Edward Taylor's Poetry


Taylor's poems, in leather bindings of his own manufacture, survived him, but he had left explicit instructions that his heirs should never publish any of his writings and the poems remained all but forgotten for more than 200 years.[3] In 1937 Thomas H. Johnson discovered a 7,000-page quarto manuscript of Taylor's poetry in the library of Yale University and published a selection from it in The New England Quarterly. The appearance of these poems, wrote Taylor's biographer Norman S. Grabo, "established [Taylor] almost at once and without quibble as not only America's finest colonial poet, but as one of the most striking writers in the whole range of American literature."[4] His most important poems, the first sections of Preparatory Meditations (1682–1725) and God's Determinations Touching His Elect and the Elects Combat in Their Conversion and Coming up to God in Christ: Together with the Comfortable Effects Thereof (c. 1680), were published shortly after their discovery. His complete poems, however, were not published until 1960, by Donald E. Stanford. His poetical work has been defined as Metaphysical, although others have preferred to particularize it as "American Baroque”.[5]

Taylor's poems were an expression of his deeply held religious views, acquired during a strict upbringing and shaped in adulthood by New England Congregationalist Puritans, who during the 1630s and 1640s developed rules far more demanding than those of their co-religionists in England. Alarmed by a perceived lapse in piety of those in his congregation, he concluded that professing belief and leading a scandal-free life were insufficient for full participation in the local assembly. To become communing participants, "halfway members" were required to relate by testimony some personal experience of God's saving grace leading to conversion, thus affirming that they were, in their own opinion and that of the church, assured of salvation.[6] This requirement, expressed in the famous Halfway Covenant of 1662, was readily embraced by Taylor, who became one of its most vocal advocates.[7]

Taylor's poems are marked by a robust spiritual content, conveyed by means of homely and vivid imagery derived from everyday Puritan surroundings and glorifying the Christian experience. Written in conjunction with his sermons, his "Meditations" each explore scriptural themes and passages, often showing Taylor's own deep understanding of doctrine, as well as his struggle with some of the contradictions within strict Puritanism.[8] His poetry is full of his expression of love of God and of his commitment to serve his creator amid the isolation of rural life. "Taylor transcended his frontier circumstances," biographer Grabo observed, "not by leaving them behind, but by transforming them into intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual universals."[9]

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