What Was He Up To?
EDWARD TAYLOR'S POEMS—I think the story is by now well known— were discovered in a bound manuscript book in Yale University Library in the middle of the 1930s by a scholar named Thomas Johnson. Taylor had died in the village of Westfield, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1729. His tombstone said he was eighty-seven years old. He had arrived in the Massachusetts colony sixty-one years before, in 1668, when the entire English settlement in the New England forests consisted of something between twenty and thirty thousand souls and the village of Westfield not much more than a hundred. Johnson published a few of Taylor's poems in an antiquarian journal in 1937. A first book of the poems, The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor, followed in 1939, after which poets and scholars began to read him and write about him. In 1960—just between the publications of Robert Lowell's Life Studies and John Ashbery's The Tennis Court Oath—Donald Stanford's The Poems of Edward Taylor put all of Taylor's major poems before American readers. It was a somewhat belated literary debut.
It was also an imposing, rather startling body of work. At the center of it was a sequence of 219 poems, written from 1682 to 1724, from the time Taylor was forty years old until he was eighty-two, entitled “Preparatory Meditations before my Approach to the Lords Supper. Chiefly upon the Doctrin preached upon the Day of administration. ” There was also an ambitious long poem on Calvinist doctrine, made out of thirty-six indi-