The Salutation

It’s been far too long since I posted a poem by my favourite of the metaphysical poets, Thomas Traherne (who lived from c. 1636 to 1674), so here’s another of his remarkable works, called The Salutation, in which he ponders the deepest questions of existence complete with authentic 17th century spelling…

These little Limbs,
These Eys and Hands which here I find,
This panting Heart wherwith my Life begins;
Where have ye been? Behind
What Curtain were ye from me hid so long!
Where was, in what Abyss, my new-made Tongue?

When silent I
So many thousand thousand Years
Beneath the Dust did in a Chaos ly,
How could I Smiles, or Tears,
Or Lips, or Hands, or Eys, or Ears perceiv?
Welcom ye Treasures which I now receiv.

I that so long
Was Nothing from Eternity,
Did little think such Joys as Ear and Tongue
To celebrat or see:
Such Sounds to hear, such Hands to feel, such Feet,
Beneath the Skies, on such a Ground to meet.

New burnisht Joys!
Which finest Gold and Pearl excell!
Such sacred Treasures are the Limbs of Boys
In which a Soul doth dwell:
Their organized Joints and azure Veins
More Wealth include than all the World contains.

From Dust I rise
And out of Nothing now awake;
These brighter Regions which salute mine Eys
A Gift from God I take:
The Earth, the Seas, the Light, the lofty Skies,
The Sun and Stars are mine; if these I prize.

A Stranger here,
Strange things doth meet, strange Glory see,
Strange Treasures lodg’d in this fair World appear,
Strange all and New to me:
But that they mine should be who Nothing was,
That Strangest is of all; yet brought to pass.

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3 Responses to “The Salutation”

  1. I have never read that, Peter. It’s wonderful. I’d never thought of “creation” from this perspective before – the discovery of what one does and is. Absolutely elegant. Timeless. Thanks for this.

  2. John Peacock Says:

    As I think I’ve commented before, Traherne is the inspiration for Gerald Finzi’s masterpiece for tenor and strings, “Dies Natalis” (of which the version by Wilfred Browne and the composer’s son is matchless). Finzi compresses the poem by omitting verses 3 and 4, leaving 4 more contrasted verses.

    The poem’s impact on me was deepened by hearing the Finzi soon after the birth of one of my children. In part, it reads to me as a celebration of the inexplicable perfection of a new-born baby. And even 20+ years later, it still moves me tremendously.

  3. telescoper Says:

    Yes, thanks for reminding me. I should have mentioned that this poem supplied the verses for the last part of Finzi’s Dies Natalis, Three of Traherne’s poems were used in that work, plus a section of prose by the same author that serves as an introduction.

    I have the lovely recording you mention and listen to it very often, but I’m saddened that I’ve never had the chance to hear the piece live. I have the impression it’s not performed very often.

    I mentioned in a previous post about Thomas Traherne that his entire poetic output was almost lost forever, only to be saved when someone pulled it out of a pile of burning rubbish…

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