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Brief Lecture Notes on Edward Taylor (c. 1642-1729)

. It is important to remember that Taylor did not write his poems for publication; rather, he used them as aids to meditation and as preparation for giving communion to his congregation.  Also, he drew heavily on typology as a means to express his ideas. Before considering the ideas below, read the page on Puritan Meditation Tradition and on Typology. For more information than is contained on this brief page, see the texts listed in the Selected Bibliography on Edward Taylor.
. Types of Imagery (from Norman Grabo) Six types of images recur.

1) Images of writing, including remarks on rhetoric, metaphor, and duty. Often, these images open the Meditations, and images of music/musical instruments close them.

2) Images of warfare, especially the "assault of the fort of life" replete with soldiers, scouts, generals, bombardments, etc.

3) Images of metallurgy: mining, trying ore, distilling, minting, all of which suggest purification, testing, trying for purity; removal of impurities; alchemical transformation from one state to another.

4) Images of gardens and vegetation: formal knots, flowers, medicinal herbs (apothecary shop), grain, brewing.

5) Images of feasting and communion: wedding feast as union of man and God.  This was the nexus of Taylor's faith; Christ's blood as drippings from roast, wine, etc.

 6 ) Images of spinning and weaving ("huswifery") (Karen E. Rowe)

All of these are conventional in devotional literature and emblem books but the details are different.

. Taylor's poetic method:

 1. Begins with depiction of man's fallen estate, original sin, his own sins. 
 2. Depicts Christ and redemptive power; vision of elect.
 3. Concludes with a plea to Christ (hope).
 4. Final lines state that he will sing the praises of Christ (compose verses in His honor) if he is among the elect.  Taylor typically uses images of debasement in referring to his own lines.

Notice that Taylor, like Bradstreet, frequently uses the "Venus and Adonis" form (stanzas consisting of six lines of iambic pentameter rhyming ababcc) that permits questioning in the quatrain and an answer or conclusion in the couplet. 

. Common tropes used by Taylor (from Donald Stanford)

1.Synecdoche: A special kind of metonymy in which the part stands for the whole or the whole for the part. Synecdoche may involve substituting the part for the whole, species for genus, whole for part, or genus for species.
2. Metonymy: The substitution of the name of an object closely associated with the word for the word itself. Example: The White House.
3. Amplification: The device of reinforcing a proposition by the piling up (called "augmenting")  of specific repetitious detail, often in depicting the glory of God or Christ. 

  • The contrast of this is "diminishing," also called meiosis or "abasing a matter": the repetitious use of pejorative terms. 
  • Augmenting and diminishing were considered a single device (amplification). Taylor sometimes mixes metaphors in using this device.
 4. Paradox, often expressed by puns.
 5. Ploce:  The repetition of words. 
 6. Polyptoton: The repetition of a single word root in different inflectional forms. tinged/tinctured
 7.  Metaphysical conceit: 
  • A comparison, often elaborate, extended, or startling, between objects which are apparently dissimilar. 
  • An intricate or far-fetched metaphor which functions through arousing feelings of surprise, shock, or amusement.  In metaphysical conceits, the spiritual qualities or functions or the described entity are presented by means of a vehicle that shares no physical features of the entity.
  • Samuel Johnson first used the term "metaphysical poets" in 1744: "Discordia concors: The combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike--yoked by violence together."
  • T. S. Eliot: "The elaboration of a figure of speech to the farthest stage to which ingenuity can carry it."
Metaphysical poets
  • John Donne (1572-1631)
  • George Herbert (1593-1633)
  • Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)
  • Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)
Comments to D. Campbell.