Biography of Thomas Traherne
He was born in Hereford, son of a shoemaker, and educated at Hereford Cathedral School and Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1652, achieving an MA in arts and divinity nine years later. After receiving his degree in 1656 he took holy orders and worked for ten years as a parish priest in Credenhill, near Hereford. In 1667 he became minister at Teddington and private chaplain to Sir Orlando Bridgeman, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal to Charles II. He died at Bridgeman's house at Teddington on or about 27 September 1674 and is buried in St Mary's Church under the reading desk.
Traherne was an inconsequential literary figure during his life, whose works were unappreciated until long after his death. He led a humble, devout life, largely sheltered from the literary community. Only one of his works, Roman Forgeries (1673), was published in his lifetime. Christian Ethicks (1675) followed soon after his death, and later A Serious and Patheticall Contemplation of the Mercies of God (1699); but after that much of his finest work was lost, corrupted or misattributed to other writers.
His poems have a curious history. They were left in manuscript and presumably passed with the rest of his library into the hands of his brother Philip. They then apparently passed into the possession of the Skipps family of Ledbury, Herefordshire. When the property of this family was dispersed in 1888 the value of the manuscripts was unrecognised, for in 1896 or 1897 they were discovered by W. T. Brooke on a street bookstall. Alexander Grosart bought them, and proposed to include them in his edition of the works of Henry Vaughan, to whom he was convinced the writings belonged. He left this task uncompleted, and Bertram Dobell, who eventually secured the manuscripts, discerned that the author had attended Oxford University. He was then able to establish the authorship of Thomas Traherne.
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Thomas Traherne Poems
One star Is better far Than many precious stones; One sun, which is by its own luster seen,
But that which most I wonder at, which most I did esteem my bliss, which most I boast, And ever shall enjoy, is that within I felt no stain, nor spot of sin.
In Making Bodies Love Could Not Express
In making bodies Love could not express Itself, or art, unless it made them less. O what a monster had in man been seen, Had every thumb or toe a mountain been!
As in the house I sate, Alone and desolate, No creature but the fire and I, The chimney and the stool, I lift mine eye
1 Sin! O only fatal woe,
Shadows In The Water
In unexperienced infancy Many a sweet mistake doth lie: Mistake though false, intending true; A seeming somewhat more than view;
A learned and a happy ignorance Divided me From all the vanity, From all the sloth, care, pain, and sorrow that advance
That Childish Thoughts Such Joys Inspire
1 That childish thoughts such joys inspire, Doth make my wonder, and His glory higher,
A Serious And Pathetical Contemplation O...
For all the mysteries, engines, instruments, wherewith the world is filled, which we are able to frame and use to thy glory. For all the trades, variety of operations, cities, temples, streets, bridges, mariner's compass, admirable picture, sculpture, writing, printing, songs and music; wherewith the world is beautified and adorned.
An Hymn Upon St. Bartholomew's Day
What powerful Spirit lives within! What active Angel doth inhabit here! What heavenly light inspires my skin, Which doth so like a Deity appear!
His Power Bounded, Greater Is His Might
His Power bounded, greater is in might, Than if let loose, 'twere wholly infinite. He could have made an endless sea by this, But then it had not been a sea of bliss.
A Life Of Sabbaths Here Beneath
1 A life of Sabbaths here beneath! Continual jubilees and joys!
In Salem Dwelt A Glorious King
1 In Salem dwelt a glorious King, Raised from a shepherd's lowly state;
News from a foreign country came, As if my treasures and my joys lay there; So much it did my heart inflame, 'Twas wont to call my soul into mine ear;
Is better far
Than many precious stones;
One sun, which is by its own luster seen,
Is worth ten thousand golden thrones;
A juicy herb, or spire of grass,
In useful virtue, native green,
An em'rald doth surpass,
Hath in 't more value, though less seen.