Biography of Edward Taylor
Edward Taylor was born in Leicestershire, England in 1642. He originally worked as a school teacher, but later left England for the United States. He studied divinity at Harvard and then became a minister in Massachusetts.
The son of a non-Conformist yeoman farmer, Taylor was born in 1642 at Sketchley, Leicestershire, England. Following restoration of the monarchy and the Act of Uniformity under Charles II, which cost Taylor his teaching position, he emigrated in 1668 to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in America.
Early Days in America
He chronicled his Atlantic crossing and early years in America (from April 26, 1668, to July 5, 1671) in his now-published Diary. He was admitted to Harvard College as a second year student soon after arriving in America and upon graduation in 1671 became pastor and physician at Westfield, on the remote western frontier of Massachusetts, where he remained until his death.
Taylor, a New England Puritan, worked as a minister for sixty years. During that time wrote a great deal of poetry and has become known as one of the best writers of the Puritan times. His poetry has a pious quality and emphasis is given to self examination, particularly in an individual's relations to God. His works were not published until 1939 - over two years after his death. One collection was edited by Donald E. Stanford who commented:
"Taylor seems to have been endowed with most of those qualities usually connoted by the word puritan. He was learned, grave, severe, stubborn, and stiff-necked. He was very, very pious. But his piety was sincere. It was fed by a long continuous spiritual experience arising, so he felt, from a mystical communion with Christ. The reality and depth of this experience is amply witnessed by his poetry."
A custom of Taylor's was to write a poem (or 'Meditation') before each Lord's Supper. Important themes in his work included: his adoption of the Biblical David as his model for the poet; the concept of poetry as an act/offering of ritual praise; distinctions between the godly and ungodly; God's power as Creator; and God's voice as that which speaks truly and which man's voice merely an echo at best.
Taylor's poems, in leather bindings of his own manufacture, survived him, but he had left instructions that his heirs should "never publish any of his writings," and the poems remained all but forgotten for more than 200 years. In 1937 Thomas H. Johnson discovered a 7000-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." 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 Conversation 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. He is the only major American poet to have written in the metaphysical style.
Family and Death
He was twice married, first to Elizabeth Fitch, by whom he had eight children, five of whom died in childhood, and at her death to Ruth Wyllys, who bore six more children. Taylor himself died on June 29, 1729.
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Edward Taylor Poems
Upon A Wasp Chilled With Cold
The bear that breathes the northern blast Did numb, torpedo-like, a wasp Whose stiffened limbs encramped, lay bathing In Sol's warm breath and shine as saving,
I Am The Living Bread: Meditation Eight:...
I kening through Astronomy Divine The Worlds bright Battlement, wherein I spy A Golden Path my Pensill cannot line,
Ebb And Flow
When first Thou on me, Lord, wroughtest Thy sweet print, My heart was made Thy tinder-box, My 'ffections were Thy tinder in't,
Preparatory Meditations - Second Series:...
(Canticles 6:13. Return, oh Shulamite, Return, Return) My dear, dear Lord, I know not what to say: Speech is too coarse a web for me to clothe
Make me, O Lord, Thy spinning-wheel complete. Thy holy word my distaff make for me. Make mine affections Thy swift flyers neat
Infinity, when all things it beheld In Nothing, and of Nothing all did build, Upon what Base was fixt the Lath wherein
Upon A Spider Catching A Fly
Thou sorrow, venom Elfe: Is this thy play, To spin a web out of thyselfe To Catch a Fly?
Preparatory Meditations - Second Series:...
(Canticles 6:10. Who is She that Looks Forth as the Morning, Fair as the Moon, Clear as the Sun, Terrible as an Army with Banners)
Second Series Canticle 1: 12: While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof. Oh! thou, my Lord, thou king ...
Prologue From Preparatory Meditations Be...
Lord, can a crumb of dust the earth outweigh, Outmatch all mountains, nay the crystal sky? Imbosom in't designs that shall display
The Joy If Church Fellowship Rightly Att...
In heaven soaring up, I dropped an ear On earth: and Oh, sweet melody: And listening, found it was the saints who were
Preface To God's Determinations Touching...
Infinity, when all things it beheld In Nothing, and of Nothing all did build, Upon what base was fixed the lath wherein
Upon Wedlock, And Death Of Children
A Curious Knot God made in Paradise, And drew it out inamled neatly Fresh. It was the True-Love Knot, more sweet than spice
Preparatory Meditations - First Series: ...
My sin! My sin, my God, these cursed dregs, Green, yellow, blue-streaked poison hellish, rank,
Ebb And Flow
When first Thou on me, Lord, wroughtest Thy sweet print,
My heart was made Thy tinder-box,
My 'ffections were Thy tinder in't,
Where fell Thy sparks by drops.
Those holy sparks of heavenly fire that came
Did ever catch and often out would flame.
But now my heart is made Thy censer trim,
Full of Thy golden altar's fire,