Wednesday 1 February 2012

Thomas Traherne - the Anglican Pascal


I am reading Centuries of Meditations by Thomas Traherne (1636-74) - so far I have probably read only about a quarter of them - and am overwhelmed by the conviction of having encountered one of the great books of my life.

It is a similar feeling I had with Pascal's Pensees which I found only 18 months ago. Pascal seemed, very obviously, one of the great thinkers of history - I feel the same about Traherne.

Already I could say that Traherne is the English Pascal.


Traherne has a special appeal for me because he is English, indeed Anglican - and I have never before encountered such holiness, sanctity, in the Church of England.

And with Traherne it is expressed through gorgeously beautiful prose - indeed it is for the beauty of his writing (prose and poetry) that Traherne is chiefly known.

Although his works were lost and only rediscovered in the past century or so, he is firmly embedded as a canonical writer in English Literature - albeit of the second rank (behind, say, Milton and Donne - along with, say, George Herbert and Izaac Walton).


So I bought Centuries to read for sensous pleasure - they are four and a bit series of a hundred prose-poems - about one and a half meditation per page.

And they are indeed a sensuous delight.

What I was not expecting, what bowled me over, was the profundity of the spirituality: here is a man speaking of the highest things and with the greatest authority.


Try reading the sequence from 34-51 in the First Century. For preference, print it out and read slowly.

It begins with poetry, stays poetic throughout, and it is profound teaching - indeed it feels like 'the secret of life'.


1 comment:

Daniel said...

Thanks Bruce. Pascal is a blazing light, even in translation. So on your recommendation, Traherne it is!