Oh! Wealthy theme!
The Scripture reference for this poem (Taylor’s Meditations were mediations on particular passages of Scripture) is Colossian 1:19. This particular verse comes in a midst of a poem concerning the unique nature of Jesus Christ, as both God and man. The particular verse chosen by Taylor reads
For in him [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
This passage is related to another passage also by Paul describing Christ found in 1 Corinthians 1:30
Christ Jesus who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption..
One way to think of the Christian understanding of Christ is to see Jesus Christ holding a position between God and humanity. God does us good in Christ; and God reconciles us to Him in Christ. When Jesus says, “No one gets to the Father except through me,” that is built up in the concept.
It is this extraordinary concept, that the fullness of God dwells in Jesus – which is both wonderful and paradoxical in the extreme (the infinite and the finite bound up) which leads Taylor to begin (By “fancy” he means “imagination”)
Oh! Wealthy theme! Oh! Feeble fancy: I
Must needs admire, when I recall to mind
That’s fullness, this it’s emptiness, though spy
I have no flowering brain thereto incline.
May damps do out my fire. I cannot, though
I would admire, find heat enough thereto.
The first line has an odd structure, because it has three major breaks. The final “I” following the colon hurries the thought over into the second line; it feels like falling down a stair.
The third line is difficult to. I believe that it should be elongated as follows:
That is its (the theme) or that is his (Christ’s or God’s) fullness; this it’s emptiness (the it must be Taylor’s “fancy” or Taylor himself).
Though spy: must mean: notice this: look.
The idea must be a contrast between the theme of “fullness” and Taylor’s “emptiness”.
The fourth line is a good example of Taylor’s poetic reasoning: Rather than elaborate a single metaphor at length, he tends to pull up imagery, even when it does not have obvious connections. In these last three lines he moves from flowering to a furnace.
His “flowering brain,” would be a brain which could produce the necessary understanding and language – he does not have a “flowering brain,” which is another way of stating that he does not have sufficient “fancy”. (The term “fancy” had a very particular intellectual meaning in the 17th Century.
Jonathan Edwards, a generation after Taylor, uses the phrase, a “very fruitful brain and copious fancy.” [Jonathan Edwards, “‘Images of Divine Things’ ‘Types,’” in Typological Writings, ed. Wallace E. Anderson, vol. 11, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1993), 32.] Which is similar to flowering brain and fancy being mixed.
Edwards also draws together fancy and fire in the following passage:
“Observe the danger of being led by fancy; as he that looks on the fire or on the clouds, giving way to his fancy, easily imagines he sees images of men or beasts in those confused appearances.” Jonathan Edwards, “‘Images of Divine Things’ ‘Types,’” in Typological Writings, ed. Wallace E. Anderson, vol. 11, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1993), 116.
Perhaps some such thinking (seeing images in a fire) lead Taylor to draw fancy and a fire(furnace) together.
The last two lines draw upon the concept of “heat” as the basis for human conduct and intellectual production. Although perhaps uncommon to us, it was not a strange way of thinking for one of Taylor’s time. (For example, “ Christians are to receive such as are weak in the faith into their hearts by love, and not to trouble or heat their heads with cramping disputes.” James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 4 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 372.)
The “damps” are the dampers on a furnace to keep a furnace from overheating. His natural inclinations and dullness prevent a sufficient rise in his imagination.