blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Thomas Traherne and other English mystics

In Hereford Cathedral is a side chapel dedicated to Thomas Traherne, a clergyman and poet, who died in 1674. He was born in Hereford and died in Teddington, two of the places I stayed at on my latest travels. Traherne was a contemporary of Henry Vaughan, another visionary of 17th century England, of George Fox, founder of the Quakers, and of John Bunyan, the man who wrote The Pilgrim's Progress.

Most of Traherne's writings were not discovered until 200 years after his death, and his poems not published until 1903.

The Audley chapel has four stained glass windows, recently installed as a tribute to Thomas Traherne, created by another Thomas, Thomas Denny, in a style that reminds me of Samuel Palmer by whom Mr. Denny admits he was influenced. Dedicated in March 2007, the chapel provides a leaflet for its visitors to take home with them: a description of the windows, with quotations from Traherne. It says
The windows seek to be a visual expression of the visionary beauty and the richness of Traherne's imagery, and an inspiration to pray to the God who[m] Traherne loved and served.
The window or "light" on the left shows a figure running through a cornfield (like the cornfields in Palmer's "Valley of Vision") with trees beyond it:
The green trees when I saw them first ... transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap.
In the next window (not pictured here) is a cross with a bird rising above it: Love is a phoenix that will revive in its own ashes, said Traherne. You are as prone to love as the sun to shine.

In the third window a man stands "in wonder"––the leaflet quotes a line from one of Traherne's "Commentaries" in relation to this image.
An ant is a great miracle in a little room and no less a monument of eternal love than almighty power.
Which reminds me of (Lady) Julian of Norwich, saying:
...he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, 'What may this be?' And it was answered generally thus, 'It is all that is made.'
I read another of Traherne's quotations aloud to my mother:
You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars.
"Isn't that wonderful?" I said.

"Oh yes," said my mother. "I know that one! I've got it in my Quote Book."

In the fourth window, on the right, is a crowded city scene that bears a resemblance to Hereford. The artist assumes that this is how Traherne saw people and things in his moments of ecstacy:
The city seemed to stand in Eden or to be built in Heaven ... The dust and the stones of the street were as precious as gold ... O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! ... And young men glittering and sparkling Angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street and playing were moving jewels.
Don't mock at mystics. It is rare to see the world like this, but not impossible. It's what you see at moments of great happiness, if, for example, you have come alive out of surgery that you feared would kill you. It's what you perceive whenever you are receptive enough to perceive it.
What shall I think therefore when the winds blow, the seas roar, the waters flow, the vapours ascend, the clouds fly, the drops of rain fall, the stars march forth in armies, the sun runneth swiftly round the world?

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