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3. Utopian Promise   

3. Utopian

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- William
- Anne
- Sarah Kemble
- Thomas Morton
- Samson Occom
- William Penn
- Mary
- Edward Taylor
- John Winthrop
- John Woolman
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Edward Taylor (c. 1642-1729)

[6745] Edward Taylor, manuscript page of Taylor's Poetical Writings (year unknown), courtesy of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Edward Taylor Activities
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Edward Taylor was born in Leicestershire, England, in 1642 to Nonconformist parents of modest circumstances. In his mid-twenties, frustrated by the climate of intolerance toward Puritans, he fled England for Massachusetts. Entering Harvard with advanced standing, Taylor embarked on a course of study to prepare himself to become a minister. In 1671 he accepted a call to the ministry in the town of Westfield, a farming community on the fringes of the colony. He spent the rest of his life there, rarely leaving Westfield even for visits. Because the area was threatened by Indian attacks throughout the 1670s, Taylor's church building had to do double duty as a fort, delaying the formal organization of the congregation as a Puritan church until 1679. As the most educated man in Westfield, Taylor served the town by assuming the roles of physician and teacher as well as minister.

Taylor's education had left him with a lasting passion for books, and his library was a distinguished one, though many of the books were his own handwritten copies of volumes he could not afford to purchase in printed form. Much of Taylor's time was devoted to writing sermons for public presentation, but he also produced a large corpus of some of the most inventive poetry in colonial America. While he did not publish any of this poetry in his lifetime, viewing it instead as a personal aid to his spiritual meditations and as preparation for giving communion to his congregation, he did carefully collect and preserve his manuscripts. His collection was not published until the twentieth century, after it was discovered in the Yale University Library in 1937.

Taylor experimented with a variety of poetic forms, composing paraphrases of biblical psalms, elegies, love poems, a long poem called God's Determinations in the form of a debate about the nature of salvation, and his five-hundred-page Metrical History of Christianity. His best-known poems, a series of 217 verses called Preparatory Meditations, are lyric explorations of the Puritan soul and its relation to the sacrament. The poems' struggles with complicated theological issues are carefully contained within rigidly structured six-line stanzas of iambic pentameter. While the metaphors and metaphysical conceits in Preparatory Meditations are elaborate (they are sometimes compared to the work of the English poet John Donne), much of Taylor's other poetry is characterized by its plain-style aesthetic and its homely metaphors of farming and housekeeping. Taylor's work is not easily categorized because his poetic experiments are so varied, employing forms ranging from common meter to heroic couplets and imagery ranging from the traditionally typological to the metaphysical. Still, all of Taylor's work reflects his commitment to orthodox Puritan theology and his concern with ascertaining and sustaining a belief in his place among God's elect. His poems enact, in literary critic Sacvan Bercovitch's words, the "endless ritual celebration-exorcism of the Puritan self."

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