Glorious 17th Century: March 2003 Archives

A Puritan Poem


Today a Puritan Poem of rare loveliness. Edward Taylor has nearly completely vanished from the poetry scene in any course you might take. One leaps from Anne Bradstreet, or more likely Phillis Wheatley to Freneau and William Cullens Bryan without so much as a toe dipped into the richness of the Puritan poetic tradition, and it is a shame for such lovely lyrics to be lost because we're afraid of a bit of that "old-time religion." So without further ado:

"Prologue" from Preparatory Meditations
Edward Taylor

Lord, Can a Crumb of Dust the Earth outweigh,
     Outmatch all mountains, nay, the Crystal sky?
Embosom in't designs that shall Display
     And trace into the Boundless Deity?
     Yea, hand a Pen whose moisture doth guide o'er
     Eternal Glory with a glorious glore.

If it its Pen had of an Angel's Quill,
     And sharpened on a Precious Stone ground tight,
And dipped in liquid Gold, and moved by Skill
     In Crystal leaves should golden Letters write,
     It would but blot and blur, yea, jag, and jar
     Unless Thou mak'st the Pen, and Scrivener.

I am this Crumb of Dust which is designed
     To make my Pen unto Thy Praise alone,
And my dull Fancy I would gladly grind
     Unto an Edge of Zion's Precious Stone.
     And Write in Liquid Gold upon Thy Name
     My Letters till Thy glory forth doth flame.

Let not th' attempts break down my Dust, I pray,
     Nor laugh Thou them to scorn but pardon give.
Inspire this crumb of Dust till it display
     Thy Glory through't: and then Thy dust shall live.
     Its failings then Thou'lt overlook, I trust,
     They being Slips slipped from Thy Crumb of Dust.

Thy Crumb of Dust breathes two words from its breast,
     That Thou wilt guide its pen to write aright
To Prove Thou art, and that Thou art the best
     And show Thy Properties to shine most bright.
     And then Thy Works will shine as flowers on Stems
     Or as in Jewelry Shops, do gems.

c. 1682

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Today's Offering of Poetry


From George Herbert, whom I do not like so well as some of his contemporaries, but for whom affection increases with each successive reading.

Love (I)
George Herbert

Immortal Love, author of this great frame,
Sprung from that beauty which can never fade,
How hath man parcel'd out Thy glorious name,
And thrown it on that dust which Thou hast made,
While mortal love doth all the title gain!
Which siding with Invention, they together
Bear all the sway, possessing heart and brain,
(Thy workmanship) and give Thee share in neither.
Wit fancies beauty, beauty raiseth wit;
The world is theirs, they two play out the game,
Thou standing by: and though Thy glorious name
Wrought our deliverance from th' infernal pit,
Who sings Thy praise? Only a scarf or glove
Doth warm our hands, and make them write of love.

Talk about the cold, closed, tight nature of the human heart--all the glory of creation around us and "Only a scarf or glove/Doth warms our hands, and make them write of love." Not love itself, which we reject by a myriad of motions and notions, but cloth which we manufacture. Love lights no fire in us and we trudge along obediently seeking to serve, but not really seeking to love.

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Poetry Averse, Beware!


Please pardon the length of the following poem, but it seemed to have a really nice Lenten Theme, and I could not figure out where best to truncate it if I were to present an excerpt. Besides, the lines are short, the form is narrative, and Anne Bradstreet is always worth the investment of time.

The Flesh and the Spirit
Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672)

              In secret place where once I stood
              Close by the Banks of Lacrim flood,
              I heard two sisters reason on
              Things that are past and things to come.
              One Flesh was call'd, who had her eye
              On worldly wealth and vanity;
              The other Spirit, who did rear
              Her thoughts unto a higher sphere.
              "Sister," quoth Flesh, "what liv'st thou on
            Nothing but Meditation?
            Doth Contemplation feed thee so
            Regardlessly to let earth go?
            Can Speculation satisfy
            Notion without Reality?
            Dost dream of things beyond the Moon
            And dost thou hope to dwell there soon?
            Hast treasures there laid up in store
            That all in th' world thou count'st but poor?
            Art fancy-sick or turn'd a Sot
            To catch at shadows which are not?
            Come, come. I'll show unto thy sense,
            Industry hath its recompence.
            What canst desire, but thou maist see
            True substance in variety?
            Dost honour like? Acquire the same,
            As some to their immortal fame;
            And trophies to thy name erect
            Which wearing time shall ne'er deject.
            For riches dost thou long full sore?
            Behold enough of precious store.
            Earth hath more silver, pearls, and gold
            Than eyes can see or hands can hold.
            Affects thou pleasure? Take thy fill.
            Earth hath enough of what you will.
            Then let not go what thou maist find
            For things unknown only in mind."
           "Be still, thou  unregenerate part,
           Disturb no more my settled heart,
            For I have vow'd (and so will do)
            Thee as a foe still to pursue,
            And combat with thee will and must
            Until I see thee laid in th' dust.
            Sister we are, yea twins we be,
            Yet deadly feud 'twixt thee and me,
            For from one father are we not.
            Thou by old Adam wast begot,
            But my arise is from above,
            Whence my dear father I do love.
            Thou speak'st me fair but hat'st me sore.
            Thy flatt'ring shews I'll trust no more.
            How oft thy slave hast thou me made
            When I believ'd what thou hast said
            And never had more cause of woe
            Than when I did what thou bad'st do.
            I'll stop mine ears at these thy charms
            And count them for my deadly harms.
            Thy sinful pleasures I do hate,
            Thy riches are to me no bait.
            Thine honours do, nor will I love,
            For my ambition lies above.
            My greatest honour it shall be
            When I am victor over thee,
            And Triumph shall, with laurel head,
            When thou my Captive shalt be led.
            How I do live, thou need'st not scoff,
            For I have meat thou know'st not of.
            The hidden Manna I do eat;
            The word of life, it is my meat.
            My thoughts do yield me more content
            Than can thy hours in pleasure spent.
            Nor are they shadows which I catch,
            Nor fancies vain at which I snatch
            But reach at things that are so high,
            Beyond thy dull Capacity.
            Eternal substance I do see
            With which inriched I would be.
            Mine eye doth pierce the heav'ns and see
            What is Invisible to thee.
            My garments are not silk nor gold,
            Nor such like trash which Earth doth hold,
            But Royal Robes I shall have on,
            More glorious than the glist'ring Sun.
            My Crown not Diamonds, Pearls, and gold,
            But such as Angels' heads infold.
            The City where I hope to dwell,
            There's none on Earth can parallel.
            The stately Walls both high and trong
            Are made of precious Jasper stone,
            The Gates of Pearl, both rich and clear,
            And Angels are for Porters there.
            The Streets thereof transparent gold
            Such as no Eye did e're behold.
            A Crystal River there doth run
            Which doth proceed from the Lamb's Throne.
            Of Life, there are the waters sure
            Which shall remain forever pure.
            Nor Sun nor Moon they have no need
            For glory doth from God proceed.
            No Candle there, nor yet Torch light,
          For there shall be no darksome night.
          From sickness and infirmity
          Forevermore they shall be free.
          Nor withering age shall e're come there,
          But beauty shall be bright and clear.
          This City pure is not for thee,
          For things unclean there shall not be.
          If I of Heav'n may have my fill,
          Take thou the world, and all that will."

This City pure is not for thee/for things unclean there shall not be. . . This speaks to me so profoundly because it echoes a strain of St. John of the Cross. He notes that God is simple (from Aquinas) and therefore cannot dwell with duplicity. Thus, if we set our hearts on the things of this world, we create a barrier to union with God because "you cannot love both God and Mammon." Thus the heart must be simple, set on one things alone--God as the Desire of Ages, the Heart of Hearts, the center and perfection of Love, the pinnacle of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Come to think of it, why would we desire anything less?

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This page is a archive of entries in the Glorious 17th Century category from March 2003.

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