Wednesday 7 September 2011

A child's vision of the world - Thomas Traherne

From Thomas Traherne (c1636 - c1674) 
Centuries of Meditations


Certainly Adam in Paradise had not more sweet and curious apprehensions of the world, than I when I was a child.

All appeared new, and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful. I was a little stranger, which at my entrance into the world was saluted and surrounded with innumerable joys.

My knowledge was Divine. I knew by intuition those things which since my Apostasy, I collected again by the highest reason.


My very ignorance was advantageous. I seemed as one brought into the Estate of Innocence. All things were spotless and pure and glorious: yea, and infinitely mine, and joyful and precious, I knew not that there were any sins, or complaints or laws. I dreamed not of poverties, contentions or vices. All tears and quarrels were hidden from mine eyes. Everything was at rest, free and immortal.


I knew nothing of sickness or death or rents or exaction, either for tribute or bread. In the absence of these I was entertained like an Angel with the works of God in their splendour. and glory, I saw all in the peace of Eden; Heaven and Earth did sing my Creator's praises, and could not make more melody to Adam, than to me: All Time was Eternity, and a perpetual Sabbath.

Is it not strange, that an infant should be heir of the whole World, and see those mysteries which the books of the learned never unfold?


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 dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world.

The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things:

The Men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal Cherubims! 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. I knew not that they were born or should die; But all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places.


Eternity was manifest in the Light of the Day, and something infinite behind everything appeared which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The city seemed to stand in Eden, or to be built in Heaven.

The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the World was mine; and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it.

I knew no churlish proprieties, nor bounds, nor divisions: but all proprieties and divisions were mine: all treasures and the possessors of them.

So that with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices of this world. Which now I unlearn, and become, as it were, a little child again that I may enter into the Kingdom of God.



I came across this beautiful passage in browsing The Oxford Book of English Prose, edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (or 'Q') in 1920.

I was given this volume by my father in the wartime edition for use of HM forces, and which he salvaged from the destruction of a small British Army (of occupation) library in Hanover c1950.

I had heard mention of Traherne in C.S Lewis and elsewhere, but hadn't realized he was such a very good writer (nor that he was recovered only some hundreds of years after his death).

Also, the above passage has similarities with my own memories of childhood, and the conclusion is one I have reached myself - therefore further investigation of Traherne is proceeding...



tweedyprof said...

I came to these marvelous words of Traherne from hearing them set to music by Gerald Finzi in the cantata "Dies Natalis". I suspect you will love it. Finzi is one of my favorite composers; there is something about early-20th-century English music that is absolutely unique.

Thanks for a wonderful blog!

Wm Jas said...

I ran across a quote from Centuries of Meditations in Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy and was sufficiently impressed to track down the book and read it. I can't recommend it highly enough.

You can read the whole thing online here.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TweedyProf - I find Finzi pleasant, but he doesn't quite get me. I regard classical music as essentially a Germanic phenomenon!

I very much like specific works of British composers - but the only composers whose work I whole heartedly love in 'bulk' are Arthur Sullivan (in the Savoy Operas, specifically) and John Dowland's lute pieces... maybe Henry Purcell squeezes in there too.

@WmJas - I decided I wanted to read it in a book, and have ordered a copy.

tweedyprof said...

Bach, Mozart, Beethoven or Wagner Finzi is not, nor would I dream of putting him in the same league. But he is part of a very special, minor league which has my affection, and which also includes Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Moeran, Delius, Bax etc.