My lovely one

Who is this that cometh from Edom,
    with dyed garments from Bozrah?
this that is glorious in his apparel,
    travelling in the greatness of his strength?

— I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.

    Is 63.1

12. Meditation. Isai. 63.1. Glorious in his Apparell.

This Quest rapt at my Eares broad golden Doores
    Who’s this that comes from Edom in this shine
In Died Robes from Bozrah? this more ore
    All Glorious in’s Apparrell; all Divine?
    Then through that Wicket rusht this buss there gave,
    Its I that right do speake mighty to save.

I threw through Zions Lattice then an Eye
    Which spide one like a lump of Glory pure
Nay, Cloaths of gold button’d with pearls do ly
    Like Rags, or shooclouts unto his he wore.
    Heavens Curtains blancht with Sun, and Starrs of Light
    Are black as sackcloath to his Garments bright.

One shining sun guilding the skies with Light
    Benights all Candles with their flaming Blaze
So doth the Glory of this Robe benight
    Ten thousand suns at once ten thousand wayes.
    For e’ry thrid therein’s dy’de with the shine
    Of All, and Each the Attributes Divine.

The sweetest breath, the sweetest Violet
    Rose, or Carnation ever did gust out
Is but a Foist to that Perfume beset
    In thy Apparell steaming round about:
    But is this so? My Peuling soul then pine
    In Love untill this Lovely one be thine.

Pluck back the Curtains, back the Window Shutts:
    Through Zions Agate Window take a view;
How Christ in Pinckted Robes from Bozrah puts
    Comes Glorious in’s Apparell forth to Wooe.
    Oh! if his Glory ever kiss thine Eye,
    Thy Love will soon Enchanted bee thereby.

Then Grieve, my Soul, thy vessell is so small
    And holds no more for such a Lovely Hee.
That strength’s so little, Love scarce acts at all.
    That sight’s so dim, doth scarce him lovely see.
    Grieve, grieve, my Soul, thou shouldst so pimping bee,
    Now such a Price is here presented thee.

All sight’s too little sight enough to make
    All strength’s too little Love enough to reare
All Vessells are too small to hold or take
    Enough Love up for such a Lovely Deare.
    How little to this Little’s then thy
    For Him whose Beauty saith all Love’s too small?

My Lovely One, I fain would love thee much
    But all my Love is none at all I see,
Oh! let thy Beauty give a glorious tuch
    Upon my Heart, and melt to Love all mee.
    Lord melt me all up into Love for thee
    Whose Loveliness excells what love can bee.

     Edward Taylor

A few years ago I wrote a brief article on Finzi’s anthem ‘God is gone up’, probably the composer’s best known choral work. That piece, however, is only the second of three anthems collected as Finzi’s Opus 27, and happily I have recently had the opportunity to get to know the other two firsthand.

Like ‘God is gone up’, ‘My lovely one’, No. 1 of the opus, sets text by Edward Taylor. Taylor, probably born in Sketchley, Leicestershire, between 1642 and 1644, was a staunch Puritan, who at the time of the Restoration of the monarchy in 1662 felt unable to take the oath to subscribe to the Book of Common Prayer required of all government and church officials by the 1662 Act of Uniformity and so was unable to continue his career as a teacher. Thus in 1668 he emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where he was admitted to Harvard College as a second-year student and graduated in 1671. Taylor then became pastor and physician at Westfield, then a frontier town, where he remained until his death.

Taylor began writing poetry while still in England and continued to write in substantial quantities throughout his life; at his death he left a 400-page quarto manuscript of his poems, with the instruction to his heirs that it should never be published. The MS came to Taylor’s grandson, a president of Yale, and finally to a nephew of the grandson, who gave it to the Yale University Library in 1883. The MS was ‘rediscovered’ in 1937; important parts of it were published soon thereafter, and his complete poems in 1960. Though of uneven quality, his works are on the whole good enough to place him at the forefront of British colonial literature of the day and to link him to the tradition of Southwell, Donne, Crashaw, Marvell, Vaughan, and Traherne, with Herbert being perhaps the closest in style. Like those other so-called ‘metaphysical’ poets, Taylor often uses elaborate conceits and comparisons, and he employs language and images both fanciful and homely (and sometimes obscure, dialectal, or newly coined, driving the reader to the oed for a construal) as he contemplates his subjects.

In 1682 Taylor began a series of Preparatory Meditations before my approach to the Lords Supper, which eventually ran to more than two hundred poems. Each based upon a short passage of scripture, these meditations are deeply personal and even passionate: quite out of keeping with what we now think of as Puritan austerity, and with the polemics and controversy in which Taylor was engaged throughout his life. Yet perhaps the passion with which he argued for his beliefs, or against those who did not share them (including Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and those Congregationalists who took a more liberal approach to admission to Communion), also fired his poetic imagination, and was perhaps born out of a vision he had at the Communion table, as recounted in ‘The Reflexion’. Ultimately the theme of many of these meditations is simply love; indeed the whole of the second series of meditations is based on sequential texts from the Song of Songs.

Love and the irresistible beauty of Christ are certainly the themes of Meditation 12. Christ is imagined as a ‘lump of Glory pure’, of ‘ore’ (possibly this refers to a misreading of or wordplay – which would not be out of keeping with the practices of either Hebrew Scripture itself or patristic commentators – on botsrâh, ‘enclosure, fold, sheepfold’, as betsar ‘precious ore, gold’; ‘ore’ also just possibly could [additionally] mean ‘fine wool’).* It is the purity and splendor of this ore, of Christ and His love, that Taylor asks to be refined and joined to by ‘melting’.

The glory of Christ is in this vision clothed in scarcely less glorious raiment: it outshines ten thousand suns, even all the stars in the sky; it out-scents the sweetest smells of earthly flowers ( foist is a musty or otherwise unpleasant odor); it is adorned with pinking (holes or slashes cut in fabric in decorative patterns). Every thread is imbued with the totality of the divine attributes. Here, by my reading, we should understand Christ’s flesh – and here we may begin to see that our apprehension of Christ’s glory comes at a price: his garment is stained deep red (more, ‘mulberry’), and pierced (puts are ‘thrusts’ or ‘strokes’, including those of a weapon, and the aforementioned pinckted [pinked] means ‘pricked’ or ‘pierced’, not only for decoration, and just possibly also means, or suggests, ‘stained pink’). In the original passage from Isaiah [63.1–6], the mighty savior is spattered with the blood (the analogical referent of the juice from the grapes trodden in the wine-press) of the enemies of His people; here we may understand the stains possibly to consist of the ‘blood’ of the spiritual enemies of Christ which He defeated in battle, but perhaps more likely, especially given the occasion for Taylor’s writing, to consist of His own blood – or possibly both.† This does not make Christ or His fleshly garment any less splendid; the Christian tradition affirms that Christ’s glory consists precisely in the suffering through which He overcame the forces of death, and that He has shed neither body nor scars, but rather bears them still, and dazzles those who look upon Him.

Here I may diverge from Taylor for a moment; whether he would or no, I would add that in the tradition, Christ’s Body refers not only to the physical form He took on in the Incarnation, but also to the Eucharistic species and to the Church. And thus we may possibly read that, depending upon one’s Eucharistic theology, Christ’s divine attributes are to be seen in, or by, every morsel of the host and/or every member of the Church. We may not  apprehend the full glory of God at this time – we glimpse it, Taylor suggests, as through a lattice (as the beloved her lover in the Song of Songs), or a necessarily cloudy agate or onyx window (as in Is 54.12) – but the various Bodies of Christ that have clothed it nevertheless, by their own forms and adornment, reveal as much as possible its shape and splendor.

Though the foregoing covers the main thrust of Taylor’s poem, I cannot leave it without at least speculating further concerning his use of word-play, one possible thread of which may help make some sense of an image that appears, seemingly unprepared, in the sixth stanza. Here Taylor begins to talk about the inadequacy of his soul’s ‘vessel’ to bear enough (love) to meet the price of the divine ingot (pimping here has not its modern meaning, but rather means ‘little, petty; puny, sickly’). Though I am not a scholar of seventeenth-century English poetry, I note in poring over the oed that at least three archaic words used earlier – foist, pink, and buss (the latter’s most obvious meaning being a ‘kiss’ or ‘smack’, perhaps by extension a whisper from lips grazing the ear) – also can mean various kinds of sailing-vessels. Though the meanings varied over time, a foist was a smaller vessel: perhaps one not adequate to the blast of the heavenly fragrance? A buss was a vessel of burden: perhaps one bearing the divine answer through the wicket (not only a gate or smaller door in a larger one, but also a water-gate), perhaps even ‘rushing’ it through a gate made of ‘rushes’. Finally, perhaps Christ’s robes were somehow pinked, conveyed – or tattered – by a pink, which by the seventeenth century seems to have meant a larger ship, even a war-ship. In any case, even if there is not a logical progression here, perhaps the earlier references help to set the stage for the image of the soul’s vessel.

Finzi’s anthem – quite a perfect setting of the text, capturing beautifully the ‘pining’ of the poet – was written for the wedding of his sister-in-law in 1946 and is subtitled ‘Marriage Anthem’. Perhaps not many composers besides Finzi could have written such a languishing piece for a wedding,‡ and it is difficult to imagine its use in such a setting. Nor is the work properly a Eucharistic one; like the poem, it belongs to the realm of the devotional rather than the liturgical, and its ‘unrequited’ mood – the slow 6/8 meter, the ‘sighing’ motives, the movement from C minor to a very dark B-flat minor, though via a brighter and even rapturous passage in E-flat – seems to speak of a time in which the Sacrament is for some reason unavailable, perhaps during a period of penitence. The work remains best suited, it would seem, for a sacred concert of some very particular sort, or possibly for a Choral Evensong or other non-sacramental setting.

Nevertheless Finzi’s music serves as a gateway to a remarkable collection of poetry, and even as a reminder of and pointer to a broad array of devotional literature. It reminds us that in an age in which the Eucharist has resumed its rightful place as the ‘the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts’ [bcp 13] and yet catechetical, ascetical, and devotional preparation for it have not caught up, or have even declined and dissipated, we can happily look not only to the more usual Anglican and Catholic sources for instruction and inspiration, but can also draw upon Evangelical (whether Calvinist, Lutheran, Moravian, Anglican, Methodist, or other) writers such as Taylor, James Montgomery, and the best of the German pietists – and perhaps even be convicted by the seriousness with which they approached the Holy Table as they understood it.

*  Yet another interpretation of Bozrah is ‘vintage’ or ‘wine-harvest[er]’, emending botsrâh to bâtsôr or bâtsîyr (we should remember that Hebrew is originally and customarily written largely without vowels; though the Scriptures have been supplied with vowel signs, not a little ambiguity remains between words with identical or similar consonants); similarly, some commentators or translators would read ’dm not as the ethnonym edôm but as âdôm, ‘red’, thus ‘Who is this that comes [clad] in red, in garments dyed [crimson] like the wine-harvest[er]?’.

†  It was certainly a common patristic take on the Isaiah passage – read at Mass on Wednesday in Holy Week in the classical Roman Rite – to interpret it Christologically, the stains referring to Christ’s own blood –

     The prophetic Spirit contemplates the Lord as if He were already on His way to His passion, clad in His fleshly nature; and as He was to suffer therein, He represents the bleeding condition of His flesh under the metaphor of garments dyed in red, as if reddened in the treading and crushing process of the wine-press, from which the laborers descend reddened with the wine-juice, like men stained in blood.
     Tertullian, adv. Marcionem 4.40 ad fin.

– and St Ambrose interpreted the posers of the question ‘Who is this that comes...’ as the angels astounded at Christ’s Ascension, who also asked, ‘Who is this king of glory?’ [Ps 24].

‡  Though the main movement of Mendelssohn’s third organ sonata, also written for a wedding, uses the Lutheran paraphrase of Psalm 130, ‘Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir’, as a cantus firmus.