Oh! Bright! Bright thing! I fain would something say
Lest silence should indict me. Yet I fear
To say a syllable lest at thy day
I be presented for my tattling here.
Coarse phancy, ragged faculties, alas!
And blunted tongue don’t suit: sighs soil the glass.
Tattling: speaking nonsense
Fancy: what we would mean by “imagination”.
Faculties: cognitive, preceptive abilities.
The poet gazes upon the exalted Christ: the joy of the sight has so overdone him that he cannot be silent. He fears not to speak, because the Lord deserves praise. The necessity to praise is built into the primary text underlying this (and the preceding poems in this series), the Carmen Christi of Philippians 2:6-11. That song of Christ ends with the proclamation that “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and ever tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11, ESV). Therefore, praise of the exalted Lord is impossible to avoid.
And yet he fears to speak because his abilities and command of language are insufficient. This idea has ample Scriptural warrant. Perhaps the most pointed exampled being Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians upon seeing the heavenly state:
3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 2 Corinthians 12:3–4 (ESV)
Also relevant here would be Ecclesiastes 5:
5 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. Ecclesiastes 5:1–2 (ESV)
If we must guard our words on earth, how much more so if we were present in the heavenly court! There is of course the irony of the poet speaking about whether he should speak: in the very act of considering silence, he is not being silent. But what he does do is indict himself (rather than wait to be indicted for speaking foolishly on the “thy day”).
By referring to “thy day”, Taylor means “the Day of Lord”, which is a repeated phrase throughout Scripture and which arguably refers to different historical events of judgment:
Expression used by OT prophets (as early as the eighth-century B.C. prophet Amos) to signify a time in which God actively intervenes in history, primarily for judgment. Thus “the day of the Lord” is also called “the day of the Lord’s anger” (Zep 2:2 KJV).
Sometimes “the day of the Lord” is used in the OT to speak of a past judgment (Lam 2:22). More often an impending future judgment is in view (Jl 2:1–11). Ultimately, though, the term refers to climactic future judgment of the world (Jl 3:14–21; Mal 4:5). Often prophecy of a near-future event and an end-time prophecy are merged, the immediate judgment being a preview of the final day of the Lord. The prophecy of Isaiah against Babylon is an example (Is 13:5–10). Jesus combined events described there with other prophecies to explain his second coming (Mk 13:24–37). Another example is Joel’s prophecy of the day of the Lord (Jl 1:15–2:11). Though the prophet initially spoke of God’s judgment on Israel by a locust plague, that judgment prompted further pronouncements about a final day of the Lord far beyond Joel’s time (Jl 2:31; 3:14–17). That day of the Lord extended even beyond the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost predicted by Joel’s prophecy (Jl 2:28–32; Acts 2:16–21; Rv 6:12, 13). The NT uses the term exclusively to mean the end time.
Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 588.
The rhythm of the piece underscores the wonder of the poet as he looks upon the Lord Ascended:
O! Bright! Bright thing!: ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Four straight stresses.The line is actually overloaded with stresses.
The rhythm is again interrupted in the fifth line of the stanza, where he indicts himself: Coarse fancy, ragged faculties: ‘ ‘ ^ ‘^. The word “coarse” upsets the entire line thus doing in rhythm what he fears he would do if he spoke.