Love

by Thomas Traherne


Original Language English

     O nectar! O delicious stream!
O ravishing and only pleasure! Where
     Shall such another theme
Inspire my tongue with joys or please mine ear!
     Abridgement of delights!
     And Queen of sights!
O mine of rarities! O Kingdom wide!
O more! O cause of all! O glorious Bride!
     O God! O Bride of God! O King!
     O soul and crown of everything!

     Did not I covet to behold
Some endless monarch, that did always live
     In palaces of gold,
Willing all kingdoms, realms, and crowns to give
     Unto my soul! Whose love
     A spring might prove
Of endless glories, honours, friendships, pleasures,
Joys, praises, beauties and celestial treasures!
     Lo, now I see there's such a King.
     The fountain-head of everything!

     Did my ambition ever dream
Of such a Lord, of such a love! Did I
     Expect so sweet a stream
As this at any time! Could any eye
     Believe it? Why all power
     Is used here;
Joys down from Heaven on my head do shower,
And Jove beyond the fiction doth appear
     Once more in golden rain to come

     To Danae's pleasing fruitful womb.
     His Ganymede! His life! His joy!
Or He comes down to me, or takes me up
     That I might be His boy,
And fill, and taste, and give, and drink the cup.
     But those (tho' great) are all
     Too short and small,
Too weak and feeble pictures to express
The true mysterious depths of Blessedness.
     I am His image, and His friend,
     His son, bride, glory, temple, end.

-- from Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty, Edited by Alan Jacobs

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This poem by Traherne is almost breathless in its ecstatic exclamations. Though highly structured in meter and rhyme, he just barely seems to be able to get the words onto the page.

The first verse is an overwhelm of bliss and images: nectar, a stream, a kingdom, a king, a bride, a crown.

Why does Traherne start his poem with descriptions of "nectar," a "delicious steam" that more than anything else can "inspire my tongue with joys"? The ecstatic state is often interpreted by the sense-mind as a beautiful, rich sweetness on the upper palette and at the back of the throat, accompanied by a warmth in the belly. Because there is also a humming in the inner ear and often a visual awareness of a glowing gold or white color ("golden rain"), this experience is often compared to honey or a heavenly ambrosia. The experience is also accompanied by a blissful giddiness and, sometimes, a trembling or other body movements that can mimic drunkenness, so mystics also refer to this subtle liquid as wine: "And fill, and taste, and give, and drink the cup."

In Christian symbolic language, the King, of course, is Christ, or more generally the personal aspect of God. The Bride is the purified individual soul that joins with the Divine and discovers ecstasy in holy union.

In the second verse, Traherne lists what he had been seeking all his life, what he imagined God to be: endless power, love, glory, beauty... the source of everything. But the next verse moves out of the conceptual to a revelation of what he has actually experienced. And he is flabbergasted to discover that as rich as his mental concepts of the Divine had been, the direct experience is greater still. "Did my ambition ever dream / Of such a Lord, of such love!" Love, true divine love that rejects nothing and embraces everything is just a philosophical idea until it is actually felt -- and then you realize the idea hardly hinted at the reality. This is accompanied by a sense of wholeness and bliss that descends upon the awareness, "Joys down from Heaven on my head do shower."

The final verse is the most personal. Traherne sees himself as Danae impregnated by the divine golden shower, as Ganymede the beloved cupbearer of heaven. God has descended to him, or has lifted him up; he can't tell, he doesn't care. The divine living source of everything has, in the most intimate way, touched and claimed him.

But even these descriptions "tho' great" can't do justice to the reality. There are no satisfactory words for "The true mysterious depths of Blessedness." The best he can do to put this relationship into words is to suggest that he now recognizes himself as a reflection of the Divine, an intimate, a vessel, a completed work: "I am His image, and His friend, / His son, bride, glory, temple, end."



Recommended Books: Thomas Traherne

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Oxford Book of Mystical Verse Metaphysical Poetry: (Penguin Classics) Thomas Traherne: Poetry and Prose: The Golden Age of Spiritual Writing Thomas Traherne
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Love