Edward Taylor: 1642?-1729
- Relatively little is known about his life
- Born in Leicestershire, England to a yeoman farmer
- Might have been educated at Cambridge
- Around 1668, he was (possibly) dismissed from teaching school for refusing to sign a loyalty oath to the Church of England that asserted the king was the head of the church
- 1668: Immigrates to New England and enrolled at Harvard, where he stayed for three years
- 1671: Graduates and takes on minister position in rural and remote Westfield, MA, where he would remain for the rest of his life
- At this time, the founders’ energy and sense of mission had been diminished by death, sectarian struggle, and the colony’s expansion
- 1674: Marries Elizabeth Fitch, who has eight children, three of whom survive to adulthood
- Served as minister, physician, farmer, teacher, disciplinarian for community, spiritual guide
- Strict observer of the “old” New England way: Demanded a public account of conversion before admission to church membership and the right to take communion
- 1674-1676: King Philip’s War; Taylor refuses to leave the community
- 1689: First wife dies; he remarries in 1692 and has six more children
Criticism and Interpretation:
- Did not publish during his lifetime; but did collect over 400 pages of verse in carefully hand-bound letter volumes, discovered in Yale’s library in 1937
- Sheer volume of poems reveals his fascination with language, and the individual’s reaction to religious experience
- “Nothing previously discovered about Puritan literature had suggested that there was a writer in New England who had sustained such a long-term love affair with poetry” (Baym 341).
- Works include: God’s Determinations…, Preparatory Meditations, A Metrical History of Christianity (21,000 lines), other occasional verses
- Preparatory Meditations (two series of 217 poems begun in 1682 and continued for 43 years)
- Importance of being prepared for the sacrament; involved examining the soul for signs of grace which involved a state of active self-abandonment and utter passivity
- Poems illustrate a kind of “holy violence” necessary to purge the sinful, doubting, stubborn, contaminated self
- Poems reflect the metaphysical school of poetry; Uses metaphysical conceit as a focus for literal and poetic meditation
- Use of a disciplined, even caged and controlled verse form
- Each meditation disciplines the mind by formally squeezing theological complexities into a flexible stanza and rhyme scheme, yet also allows for a release of spiritual affections through images and metaphors
- He was a man trying to understand a miracle—to come to grips with the incomprehensible
- All earthly things are analogues to things in heaven
- Confronted this dilemma: “How can I write myself into self-effacement? And once abjected, how can I possibly fulfill my religious/poetic obligation which is to sing God’s praises?” (Castillo 309).
- “Nothing less than his eternal life…depended upon the answer to these literary questions” (309).
- Taylor’s problem as a Puritan is to demonstrate to himself over and over again that he is one of the elect
- Puritan aesthetic—very operation of language reveals the divine
- Taylor’s aesthetic dilemma—how can I, a fallen man, represent God’s infinity—was finally inseparable from his spiritual pursuit of salvation
Baym, Nina, editor. The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Volume A. NY: W.W. Norton and Company, 2003.
Castillo, Susan and Ivy Schweitzer, editors. The Literatures of Colonial America: An Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Books, 2001.
Web site to visit: http://webpages.shepherd.edu
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