A child's ecstasies remembered

       Certainly Adam in Paradise had not more sweet and curious apprehensions of the world than I. All appeared new, and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful. All things were spotless and pure and glorious.

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The green trees, when I saw them first, transported and ravished me; their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy--they were such strange and beautiful things.

O, what venerable creatures did the aged seem! Immortal Cherubims! And the young men glittering and sparkling Angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of beauty! I knew not that they were born or should die; but all things abided eternally.

I knew not that there were sins or complaints or laws. I dreamed not of poverties, contentions or vice. All tears and quarrels were hidden from mine eyes. I saw all in the peace of Eden. Everything was at rest, free and immortal.

from Centuries of Meditations, 3.1-3, Thomas Traherne (1636-74)

Thomas Traherne was an English clergyman who published just one book during his short life; two more books of his appeared later in the 17th century. But Centuries of Meditations was not among them. Probably written soon after he graduated from Oxford in 1656, this incandescent work was neglected by the busy world for 200 years.

The manuscript for Centuries of Meditations was discovered in an outdoor bookstall in London in 1896 by W.T. Brooke, who thought it a work of Henry Vaughan. Only after the pages had passed through several hands did Bertram Dobell, a London bookseller and an expert on 17th-century literature, recognize the style of writing as that of Traherne. Dobell supervised the first edition of the work, which appeared in 1903; it has seldom, if ever, been out of print since.

Centuries of Meditations influenced writers and thinkers as diverse as Thomas Merton, crime writer Dorothy L. Sayers, and British poet Elizabeth Jennings. Gerald Finzi (1901-56) set portions of the book to music, and C.S. Lewis has called it 'almost the most beautiful book in English.' 

The River Wye in Herefordshire, near where Traherne was born in 1636

Illustration: Detail from Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing; Watercolor and graphite on paper by William Blake (c. 1786), courtesy of the Tate Britain, London.

Photo: Courtesy of Monkhall Cottages, Callow, Herefordshire.

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