The traditions or movements in poetry that was currently going on back over in England were metaphysical poetics of John Donne, George Herbert, books like that. This poem is an example of this kind of metaphysical poetry. The characteristics of this kind of poem are its use of strong language from images, powerful images. Sometimes a bit jarring and also strange kind of comparisons. 'Torturing one poor word ten thousand ways" is the way Dryden describes the metaphysical poets in a later era. Looking back we find this same sort of thing in Edward Taylor.
I kening through Astronomy DivineSo he is looking out at the sky and sees a path from Godís Heaven to his door, and there is a basket of bread which is the Bread of Life. Remember that Galileo had recently been excommunicated for his Astronomy, which was more natural and less Divine.
The Worldís bright battlement, wherein I spy
A Golden Path my Pencil cannot line,
From that bright Throne unto my Threshold ly.
And while my puzzle thoughts about it pour,
I find the Bread of Life inít at my door.
When that this bird of Paradise put inThis stanza refers to original sin, the Total deprevity part of TULIP. The Bird of Paradise is the soul which is kept inside the prison of the body. It is rather Greek image. Some ancient Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul so it was a divine spark which was then imprisoned in the lump of clay that was the body, and they longed for the day that they would be free of it. So in the opposition between the body and soul, last time we saw that the body is the evil twin of the soul. Now the body is the cage and the soul is the bird that is enclosed in the cage. Something else is also affecting the bird, original sin. He lost his ability to eat the divine food and so he was hungry in a severe famine.
This Wicker Cage (my Corpse) to tweedle praise
Had pecked the Fruit forbade: and so did fling
Away its Food; and lost its golden days;
It fell into Celestial Famine sore:
And never could attain a morsel more.
Alas! alas! Poor Bird, what wilt thou do?If you go out and look at corn, wheat, deer, is this food for the soul? No, you can eat it but it wonít feed the soul, it just feeds the body. The soul cannot feed on the food that animals feed on or even on the food that feeds the physical side.
The creaturesí field no food for Souls eíer gave.And if thou knock at Angelsí doors they showAngels donít have soul food. You canít go to Heaven and ask for a cup of bread or divine flour. He is twisting and looking at this idea of the Bread of Life from various angles.
An Empty Barrel: they no soul bread have.Alas! Poor Bird, the Worldís White Loaf is done.There is nothing for him to feed on. But then we find Godís grace intervene.
And cannot yield thee here the smallest Crumb.
In this sad state, Godís Tender Bowels runThis is an image you might not want to visualize. What Taylor is saying is that God is overflowing in His love and mercy toward us. This is the irresistible grace area of TULIP.
Out streams of Grace.
Out streams of Grace.And He to end all strifeGod took his own son to make Bread of Life for us. Taylor is pushing the limits of the image as metaphysical poets tend to do. This is the atonement area of TULIP:
The Purest Wheat in Heaven His dear-dear son
Grinds, and kneads up into this Bread of Life.Taylor is saying that God has provided. This is also the atonement area. Since there was no provision to overcome sin, God made provision.
Which Bread of Life from Heaven down came and stands Disht on Thy Table up by Angelsí Hands.
Did God mold up this Bread in Heaven, and bake,Jesus is now the sugar cake of life. By this, Taylor is saying that he is better than just regular breads he is like sugar loaf. Taylor is trying to see how far he can push the image before it breaks down.
Which from His Table came, and to thine goeth?
Doth He bespeak thee thus, This Soul Bread take.
Come Eat thy fill of this thy Godís White Loaf?
Itís Food too fine for Angels, yet come, take.
And Eat thy fill. Itís Heavenís Sugar Cake.
What Grace is this knead in this Loaf? This thingHere is another aspect of metaphysical poetry, as well as other kinds of poetry. That is the tendency to rearrange the syntax. Souls are but petty things to admire it. Instead of saying this, Taylor says "Souls are but petty things it to admire". When you are reading this poetry if you want to understand it, you have to stop and say, "O.K. whatís the verb; whatís the subject; whatís the object; how would this flow in normal English ?" Then once you understand what the sentence would normally read, you can start to appreciate what Taylor is doing with the sentence by rearranging it.
Souls are but petty things it to admire.
Yee Angels, Help: This fill would to the brim
Heavíns whelmed-down Crystal meal Bowl, yea and higher.
This Bread of Life dropped in thy Mouth, doth Cry:
Eat, Eat me, Soul, and thou shalt never die.
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Edited by Group 1, English 303-02 Winter Quarter 1998.