The Alchemical "Golden Tree" and Associated Imagery in the Poems of Edward Taylor, Viewed in the Broader Context of the Hermetic-Paracelsist Philosophy.

Dissertation, Freie Universitaet Berlin (Germany) (1990)

The subject is one which has been neglected by Taylor research: the all-pervading alchemical dimension of his sacramental Meditations. Two manuscripts in Edward Taylor's own hand are examined: his excerpts from John Webster's Metallographia, and his medical "Dispensatory." These two unpublished manuscripts document Taylor's intense interest in, and his extensive knowledge of, alchemical theory. They show that his thought was fundamentally influenced by Renaissance Neoplatonic beliefs in the hierarchy of worlds, in the correspondence of microcosm and macrocosm, and in "natural magic," particularly as evidenced in the Hermetic-Paracelsist theories of alchemy and medicine. These beliefs are reflected throughout his Meditations. ;Taylor uses alchemical imagery to express the deepest religious mysteries: transmutation symbolizes for him the change in bread and wine to the body and blood of Christ, and the change in human nature through its union with Christ in the Sacrament. The distillations of Taylor's spiritual alchemy liberate his eternal soul from "drossy" human matter. Through the workings of the spiritual "tincture" of Grace, i.e., by the gold-generating "influences" emanating from Christ the "Sun of Righteousness," man's soul--and the poet's words--are transformed to pure gold. ;The complexity of many of Taylor's images can only be appreciated in the alchemical context. His dominant "tree" imagery, e.g., is not based solely on Biblical expressions of Christ as the "Tree of Life," but is blended with imagery of the alchemical "golden tree"--a tree of "living gold" growing from the "womb" of earth--which expresses the completed alchemical opus. In many meditations Taylor uses the alchemical correspondences of "moon/silver" and "sun/gold" to express man and Christ respectively. He develops imagery of the alchemical wedding, the alchemical labyrinth, the alchemical ocean voyage, the alchemical golden fleece, the alchemical bird, etc., whereby the alchemical dimension blends with imagery from the Bible, from natural science, music, antiquity, etc. ;Recognition of Taylor's indebtedness to the Renaissance Hermetic-Paracelsist philosophy adds a new dimension to his Meditations. In addition, the documentation of this influence on Edward Taylor opens an unexplored chapter in the history of Puritan thought
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