Thomas Traherne and Edward Taylor : their mystical quest

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1968

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Edward Taylor and Thomas Traherne, both seventeenth-century religious poets whose concepts of reality seem to be defined by the term "mysticism," parallel each other in their mystical quests for Ultimate Reality. Most critical examinations concerning Taylor, however, have concentrated mainly on his association with the metaphysical poetry of his day. Though recognized by Norman S. Grabo, Taylor's relationship through mysticism with his contemporary, Traherne, has never been fully researched or explained. Therefore, this study has been made in order to trace some apparently similar manifestations of mysticism in Traherne's Centuries of Meditations and companion poems and in Taylor's Preparatory Meditations and Christographia. After a brief analysis of the slight physical parallels in the lives of Traherne and Taylor, which attempted to show the absence of a cause and effect relationship between their physical and mystical lives, the investigation focused primarily on the finding of four stages of mystical development--as outlined by Evelyn Underhill and other writers on mysticism--in the works of the two poets. Varying degrees of the stages of awakening, purgation, spiritual exercise, and union were discovered in the works considered. Parallels between the stages of development of Traherne and those of Taylor were outlined, while the lack of similarities was also noted. Finding evidence of the four stages of mystical development in their work seems to place Traherne and Taylor in the tradition of Christian mysticism; moreover, the intellectual content of their poetry and prose based on spiritual experiences puts both poets in a special category with other mystics of love and union. Strains of Roman Catholic mysticism appear in the authors' works, but this fact does not jeopardize either Traherne's Anglicanism or Taylor's Congregationalism. The Catholic tone of their mystical works comes, in part, from their employment of a literary and devotional form called "meditation." In conclusion, while both poets used the meditative form, Taylor and Traherne--because they appear to achieve the highest goal of the mystical quest: union--go beyond the restrictions of this meditative form and occupy related places in the history of Christian mysticism.

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