Edward Taylors Poetry
All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Metaphors and Paradox as Means to Spiritual Purity in “Another Meditation at The Same Time”
Short it may be, Edward Taylor’s “Another Meditation at The Same time” delivers to its readers a power articulation of both Christianity and the relationship between its Lord and his followers. Though there are several exceptions, the contributions of which are crucial to the poem’s purpose, the majority of Taylor’s metaphors use money, or at the very least something related to it, as their vehicles, with their tenors almost always being the speaker. By bolstering these metaphors with puns and complicating them with paradox, Taylor not only conveys the omnipotence of the Lord to whom his speaker supplicates but also the value of the supplicant himself.
To play out Taylor’s figuration, if every Puritan were one of God’s coins, then the combination of them all would comprise God’s wealth; consequently, their devotion to the Lord enriches him, causing a veritable co-dependency between the two. Still, an important line remains to be drawn: God is not creating these coins, but rather imprinting his image on those worthy enough to receive it. Through this distinction, Taylor implies that not all coins, or Puritans, are equal, but that there is a hierarchy of value in the greater system of Christian exchange, somewhere within which the speaker spends the poem trying to locate himself. More than just a beginning, the first stanza establishes the base of the conceit that will span the poem’s entirety. Wasting no time, Taylor immediately makes his metaphor plain: “Am I thy Gold? Or Purse, Lord, for they Wealth;/ Whether in mine, or mint refinde for thee?” (1-2). Despite this foundational clarity of direction, the question itself is not only unanswered, but complicated by a second interrogative layer, that being whether or not he is actually gold or merely just a purse to carry the Lord’s wealth.
Intensifying this complication, Taylor’s pun on “mine,” interpreted as both the speaker’s soul and an actual mine in which one would find gold, casts doubt on the source of true Christian purity: is it found from within, in “mine,” or wrought from without, requiring God’s “mint”? Regardless of source, the speaker claims himself pure, but worries that his perspective is flawed, and so requests that God evaluate him, “count me o’re thyselfe” (3). With another convenient pun on “o’re,” potentially read as either “over” or “ore,” the latter being generally impure and requiring refinement before yielding any metal of value, Taylor continues to question the speaker’s purity, accounting for the possibility that any ostensible virtue may be nothing more than a “gold wash” that conceals a baser “brass heart.”
And so, the speaker must constantly test his own faith—in this case against a “touchstone”—out of fear of his own impurity, of the potentiality that he may be of lesser value to the Lord and that may fall therefore on the lower end of the figurative hierarchy. Though he momentarily shifts both tenor and vehicle in the second stanza, Taylor’s deviation is no doubt intentional, meant to cast the co-dependence between the Lord and his followers in a new light whilst maintaining the sovereignty of the former. Following the example of the one that precedes it, the second stanza opens with a rhetorical question based in the greater monetary conceit: “Am I new minted by thy stamp indeed?” (7). Here, Taylor’s diction is crucial: “new” implies that the speaker has not always been “minted,” but has perhaps only recently proven his worth, if at all; and “indeed” suggests that the speaker is only confirming what he already suspects. With “minting” having refreshed the conceit in the reader’s mind, Taylor now transitions to a new metaphor, though preserving meaning and purpose: “Mine eyes are dim, I cannot clearly see. / Be though my spectacles that I may read / Thine image, and inscription stampt on me” (8-10). His eyes “dim,” the speaker reminds the reader of his inability to perceive his own wealth, which causes him to rely on the Lord for evaluation. Consequently, the speaker requires “spectacles,” or the Lord, so he can accurately read the “image and inscription stampt on [him].” Much like coins, spectacles require an actor to perform their function; in other words, what’s a coin without someone to spend it? What’re glasses without someone to look through them? And so, the Lord becomes both ends and means: he is at once the speaker’s spectacles and that which the spectacles clarify.
Paradoxical it may seem, this structure testifies to the Lord’s true power, for even the English lexicon falls short in its attempt to render it. With this no doubt in mind, Taylor again employs an intentionally enigmatic construction in the stanza’s final lines: “If thy bright image do upon me stand, / I am a golden angel in thy hand” (11-12). Relying on another pun—this time, angel could be taken as either a Christian angel or a contemporary British coin—Taylor truly fuses Christianity with currency; but, it matters not to what “angel” refers, for in either interpretation, the speaker finds himself in Lord’s hand, a sharp reminder of his place in the eschatological scale. Still, the “if…then” structure of these two lines supports the idea of co-dependency: indeed, if the Lord’s image does not stand upon the speaker, then the speaker cannot be a golden angel. In an obvious replication of the second stanza’s conclusion, the poem culminates in paradox: “Then I shall be thy money, thou my hoard: / Let me thy angel be; be thou my Lord” (17-18). Though not as plainly rendered in the “if…then” structure of the second stanza, these lines carry a similar weight, for it is only if the Lord writes his superscription on the speaker (16) that he will be “[his] money.” So it would seem, this construction takes some pressure off the speaker, who otherwise bears the full burden of Christianity by himself, and allows him to share at a least a portion of it with his Lord.
Finally, in the most striking paradox yet, the speaker is at once the Lord’s money and the Lord’s hoard (17), the impossibility of which need not be explained. Logical or not, it doesn’t seem to matter: in the end, Taylor repeats his pun, and the speaker becomes an angel once more, devoted to his Lord. After all is said and done, the speaker appears to have endured a veritable spiritual cleansing by way of the meditation. Though he begins the poem doubting whether or not he is even part of the Christian currency, he ends it as an “angel.” Interestingly enough, for all the questions Taylor poses, he never gives a true “yes” or “no” to any, but answers them affirmatively them through the speaker’s transformation. To enrich this spiritual evolution, Taylor of course relies on his comprehensive conceit, and less obviously on his artful paradoxes, which are crucial to the speaker’s—and the readers’—greater realization of his own inferiority. And so, Taylor has rendered a striking image of the Lord; one that, while admitting omnipotence and divine superiority, articulates the balance necessary to extract the purest gold, to refine every man into an “angel.”