Edward Taylor

Edward Taylor



Edward Taylor

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


Works Cited
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.


Source: http://webpages.shepherd.edu/hhanraha/courses/eng204/204notes/edwardtaylor.doc

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Edward Taylor


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Edward Taylor



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Edward Taylor