contemplativeinquiry

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Tag: Thomas Traherne

POEM: WALKING

Poem by seventeenth century Anglican mystic Thomas Traherne, whose life will be celebrated tomorrow, 10 October.

To walk abroad, is not with Eys

But Thoughts, the Fields to see and prize;

Els may the silent Feet,

Like Logs of Wood,

Mov up and down and see no Good,

Nor Joy nor Glory meet.

Ev’n Carts and Wheels their place do change,

But cannot see, tho very strange

The Glory that is by;

Dead Puppets may

Move in the bright and glorious Day,

Yet not behold the Sky.

And are not Men than they more blind,

Who having Eys yet never find

The Bliss in which they mov;

Like statues dead

They up and down are carried,

Yet neither see nor lov.

To walk is by a Thought to go;

To mov in Spirit to and fro;

To mind the Good we see;

To taste the Sweet;

Observing all the things we meet

How choice and rich they be.

To note the Beauty of the Day,

And golden Fields of Corn survey;

Admire the pretty Flow’rs

With their sweet Smell;

To prais their Maker, and to tell

The Marks of His Great Pow’rs.

To fly abroad like active Bees,

Among the Hedges and the Trees,

To cull the Dew that lies

On evry Blade,

From evry Blossom; till we lade

Our Minds, as they their Thighs.

Observ those rich and glorious things,

The Rivers, Meadows, Woods and Springs,

The fructifying Sun;

To note from far

The Rising of each Twinkling Star

For us his Race to run.

A little Child these well perceivs,

Who, tumbling among Grass and Leaves,

May Rich as Kings be thought.

But there’s a Sight

Which perfect Manhood may delight,

To which we shall be brought.

While in those pleasant Paths we talk

‘Tis that tow’rds which at last we walk;

But we may by degrees

Wisely proceed

Pleasures of Lov and Prais to heed,

From viewing Herbs and trees.

Denise Inge (ed.) Happiness and Holiness: Thomas Traherne and His Writings Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008 (Canterbury Studies in Spiritual Theology)

POEM: WONDER

10 October is dedicated to the 17th century Anglican mystic Thomas Traherne. Here are the first three verses of his poem, ‘Wonder’, where he sees the world through the eyes of a child. He seems never to have lost this capacity, and this was a factor in his mysticism.

How like an Angel came I down!

How bright are all things here!

O how their GLORY me did Crown?

The World resembled his Eternitie,

In which my Soul did Walk;

And evry Thing that I did see,

Did with me talk.

 

The Skies in their Magnificence,

The Lively, Lovely Air;

Oh how Divine, how soft, how Sweet, how fair!

The Stars did entertain my Sence,

And all the Works of GOD so Bright and pure,

So rich and Great did seem,

As if they ever must endure,

In my esteem.

 

A Native Health and Innocence

Within my Bones did grow,

And while my GOD did all his Glories show,

I felt a Vigour in my Sence

That was all SPIRIT. I within did flow

With Seas of Life, like Wine;

I nothing in the World did know,

But ‘twas Divine.

 

From: Happiness and Holiness: Thomas Traherne and his Writings edited by Denise Inge Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008

THOMAS TRAHERNE DAY

Two months ago I wrote a about Thomas Traherne (1), pointing out an unexpected resonance between this seventeenth century English clergyman and the ideas of Douglas Harding (2). Only later did I discover that such parallels had already been noted – particularly by Alan Mann (3) and also The Incredible String Band, way back in the 1960’s (4).

Thanks to Alan Mann, I subsequently found my way to the Thomas Traherne Association (5) and attended the Traherne’s Day Celebrations on 10 October at Hereford Cathedral. These were built around a choral Evensong followed by a lecture. The speaker was the Revd Dr Paul Fiddes, Professor of Systematic Theology at Oxford University. Prof Fiddes has a particular interest in the relations between theology and literature, and his topic was The Poetics of Desire in Thomas Traherne and C. S. Lewis.

Lewis admired Traherne, especially the Centuries of Meditations, though he felt that Traherne was insufficiently concerned with original sin and too ready to find heaven in the here and now. For Traherne wrote that every person “is alone the Centre and Circumference of [Infinity]. It is all his own, and so Glorious, that it is the Eternal and Incomprehensible Essence of the Deitie.” (6). He also wrote at the time when the Royal Society was founded and what we now call Science became respectable. Traherne followed progress with the telescope and microscope and the worlds they were beginning to reveal. Perhaps such developments and the inquiries they opened up encouraged him to write the lines:

“Heaven surely is a State and not a Place

To be in Heaven’s to be full of Grace.

Heaven is where’re we see God’s face.” (6)

and

“This busy, vast, enquiring Soul

Brooks no Controul,

No limits will endure,

Nor any Rest: It will all see

Not Time alone, but ev’n Eternity”. (6)

At the same time, Prof. Fiddes’ lecture showed how Lewis was at one with Traherne in apprehending a God who is present in human imagination and creativity – Traherne’s words being, “for God hath made you able to Creat Worlds in your own mind, which are more Precious unto Him that those which He created”. Perhaps reflections like this freed Lewis’ own imagination in his fiction:

“Each grain is at the centre. The dust is at the centre. The Worlds are at the centre. The beasts are at the centre. The ancient peoples are there. The race that sinned is there… Blessed be He! Where Maleldil is, there is the centre. He is in every place … Because we are with him, each, each of us is at the centre … there seems no centre because it is all centre … “(7)

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! … This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.” (8)

It was C.S. Lewis who helped Douglas Harding find a publisher for The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth and wrote the introduction to it. My knowledge of this link was a prompt to attend the Traherne Day lecture, though I might have gone any way. I was brought up in the Church of England, and C.S. Lewis had a place in my imaginative hinterland. So did metaphysical poetry (though not especially Traherne’s), before I parted ways. I enjoyed Evensong last Monday, especially hearing the choir. Whilst feeling no pull to re-communicate, I felt very much at peace both with the aspect of heritage and that of spiritual community. This was a blessing in itself, and I am grateful for the occasion and to the people who made it happen.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/seeing-thomas-traherne

(2) headless.org

(3) capacitie.org

(4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK2m7rYjZ54

(5) thomastraherneassociation.org

(6) Denise Inge (ed.) Happiness and Holiness: Thomas Traherne and his writings Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008

(7) C.S. Lewis, Perelandra London: Bles, 1943

(8) C.S. Lewis The Last Battle London: Collins, 1956

(9) Douglas Harding The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth: a new diagram of man in the universe London: Faber and Faber, 1952 (Introduction by C.S. Lewis)

 

SEEING: THOMAS TRAHERNE

“Will you see the Infancy of this sublime and celestial Greatness? Those Pure and Virgin Apprehensions I had from the Womb, and the Divine Light wherewith I was born, are the Best unto this Day, wherein I can see the Universe …. They are unattainable by Book, and therefore I will teach them by experience.” (1)

‘Unattainable by Book’ was fighting talk  in seventeenth century England. What sort of person was using this language? Thomas Traherne (1636-74) was the son of a prosperous Hereford shoemaker – big house, numerous resident apprentices.  He grew up during the civil war (1642-49) and England’s  republican experiment (1649-1660) in a naturally royalist area. He entered Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1652 (16 being a normal age at the time) under a strictly Puritan head, took  a BA in 1656 and was appointed minister at the Herefordshire Parish of Credenhill by the Commissioners for the Approbation of Public Preachers in 1657. As soon as Charles II returned to England Traherne arranged to be ordained as Credenhill’s Anglican vicar, developed strong links with the renewed life of Hereford Cathedral, and also found time to be Chaplain to Sir Orlando Bridgeman, Charles’ Lord Privy Seal. A modern commentator (1) describes Traherne as “distinguished from his seventeenth century peers by the fact that he is blissfully untroubled by the tensions, doubts, anxieties that (we are repeatedly told) mark the age in general”.

Traherne is best remembered as a mystic, and his reputation has strengthened over the last century. His diction is of his time, but in the culture of the English language his note seems that of a later age, whilst ultimately timeless.

“Your Enjoyment of the World is never right, till evry Morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your father’s Palace: and look upon the Skies and the Earth and the Air, as Celestial Joys: having such a Reverend Esteem of all, as if you were among the Angels …

“You never Enjoy the World aright, til the Sea itself floweth in your Veins, till you are clothed with the Heavens, and Crowned with the Stars: and perceiv yourself to be the Sole Heir of the whole World: and more then so, becaus Men are in it who are evry one Sole Heirs, as well as you….

“Till you are intimately Acquainted with that Shady Nothing out of which the world was made … you never Enjoy the World.”

I’ve enjoyed Traherne for some years. A highly committed Christian, he breaks through formalistic theology, as if drinking directly from a Divine spring. I’ve appreciated him as a kind of Romantic panentheist, from before the time when either term came into use. Now I’m reading him as a Seer as understood in the Headless Way, and I have a clearer focus – the previous one was already fine, but a little fuzzy. Traherne’s human account of Seeing is embedded in time, place and tradition – as is mine. At another level – one awakened joy.

(1) Thomas Traherne Poetry and Prose London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002. (Selected and introduced by Denise Inge for the series The Golden Age of Spiritual Writing)

 

 

 

 

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