Its true: and I do all things backward run,
Poor Pillard I have a sad tale to tell:
My soul stark naked, rolled all in mire, undone.
Thy Bell may toll my passing peale to Hell.
None in their winding sheet more naked stay
Nor Dead than I. Hence oh! the Judgment Day.
Paraphrase: It is true, I am completely backward, undone, almost unreal. And I have a sad tale to tell. I was completely without any righteousness of my own (naked, explained below) and on my way to Hell. There has never been a man more ruined, more deserving of judgment than me.
Background for the figure of naked and dead:
The primary reference is to Jesus words’ in Revelation 3:
Revelation 3:14–22 (ESV)
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”
That image is further explicated later in Revelation:
Revelation 19:6–8 (ESV)
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb
6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
The image of being “naked” is the picture of one guilty and without defense. Clothing is granted righteousness. This image appears elsewhere in the words of Jesus. Jesus told a parable about coming to a wedding feast. A man has appeared in wedding but he is not properly dressed for the event and thus is thrown out:
Matthew 22:11–14 (ESV)
11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
This parallels the language of Revelation 19 where the garments are given (or not as the case may be) to make on fitting to present at the eschatological joy.
In the story of the Prodigal Son, the wayward son, when he comes home is granted a robe and ring to make him fit for the celebration:
Luke 15:22–24 (ESV)
22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
This usage combines both the picture of clothing the unworthy and the dead being naked (implied of the son, albeit figurative).
Thus, Taylor’s use of being naked (which will be matched in the fourth stanza by Christ providing robes to the naked poet) has deep roots in Christian thought. We are called to a feast, but can only attend if we are properly dressed. If we come without the necessary robes (the righteousness of Christ), we will be rejected. To come to this feast and to be clothed as to be as one who was dead but now is alive. To refuse to understand our need is to be still dead and naked.
The bell: the bell which was to chime the praise of Christ here appears to be toll the death knell of the poet.
Pillard: I cannot find a reference beyond the French which means looter or spoiled. Poor ruined one may be an appropriate gloss.
Scansion: One notable rhythm: NONE in their winding sheet more naked stay. The heavy accent on the first syllable acts like a double underscore. That “none” sounds like a bell toll. As the funeral proceeds, the bell tolls out “NONE, NONE” — this is the chief of sinner.