, , , ,

What shall I say? Such rich fullness would

Make stammering tongues speak smoothly, and enshrine 

The dumb man’s mouth with silver streams like gold

Of eloquence making air to chime

Yet I am tongue-tied, stupid, senseless stand,

And drier drained than is my pen I hand.

There is an irony in this stanza: The theme of the fullness of Christ would make a “stammering tongue speak smoothly”. And yet, Taylor is unable to speak smoothly – the theme which would make the dumb speak, fails to make him – a man of some talent – able to speak at all. 

In fact, he does not merely fail to rise to the occasion, he fails completely: his speaking tongue is tied, he has less ability to write than his quill pen without ink.

There is another level of irony in this structure: lines 1-4 run smoothly, they are eloquent. The meter and sentence structure are free and the lines run easily. And so the thought of the theme creating eloquence is in fact eloquent. 

But when Taylor comes to himself, in the last two lines, the lines stammer. The fifth line is simply ungrammatical:

Yet I am tongue-tied, stupid, senseless stand,

If we remove the middle phrases it reads, Yet I am senseless stand. The necessary addition which must come before final clause (I… senseless stand) is missing, and so the line is tongue-tied. He is becoming stupid (unable to speak) in the act of considering his senselessness. 

Likewise the last night also ends with poor grammar – forced by the length of the line and the need for a rhyme:

And drier drained than is my pen I hand.

The last word must be “hold” “that is my pen I hold.” But “hold” will not rhyme, and so Taylor forces “Hand” into that space. Interestingly a modern writer would like use hold – if rhyme were the only rule being broken. But Taylor maintains the rhyme and kills the sense. It is a deft touch.

It would be easy to read this stanza as merely being ill-constructed, perhaps a draft waiting for the final version. But I think it is purposeful. I make that conclusion because the first four lines do run smoothly. It is in the act of considering his own lack of merit that the poem begins to “lack merit.” 

The poem in structure is what means by sense: I am a bad writer, and thus he writes poorly. He begins to write poorly as soon as the question of his ability presents itself.