Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

(Analysis of the first stanza of this poem is found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/edward-taylor-what-feast-is-this-1/)

7 A feast, a feast, a feast of spiced wine
8 Of wines upon the lees, refined well
9 Of fat things full of marrow, things divine
10 Of heavens blest cookery which doth excel.
11 The smell of Lebanon, and Carmel sweet
12 Are earthly damps unto this heavenly reek.

Taylor looking to the Lord’s Supper, continues in his praise for the glory of what is offered in Christ. He alludes to the feasts of wisdom in Proverbs and the bride in Canticles, both of which would be standard sources of imagery and mediation on the matter of the Christian and Christ.

Christ is such a great feast that nothing in the world – not even Lebanon and Carmel – with their highest offerings could offer something which would tempt him away.

Such praise is not hyperbole but rather the true aim of the spiritual life. Christians will often seem songs with language which aims in this direction (“you are the treasure that I seek”), but the profound passion and desire of Taylor is missing in both expression and in life.

Another element of Taylor’s poetry and meditation can be seen when this is compared to Jesus’ injunction:

34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Mark 8:34–38 (KJV 1900). When seen in isolation, Jesus’ call to discipleship sounds wholly negative – yet, as shown by Taylor’s poem, the rejection of the world comes about due to the desire for something better. Deny this world, follow me – because you will get me, and I am worth more than all the world.

We miss the radical and delightful nature of Christ and discipleship when we seek to mix Christ with the world – adding Christ as a good thing, a spice; rather than seeing Christ as worth more than all of Lebanon and Carmel (I was speaking a couple of days ago about Lebanon with a man from there – and even now, despite its hardships, the place is one of great beauty).

Such meditation upon the beauty and greatness of Christ makes leaving the world behind not a burden but a joy.

A feast, a feast, a feast: A figure of amplification/repetition like this has effect of increasing the emotional content: A feast, a feast, a feast ! – of spiced wine. “Spiced” should be pronounced as two syllables: spic-ed (as should “refined” in the next line).

A feast of spiced wine: The narrow phrase “spiced wine” occurs in Canticles 8:2

I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house, who would instruct me:

I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.

Song of Solomon 8:2 (KJV 1900). Fredericks comments on this phrase, “The rare word ‘asis probably refes to stronger win, comparable to the Gr. gleuka in Acts 2:13 ….This drink is probably intended by Shulmmith to stimulate sexual arousal in Solomon.

Another possible reference is to the mixed wine offered at Wisdom’s feast:

Wisdom hath builded her house,

She hath hewn out her seven pillars:

2 She hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine;

She hath also furnished her table.

3 She hath sent forth her maidens:

She crieth upon the highest places of the city,

4 Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither:

As for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him,

5 Come, eat of my bread,

And drink of the wine which I have mingled.

Proverbs 9:1–5 (KJV 1900). The correspondence of Christ and Wisdom is a common motif (See, e.g. 1 Cor. 1:30), thus the allusion to wisdom’s feast would not be beyond Taylor’s reference.

Wine upon the lees: wine may be left upon the “lees” to development the taste. http://www.wineweekly.com/wine-basics/wine-terms/wine-term-lees/

Earthly damps: Damp had a common usage which revolved around the concept of stopping or lessening a good.

The serving of God with cheerfulness strengtheneth both body and mind; whereas excess of grief damps the spirit and enfeebles the body, unfitting us for the service of either God or man.

James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, Volume 4 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 189. “How May we Give Christ a Satisfying Account, Why we Attend Upon the Ministry of the Word?” by Rev. Samuel Annesley, LL.D. Several such examples could be given.

Reek: Reek has no negative connotations. Thomas Brooks (an English Puritan, and thus a bit earlier than Taylor) records the following similar usage:

By all these instances, it is most evident that no earthly portions can satisfy the souls of men. Can a man fill up his chest with air? or can he fill up the huge ocean with a drop of water? or can a few drops of beer quench the thirst of a man in a burning fever? or can the smell of meat, or the reeking fume of a ladle, or dreaming of a banquet, satisfy an hungry stomach? No! no more can any earthly portions fill or satisfy the heart of man. If emptiness can fill the soul, if vanity can satisfy the soul, or if vexation can give content to the soul, then may earthly portions satisfy the soul, but not till then. When a man can gather grapes of thorns, and figs of thistles, and turn day into night, and winter into summer, then shall he find satisfaction in the creatures; but not before. All earthly portions are weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, and they are found to be lighter than the dust of the balance; and this will rather inflame the thirst than quench it.

Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 2, ed. “A Matchless Portion”, Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 34-35.

By this time, Taylor’s usage would be old fashioned: by the 1650’s the negative sense of the word was recorded (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=reek&allowed_in_frame=0). Two possible explanations for the old fashioned usage ( beyond the near rhyme): 1) Poetry tends toward old language; and 2) living in New England, his personal vocabulary would not necessarily track the most “modern” usage of England.