To coincide with the Davenant Press’s publication of The Shining Human Creature: Christian Ethics Vol. 1 in a new modernization by Colin Chan Redemer, we are publishing a number of Traherne’s poems with brief accompanying thoughts from Colin. You can order the book here.
“Eden” is a poem which taps into the ever present Traherne-ian theme of working to view the world from the prelapsarian state. We can see that this appealed to C.S. Lewis, whose fiction, particularly the Ransom Trilogy, often shifts into that register of creational grace, as characters from a fallen world encounter an unfallen place or people. The distinction between characters who can see, and believe, that such places are possible and those who see them as mere masks or feints for some evil is the core distinction we should attend to. When Traherne says
I knew not that there was a serpent’s sting, Whose poison shed On men, did overspread The world; nor did I dream of such a thing As sin, in which mankind lay dead.
he wants you to believe that this is possible. It is not just a fairy–or rather, it is a fairy tale, but one which is true. The state of edenic grace is our origin, but it is also our destination. Studying that state is like studying a map that will lead us home.
– Colin Chan Redemer, Poetry Editor
by Thomas Traherne
A learned and a happy ignorance Divided me From all the vanity, From all the sloth, care, pain, and sorrow that advance The madness and the misery Of men. No error, no distraction I Saw soil the earth, or overcloud the sky. I knew not that there was a serpent’s sting, Whose poison shed On men, did overspread The world; nor did I dream of such a thing As sin, in which mankind lay dead. They all were brisk and living wights to me, Yea, pure and full of immortality. Joy, pleasure, beauty, kindness, glory, love, Sleep, day, life, light, Peace, melody, my sight, My ears and heart did fill and freely move. All that I saw did me delight. The Universe was then a world of treasure, To me an universal world of pleasure. Unwelcome penitence was then unknown, Vain costly toys, Swearing and roaring boys, Shops, markets, taverns, coaches, were unshown; So all things were that drown’d my joys: No thorns chok’d up my path, nor hid the face Of bliss and beauty, nor eclips’d the place. Only what Adam in his first estate, Did I behold; Hard silver and dry gold As yet lay under ground; my blessed fate Was more acquainted with the old And innocent delights which he did see In his original simplicity. Those things which first his Eden did adorn, My infancy Did crown. Simplicity Was my protection when I first was born. Mine eyes those treasures first did see Which God first made. The first effects of love My first enjoyments upon earth did prove; And were so great, and so divine, so pure; So fair and sweet, So true; when I did meet Them here at first, they did my soul allure, And drew away my infant feet Quite from the works of men; that I might see The glorious wonders of the Deity.
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