Friday, March 20, 2009

Thomas Traherne, 1637-1674


Thomas Traherne was born in Hereford, England, to a shoemaker’s family but was most likely orphaned, along with his brother Philip, at an early age. Adopted by the family Traherne, he received his B.A. from Oxford University in 1656 and was appointed Rector of Credenhill the following year. Unknown in his own time except for the politically motivated Roman Forgeries. Traherne produced, among other works, Centuries of Meditations, Meditations on the Six Days of Creation, the Ficino notebook, the Dobell sequence of poems, and Poems of Felicity. His literary estate was so carelessly managed by his brother, who also conventionalized the language and spelling of some works, that his poems were first published as the work of Susanna Hopton, a religious leader who had been Traherne's friend. It was not until 1903 that his Dobell poems and meditations began to appear under his own name (Dobell being the scholar who identified their true author). In 1910, Poems of Felicity was published. James Osborne discovered the Select Meditations in an archive in 1964. In 1967 a manuscript of Traherne’s Commentaries of Heaven was plucked from a heap of burning rubbish in Lancashire. It was not until 1982 that the work was identified as Traherne’s at the University of Toronto.

Traherne was an ecstatic neo-Platonist and devotional visionary whose work is consistent both with the English Metaphysical and Romantic styles. Blake and Wordsworth explore similar themes, but they could not have read Traherne’s poetry.

The following excerpt (first two stanzas) of the poem "Sight" is taken from Thomas Traherne: Selected Poems and Prose, edited by Alan Bradford (Penguin Classics, 1991). In the original the poem and title are centered on the page.

Sight

1
Mine infant-eye
Above the sky
Discerning endless space,
Did make me see
Two sights in me;
Three eyes adorn’d my face:
Two luminaries in my flesh
Did me refresh;
But one did lurk within,
Beneath my skin.
That was of greater worth than both the other;
For those were twins, but this had ne’er a brother.

2
Those eyes of sense
That did dispense
Their beams to natural things,
I quickly found
Of narrow bound
To know but earthly springs.
But that which through the heavens went
Was excellent,
And endless; for the ball
Was spiritual:
A visive eye things visible doth see;
But with th’ invisible, invisibles agree.

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2 Comments:

At 2:48 PM, Blogger Recording Angel said...

Hi, Paul. I'm browsing around your blog, looking for one of your Vietnamese translations I found here a while back--Julie Carr just sent me one of your translations and I wanted to share this favorite poem with her. In the course of searching I found your Traherne post and took note of this:

" His literary estate was so carelessly managed by his brother, who also conventionalized the language and spelling of some works, that his poems were first published as the work of Susanna Hopton, a religious leader who had been Traherne's friend."

Literary estate management is such an odd thing. I have a few few funny stories from when I was at UC Press, which I will tell you some time. But here's one I can put into writing: I was working with someone at the Beineke on a Marianne Moore project and she told me that Moore's nieces managed her estate and were not helpful to Moore fans and scholars and were once heard to say something like, "She wasn't really a very good poet, anyway."

I will be in Silicon Valley next Tuesday for work but am hoping to get back in time for your Moe's reading. I think that's the night for Sonnet 56, if I remember correctly. Congratulations and have fun.

Linda Norton

 
At 8:59 PM, Blogger Paul Hoover said...

Clayton Eshleman has stories about Cesar Vallejo's widow's management of his literary estate. She was overly protective of rights, as I recall, thus risking the stifling of his wonderful work.

 

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