Monday, September 17, 2012

Thomas Traherne

Thomas Traherne (1637—1674) is considered by some to be the last of the English metaphysical poets, connecting him with such figures as John Donne and George Herbert. Although he was somewhat agnostic at age 15 when he went to Oxford's Brasenose College, he had a mystical experience there which led him to become an Anglican priest.

He only published one prose book before his death, Roman Forgeries (1673). Two further books appeared before the seventeenth century was through, but his poetry largely remained unknown.

In 1896 two of his poetry manuscripts were discovered in a London bookstall; at first they were thought to be the work of Henry Vaughan, but were soon identified as the work of Traherne, and published in 1903 as Poetical Works. In 1910 another was discovered in the British Museum and published as Poems of Felicity. Further discoveries of his writing, some as recently as 1997, have continued to increase interest in Traherne as a theologian and a poet. To this day, much of his work only appears in manuscript form.

His Power Bounded, Greater Is His Might

His Power bounded, greater is in might,
Than if let loose, 'twere wholly infinite.
He could have made an endless sea by this,
But then it had not been a sea of bliss.
Did waters from the centre to the skies
Ascend, 'twould drown whatever else we prize.
The ocean bounded in a finite shore,
Is better far because it is no more.
No use nor glory would in that be seen,
His power made it endless in esteem.
Had not the Sun been bounded in its sphere,
Did all the world in one fair flame appear,
And were that flame a real Infinite
'Twould yield no profit, splendor, nor delight.
Its corps confined, and beams extended be
Effects of Wisdom in the Deity.
One star made infinite would all exclude,
An earth made infinite could ne'er be viewed:
But one being fashioned for the other's sake,
He, bounding all, did all most useful make
And which is best, in profit and delight
Tho' not in bulk, they all are infinite.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Thomas Traherene: second post, third post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: