Edward Taylor (1642—1729) was unknown as a poet, until his leather-bound poems were discovered in the library of Yale University in 1937. A selection were published in the New England Quarterly at that time, and soon his reputation became established as America’s finest colonial poet.
He was born in Leicestershire, England. During the Restoration, after 1662, he was prevented from continuing to teach school because of his stand as a nonconformist. In 1668 he emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony where he would be free to practice his Puritan faith. For the next three years he completed his education at Harvard — after which he followed a call to become the minister in the frontier community of Westfield, Massachusetts; he stayed there for the remaining fifty-eight years of his life.
Some of Taylor’s best poems are from a series called Preparatory Meditations — poems he wrote to help him focus his thoughts as he wrote his sermons for the monthly communion services.
In the following poem, the poet uses the image of a spinning wheel as an illustration of his spiritual life. Such conceits show the influence of the English metaphysical poets, including John Donne and George Herbert. The footnotes, in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, say that “Taylor refers to the working parts of a spinning wheel: the ‘distaff’ holds the raw wool or flax; the ‘flyers’ regulate the spinning; the ‘spool’ twists the yarn; and the ‘reel’ takes up the finished thread.” The “fulling mills” of line ten are where the “cloth is beaten and cleansed”. The final lines of the poem allude to the parable of the wedding banquet — particularly to Matt. 22:12.
Make me, O Lord, Thy spinning wheel complete.
------Thy Holy Word my distaff make for me.
Make mine affections Thy swift flyers neat
------And make my soul Thy holy spool to be.
------My conversation make to be Thy reel
------And reel the yarn thereon spun of Thy wheel.
Make me Thy loom then, knit therein this twine:
------And make Thy Holy Spirit, Lord, wind quills:
Then weave the web Thyself. The yarn is fine.
------Thine ordinances make my fulling mills.
------Then dye the same in heavenly colours choice,
------All pinked with varnished flowers of paradise.
Then clothe therewith mine understanding, will,
------Affections, judgement, conscience, memory,
My words and actions, that their shine may fill
------My ways with glory and Thee glorify.
------Then mine apparel shall display before Ye
------That I am clothed in holy robes for glory.
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: www.dsmartin.ca