Concepts of praise and petition in Edward Taylor´s Preparatory Meditations

Seminar Paper, 2005
14 Pages, Grade: 2,3




I The Puritan View on the World and their Idea of God

II Analysing Puritan Concepts of Poetry and the Divine
2.1. The Difficult Situation of the Puritan Poet
2.2. Functions of Meditation / The Origins of the Practice
2.3. Possible Reasons for Taylor writing Meditative Poetry
2.4. A Distinction between Sermon and Meditation
2.5. Taylor´ s Themes and his Inner Conflict (Praise and Petition)
2.6. Questioning Taylor´ s Orthodoxy

III Concluding Remarks regarding the Phenomenon Taylor


My findings pertaining to the concepts of praise and petition in the meditative poetry of Edward Taylor are, for the most part, taken from the work of Norman Grabo[1] and Robert Daly[2]. My paper is exclusively discussing Taylor´ s Preparatory Meditations, a collection of 217 poems, which he wrote during the period from 1682 to 1725. For the purposes of an interesting view on his orthodoxy I consulted the work of Jeffrey Hammond[3]. In my paper I have incorporated the findings of Ursula Brumm[4] to a lesser extent, because her work only deals with Puritan America in general. For additional findings regarding Edward Taylor,

I gathered useful information from A Reading of Edward Taylor by Thomas Davis[5]. In the course of my argumentation I would like to place emphasis on a two-fold conflict, which deeply affected and influenced Taylor´ s meditative poetry: his fear of God (constant petition to purify and safe him) and his joy in the Lord and the divine creations (praise of nature and God). The question of Taylor´ s tendency towards a more unorthodox Puritan stance is only briefly discussed in my paper, but mentioning some findings along that line is justified insofar as it bears a relevance to the concepts of praise and petition in Taylor´ s poetry.

I The Puritan View of the World and their Idea of God

The Puritan view on the world is a sober and, in some ways, fatalistic one. At the beginning of all their spiritual ramifications stands the belief that man has incurred the Lord´ s wrath by his disobedience [Adam´ s fall into sin which is related in the bible]. While living in this continued state of sinfulness, mankind´ s only hope of salvation lies with the mercy of Christ and being granted the Lord´ s grace.[6]

The Puritans saw the world as a book written by the Lord. Furthermore, they were convinced that the use of the three faculties of the soul (memory, understanding and will[7] ), as well as the use of the heart and the affections made it possible to read the presence of God in day-to-day life. This view caused them to spiritualise every image they encountered in the real world. Some of these images were then verbally expressed in meditation. Thus, the Puritans tried to “use the verbal images drawn from objects in the sensible world”[8] ; a process which they thought would “raise the apprehensions and affections to God”[9]. To continuously seek God through his creatures was a moral imperative for them.

The Puritans accepted and lived only by two kinds of revelations: scripture and nature. With the aid of the bible they tried to find God´ s divine presence in nature. Also, to suit this purpose, they developed a systematic approach to finding explanations, which is called typology[10] [the Puritans lived in symbolic world full of types which they saw everywhere and thought them to shadow spiritual things[11] ].

“The world slickt up in types/ in all Choise things chosen to typify”. (Taylor)[12]

Moreover, the Puritans were rooted in the belief of predestination. For them, the world was full of signs, which they believed to be God-sent. They thought that these signs referred to the promises made to them in the Old Testament. By the same token, the Puritans considered the New Testament the fulfilment of these promises and America the Promised Land where

God´ s providence had intended them to start a new life.

Apart from their belief in a divine, providential design, they were caught in the conflict of believing the world evil (in accordance with the tradition of contempus mundi[13] ) or viewing it as a graceful revelation of the maker. Both concepts are possibly what Taylor tried to express in his poetry. Taylor, on the one hand, felt that the body imprisoned the soul, which desperately craved release, and on the other hand, wanted to believe that God “had invested the world with meaning”[14]. It was the Lord´ s truth Taylor wanted to understand. He attempted to read the invisible mystery of God in the visible works. The Puritans were clearly convinced that God had created an intelligible universe[15].

II An Analysis of Puritan Concepts of Poetry and the Divine

2.1. The Difficult Situation of the Puritan Poet

So, why was the situation of the Puritan poet so difficult? Possibly, such a dire situation was occasioned by the fact that writing during the time of the Puritans was not about fancy language. Writing only served the purpose of educating the mind and the religious improvement of the faithful Puritan community.[16] And although the Puritans were not averse to poetry as a means to exercise the mind, they maintained that, for the most part, the mind should be occupied with religious subjects[17] and the welfare of the community. Such as the situation was, this attitude seems reasonable. The Puritans were among the first Europeans to settle an unknown continent where the conditions of life in the wilderness were unsure and daily threats to the community by the American natives a commonplace occurrence[18]. In any case, the Puritans rejected the idea that writing should be done just for its own sake. Poetry was only to be written in the context of meditation on religious subjects. This explains why Taylor almost exclusively treats dogmatic topics, which are often likened to common natural occurrences or household chores.

A conflict which contributed to the difficult situation of the Puritan poets was the uncertainty whether they committed the sin of idolatry by trying to recreate an image of God, so as to worship him in their writings; or whether their creation of poetry could not also be seen as John Cotton, a noted Puritan, put it - the result of the divine seed at work in every man.[19] The Geneva Bible [1582, 1601, 1616] defined idolatry as the sin to worship or create an idol of God, but it was not considered a sin to copy natural objects, which was, what the Puritan poets eventually did. However, they linked these natural objects or occurrences to the presence of God in the real world.

Another way of reinforcing the legitimacy of verse-writing was to argue that the preacher who wrote “careful poetry”[20] [which supposedly had a salvic function] not for recreation, but for the purpose of sharpening his senses and enhancing his style, was permitted to do so; for such a practice prepared him well for a more important performance – the preaching of sermons. A sermon had to feature plain style due to the assumption that silken language would darken the understanding of the average audience that did not concern itself with poetical language.

“Silken Language sutes not those who are cloathed in Sackcloth.”[21]

As hinted at by this statement, the Puritans believed that high style was unlikely to lead to the humility required for conversion[22]. Therefore, rhetoric was only valued as some kind of ornament to a self-evident truth[23] by means of which the glory of God in the world could be perceived, but not recreated. God alone had the privilege to create, whereas a poet could only perceive the Lord´ s greatness and articulate it.


[1] Grabo, Norman. Edward Taylor – Revised Edition, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.

[2] Daly, Robert. God´ s Altar: the World and the Flesh in Puritan Poetry, Berkeley: U of CA Press, 1978.

[3] Hammond, Jeffrey. Edward Taylor: Fifty Years of Scholarship, Columbia USA: Camden House, 1993.

[4] Brumm, Ursula. Puritanismus und Literatur in Amerika, Darmstadt: wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1973.

[5] Davies, Thomas. A Reading of Edward Taylor, Newark: U of Delaware Press, 1992.

[6] Brumm, 13.

7 Daly, 72.

[8] Daly, 45.

[9] Daly, 45.

[10] Daly, 44.

[11] Daly, 69-70.

[12] Daly, 70.

[13] Daly, 44.

[14] Daly, 61.

[15] Daly, 62.

[16] Brumm, 25

[17] Brumm, 27

[18] Brumm, 26

[19] Daly, 41.

[20] Daly, 41.

[21] Davies, 80.

[22] Davies, 80.

[23] Daly, 50.

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Concepts of praise and petition in Edward Taylor´s Preparatory Meditations
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Stefanie Deutzer (Author), 2005, Concepts of praise and petition in Edward Taylor´s Preparatory Meditations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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