences and the importance he ascribed to them in the development of an understanding of divinity, Traherne has been suspected of the Pelagian heresy (which denies the doctrine of Original Sin). His name is frequently linked with such Romantic poets as William Blake and William Wordsworth, who also praised childhood innocence as the state in which humans are most closely in touch with the eternal.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Blevins, Jacob. An Annotated Bibliography of Thomas Traherne Criticism: 1900-2003. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2006. This bibliography focuses on critical works analyzing Traherne.

_______, ed. Re-reading Thomas Traherne: A Collection of New Critical Essays. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2007. This volume contains nine well researched essays that take a modern approach to the reading of Traherne’s poetry and prose, making it more relevant in the twenty-first century.

Cefalu, Paul. “Infinite Love and the Limits of Neo-Scholasticism in the Poetry and Prose of Thomas Traherne.” In English Renaissance Literature and Contemporary Theory: Sublime Objects of Theology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Cefalu finds elements of neo-Scholasticism and Aristotelianism in Traherne’s writings, especially his poetry, rather than mysticism and Neoplatonism.

Day, Malcolm M. Thomas Traherne. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Day’s study of Traherne’s meditations and poems focuses on his use of abstraction, paradox, and repetition to evoke in his readers a sight of eternity unlike the childlike vision earlier critics described in his work. Day provides a biographical chapter, thoughtful analyses of Traherne’s work, a chronology, and an annotated select bibliography.

De Neef, A. Leigh. Traherne in Dialogue: Heidegger, Lacan, and Derrida. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1988. De Neef’s study investigates the applicability to Traherne’s work of three popular theories, with their themes of being, psychic identity, desire, and “the discursive economy of supplementarity.”

Inge, Denise. Re-examining the “Poet of Felicity”: Desire and Redemption in the Theology of Thomas Traherne. London: University of London Press, 2002. Examines the religious views of Traherne as revealed in his poetry and prose.

_______. Wanting Like a God: Desire and Freedom in Thomas Traherne. London: SCM Press, 2009. Inge examines two important concepts in the poems of Christian poet Traherne, who argues that want is the very essence of God’s being.

Johnston, Carol Ann. “Thomas Traherne’s Yearning Subject.” In John Donne and the Metaphysical Poets, edited by Harold Bloom. Rev. ed. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2010. Examines the religious poetry and writing of Traherne, focusing on want and yearning.

Sluberski, Thomas Richard. A Mind in Frame: The Theological Thought of Thomas Traherne (1637-1674). Cleveland, Ohio: Lincoln Library Press, 2008. A biography that examines Traherne’s religious beliefs through his writings.