Academic journal article Journal of Evolutionary Psychology

Edward Taylor and Michael Wigglesworth: Reconciling the Divine and the Mundane in the Preparatory Meditations and the Day of Doom

Academic journal article Journal of Evolutionary Psychology

Edward Taylor and Michael Wigglesworth: Reconciling the Divine and the Mundane in the Preparatory Meditations and the Day of Doom

Article excerpt

In literary studies, there have been various questions that have remained unanswered for years or, at least, which have not been answered satisfactorily. Often, these questions involve the historical context of the writer and his work. Some questions can be answered through a study of the historical context of the writer and his work. Some questions can be answered through a study of the context, the influences on the writer, etc., but some questions do not yield to this analysis. The early American poets, Edward Taylor and Michael Wigglesroth are a good case in point. Since Taylor's work was initially offered to the public in 1935, readers have found his imagery unusual and even offensive because he often joins together in his metaphors the divine with the mundane or even the crude as in Meditation 8, first series when he writes that"Gods Tender Bowells run/ Out streams of Grace" (18). Such an image remains disconcerting no matter how much we understand the practices of the metaphysical poets and the plain styleof the Puritan ministers. Further, readers have often reacted similarly to the meter in Michael Wigglesroth's famous poem The Day of Doom. In that poem, the most widely read poem in the colonies, the poet presents the divine truths of Puritanism in ballad meter, trotting fourteeners, which seem unsuited to the divine level of his topic. The result is a disconcerting diparity between subject and meter. The most obvious explanation for Wigglesworth's use of the ballad meter is that ballad meter is easy to memorize, and the poem was memorized by many, but this is not a totally satisfactory answer because it does not directly address the disparity between meter and the content. Thus, the questions. "Why does Taylor use his imagery?" and "Why does Wigglesworth use ballad meter?", require a different point of view or a deeper analysis than that which can be provided by a study of history and the literary influences on the poet. This point of view can be provided by psychoanalysis through both a study of the pertinent historical context in which the writers produced their works and the content of the works themselves. This approach will allow us to more fully answer the questions about Edward Taylor's metaphors and explain why Michael Wigglesworth found ballad meter suitable for his long poem.

As we noted, Edward Taylor's extensive Preparatory Meditations were not discovered until 1935. However, his work was an instant sensation, for he was quickly perceived to be the best among the limited group of American Puritan poets. Still while he was being proclaimed the best Puritan poet, his readers also found his imagery and language to be more graphic than they expected for a Puritan minister and poet. It was clear that Taylor was writing in the manner of the English Metaphysical poets, religious writers with whom he was probably familiar, but in his poetry, he seemed to take positive delight in yoking together the divine and the crude. Indeed many of his initial modern readers found his metaphysical conceits heretical and irreligious (Black, 159-181, Blau, 337-360, Johnson, 290-322 and Lind, 518-530). A more contemporary critic, Kathleen Blake pointed out that Taylor has been charged with straining the link between the terms being compared" (4). Again, Alan Lander MacGregor writing in American Literature explained the nature of Taylor's metaphors so that the metaphors, the yoking of the divine and the crude, which seems to be beyond ordinary appreciation, are "consumed in the ritual celebration of metaphor which ends with the destruction of all metaphors, save God's master trope" (358). In short, Taylor's metaphors continue to puzzle his critics who attempt to explain them or explain them away. However, if we bring the tools of psychohistory and psychoanalytic literary criticism to bear on the question of Taylor's metaphors, we can better understand understand why he created the metaphors he did, and hence, our appreciation of them will be greater. …

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