For over two hundred years America’s finest poet of the seventeenth century was unknown. Edward Taylor, born around 1642 in England during the Puritan domination, spent his childhood and young adult life to age 24 in his homeland, venturing in 1668 to the new country—New England.
Immediately upon his arrival to the new country, he entered Harvard University. Three short years later Edward Taylor graduated from Harvard University and accepted a call to minister to the town of Westfield, Massachusetts. It would be in this little frontier town of Westfield, Massachusetts that Edward Taylor would spend the rest of his life. He died in 1729 serving God and the people of Westfield, Massachusetts.
Edward Taylor was a very intellectual man and he took that intellect with him to that wilderness town helping to build defenses against Indians, civil disorder, diseases, heresy and the apostasy of liberal church reformers like Solomon Stoddard of Northampton. Taylor’s life found its awareness and focal point in things of the spirit rather than things of the world. Taylor studied and meditated on things of the Lord for over 40 years. From 1682 to 1725, Taylor studied the mysteries of the Lord’s Supper. Holy Communion was something that Taylor found great mystery in and he studied upon the mystery of the sacrament putting his words into 217 long dramatic poems of a narrative nature called “God’s Determinations.” These preparatory mediations were of great importance to Taylor and he took great effort to make these writings devotional in nature. Taylor vehemently applied imagery and English meter to his poems.
Although he poured his heart and soul into these works the majority of them were unpublished until the late 1930’s. Thomas Johnson discovered the manuscript, which was in the possession of the Yale University Library, and he recognized the importance of this manuscript as a great literary masterpiece.
Edward Taylor’s poems show us that even the most traditional, very orthodox purest Puritan could paint a picture in the form of poetry. For Edward Taylor this form of writing was pure worship of the Lord. Edward Taylor saw the beauty and mystery of God’s hand in all of humankind and all of nature and wrote about it. In his “Treatise Concerning the Lord’s Supper,” written 1694 he urges that all “meditate upon the feast…its causes, its nature, its guests, its dainties, its reason, and ends: and its benefits, etc. For it carries in its nature and circumstances an umbrage, or epitomized draught of the whole grace of the gospel.” Edward Taylor held the sacrament universal as a focal point for almost everything he wrote. Edward Taylor considered the sacrament pure and holy and celebrated it often.
Edward Taylor’s best known and perhaps most often quoted or cited poem is “Huswifery.” Edward Taylor argued that to participate in the Lord’s Supper they must have an appropriate “wedden garment.” Which he paralleled with the wedding feast of the kings son from Matthew 22:12 saying “It’s such a rich web that only the gospel markets afford; it’s such a web that is only wove in the looms of the gospel, nay, and a richer web and better huswifery it gets not up.” From “Huswifery,” he writes, “Make me O Lord, Thy spinning wheel complete. Thy holy Word my distaff make for me . . .Make me Thy loom then, knit therein this twine . . . then clothe therewith mine understanding, will, affections, judgment, conscience, memory; my words and actions, that their shine may fill my ways with glory and Thee glorify…that I am clothed in holy robes for glory.”
Some of Edward Taylor’s more known works include:
· Upon a Spider Catching a Fly
· The Ebb and Flow
· Upon Wedlock and Death of Children
· God’s Determination
· Preparatory Meditations
Edward Taylor had written several verse elegies for many New England public figures showing himself as a master of colonial poetry in this particular form that showed many feelings prominent to the seventeenth century way of existence in a new land. “In heaven soaring up, I dropt an ear on earth: and oh! Sweet melody!… As travelers afoot: and so do trace the road that gives them right thereto; while in this coach these sweetly sing as they to glory ride therein.” (God’s Determination)