Edward Taylor: Physician, Pastor, Poet
The editor, Thomas H. Johnson, who restored Emily Dickinson's poems to the poet's original forms, also enjoys the credit for discovering and making widely known the poetry of Edward Taylor.
Taylor's grandson Ezra Stiles inherited the reverend's literary works. Taylor did not want his poetry to be published, and his grandson abided by that wish. Stiles donated his grandfather's poetry collection to Yale University, where Stile had served as president.
In 1939, Thomas H. Johnson happened upon the collection and sought to publish the important works. Their value was immediately appreciated by the literary world, and Taylor's poems have become an important part of the American canon.
Important Early American Poet
With Anne Bradstreet and Phillip Freneau, Edward Taylor is now deemed one of the first important American poets. According to critic and scholar Thomas H. Johnson, Taylor's library held "only one book of English poetry: Anne Bradstreet's verses."
In The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor, Johnson asserts, "It seems probable that had the poetry of Edward Taylor been published during his lifetime, he would long since have taken a place among the major figures of colonial American literature."
Kinship to Metaphysical Poets
Taylor's poetry reveals a kinship with the Metaphysical poets, such as George Herbert and other late Elizabethans. Johnson found two groups of poems, "God's Determination" and "Sacramental Meditations" in the Yale manuscript. The subject of Taylor's poetry is the love of Jesus Christ, a focus he formed early and maintained his entire life.
In 1722 at age eighty, Taylor wrote his last poem, which still focused on Christ. Taylor often relied on the metaphysical conceit. To dramatize his love of Christ, Taylor creates perfectly unified extended metaphors; for example, a garden emitting the perfumes of foliage, a spinning wheel, a pipe moving liquid. As he progressed in his art, his poetry became more unified, developing one figure at a time.
Challenge to Modern Readers
Reading Taylor may challenge today's readers because of the difference in language use and style. An example is his "Meditation One":
What Love is this of thine, that Cannot bee
In thine Infinity, O Lord, Confinde,
Unless it in thy very Person see,
Infinity, and Finity Conjoyn'd?
What ! hath thy Godhead, as not satisfi'de
Marri'de our Manhood, making it its Bride?
The familiar forms of direct address "thine," "thy," and many altered spellings, and at times even slightly changed meanings cause the modern reader some confusion. Nevertheless, Taylor's poems are precise, and the reader can trust him to be offering the best of his skillful work. With a little effort, the reader will reap much satisfaction from Taylor's poems.
Minister and Physician
Poet Edward Taylor's tombstone avers, "Aged, Venerable, Learned, & Pious Pastor-Served God and his Generation Faithfully for Many Years," a hearty recommendation to future generations.
Edward Taylor served his own generation as a minister in a small church in Westfield, Massachusetts, and he also served this community professionally as a physician. But readers likely would never have heard his name had he not crafted into poetry his personal search for God.
Most Widely Anthologized Poem, “Huswifery”
Edward Taylor’s most anthologized poem is “Huswifery.” This poem offers a useful example of the poet’s style and subject matter.
Make me, O Lord, thy Spining Wheele compleate.
Thy Holy Worde my Distaff make for mee.
Make mine Affections thy Swift Flyers neate
And make my Soule thy holy Spoole to bee.
My Conversation make to be thy Reele
And reele the yarn thereon spun of thy Wheele.
Make me thy Loome then, knit therein this Twine:
And make thy Holy Spirit, Lord, winde quills:
Then weave the Web thyselfe. The yarn is fine.
Thine Ordinances make my Fulling Mills.
Then dy the same in Heavenly Colours Choice,
All pinkt with Varnisht Flowers of Paradise.
Then cloath therewith mine Understanding, Will,
Affections, Judgment, Conscience, Memory
My Words, and Actions, that their shine may fill
My wayes with glory and thee glorify.
Then mine apparell shall display before yee
That I am Cloathd in Holy robes for glory.
Reading of Taylor's "Huswifery"
Edward Taylor - Tombstone - Westfield MA
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes