Monday, February 9, 2009

Thomas Traherne's Centuries of Meditations: Favorite Quotes

"Certainly Adam in Paradise had not more sweet and curious apprehensions of the world, than I when I was a child.

"All appeared new, and strange at the first, inexpressibly rare, and delightful, and beautiful. I was a little stranger which at my entrance into the world was saluted and surrounded with innumerable joys. My knowledge was divine: I knew by intuition those things which since my apostasy, I collected again by the highest reason. My very ignorance was advantageous. I seemed as one brought into the estate of innocence. All things were spotless and pure and glorious: yea, and infinitely mine, and joyful and precious. I knew not that there were any sins, or complaints, or laws. I dreamed not of poverties, contentions, or vices. All tears and quarrels were hidden from mine eyes. Everything was at rest, free, and immortal. I knew nothing of sickness or death or exaction; in the absence of these I was entertained like an angel with the works of God in their splendour and glory; I saw all in the peace of Eden; Heaven and earth did sing my Creator's praises, and could not make more melody to Adam, than to me. All time was eternity, and a perpetual Sabbath. Is it not strange, that an infant should be heir of the world, and see those mysteries which the books of the learned never unfold?

"The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold. The gates were at first the end of the world, the green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me; their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things. The men! O what venerable and and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal cherubims! And young men glittering and sparkling angels and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born and should die. But all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places. Eternity was manifest in the light of the day, and something infinite behind everything appeared: which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The city seemed to stand in Eden, or to be built in Heaven. The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver was mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins, and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the world was mine, and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it. I knew no churlish proprieties, nor bounds nor divisions; but all proprieties and divisions were mine: all treasures and the possessors of them. So that with much ado I was corrupted; and made to learn the dirty devices of this world. Which now I unlearn, and become as it were a little child again, that I may enter into the Kingdom of God."

--Thomas Traherne, 1637-1674

Thomas Traherne was an English divine about the time before and after the Restoration, which puts him squarely in the strong religious tradition of the time. Although he was published in his lifetime, it was mainly rather dry stuff on Church history and law; it was not until the late 19th Century that the main body of his works for which he is famous today were discovered and made known to the public. Some scholars consider him a fore-runner of the Romantic Movement and its ideas, although he was about 130 years earlier and unknown to people like Blake and Wordsworth; this seems to be another part of the trend of scholars to lump what they like together and denying that traditions they dislike could have anyone of worth, for instance considering Dante as "Renaissance" rather than "Medieval", and here Traherne "Romantic" rather than "Puritan". When I read these two paragraphs I immediately thought to myself "Yes. This is how childhood was!" Somehow, I had forgotten, but Traherne had called me back to remembrance, like a distant bell ringing in a dim wood that tells you that, wait, home is over this way.

Words of changed meanings: Centuries, means hundred. The Meditations were written in four groups of a hundred paragraphs; the quote above is mostly paragraph 2 and 3 from the Third Century. Apprehensions: not worries, but the way you know the world. Saluted: means greeted. Exaction: means punishment. Entertained: means amused, yes, but also occupied and accompanied. Orient: means shining.


Babel said...

You think Roger Hodgson knew anything of this when he penned "The Logical Song" for Supertramp?

Brer said...

Has to be shared experience, though I wouldn't put it past ol' Rog. I think it just takes a certain spirit to look back and make sense of it not making sense. Most of the time we are too busy moving forward, trying to crest the next hill. We are too busy to look back on those beautiful things we lost or missed along the way. This does sound true (although maybe a bit hyperbolic to be exactly true to me). The spirit of it is absolutely true. And maybe all these suspicions and limitations we put on things are only that. Those things we learned about the "real world" are just things that may happen or may be true. But by preparing for them, we sever ourselves from the joys and innocence of when they are not true. Darn it.

Brer said...

Sorry, that was Yen above, there.