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Meditation 30, First Series

2 Cor. 5:17

This poem contains an interesting ambiguity in the way in the precise focus of poem is in places difficult to find. The overall thrust of the poem is a prayer that the Lord would repair the ruined palace of the human being. It is a prayer that the Lord would make the poet into something new

Lord, make me thy new creature. (line 45). Which comes from the text for the meditation, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature.” 2 Cor. 5:17.

The “palace” in need of repair is the human being. The ambiguity comes about by the unclear focus as to whether it is the poet or Christ who is immediately in view. To call the poet himself “the stateliest palace angels e’er did view” (3) seems wrong. That would necessarily be Christ, himself.  

It would also be appropriate to write that the palace had been spoiled by an enemy. In Isaiah 52:14, the prophet writes that “his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of man.”

In the second stanza, the poet writes

Thou wast more glorious than glory’s wealth. (8)

Again, this would be more appropriately addressed to Christ, than to read this as the poet writing thus of himself fin the second person. 

But then in line 26, Taylor writes

My Lord, repair thy palace. 

And the remainder of the poem unambiguously reckons the poet to be the palace to be repaired, with the prayer to be made a new creature being the sum of that prayer. The deliberate use of the word “palace” then brings us back to the first stanza and the reference to “the stateliest palace”. It is possible the move referenes to two separate palaces. 

But I suspect that Taylor is doing something else. The palace is the image of God which is the purpose and the created nature of each human being (“the image of thyself”). Jesus is the perfect representation of that image; human beings who were created to accurately reflect that image are now spoiled and need to be remade to display that image.

The ambiguity which runs in this poem in his moving between apparent references to Christ and then to the poet can be sorted by using Colossians 3:10 as a key:

And we have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him. 

In Colossians 1:16 Paul identifies the creator as Christ, “For by him all things were created.” And in verse 15, Paul identified Christ as “the image of the invisible God.” 

The ambiguity in the poem as to the reference of the palace being renewed lies in the identification of the Christian with Christ. I think that Taylor is playing off of this identification and purposefully creating an ambiguity of a dual reference. This is inherent in text for the poem. Consider:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.

To be “in Christ” is to be the “new creature”. What appertains to Christ becomes in a manner impressed upon the creature in Christ. This identification of the individual believer with Christ lies at the heart of this poem. 

The first stanza sets up the problem:

The daintiest draft thy pencil ever drew

The finest vessel, Lord, thy fingers framed

The stateliest palace angels e’er did view

Under thy hatch betwixt decks here contained

Broke, marred, spoiled, undone, defiled doth lie

In rubbish ruined by thine enemy. 

It begins with a series of three parallel descriptions of the object of the poem: “The daintiest draft”, “the finest vessel,” “the stateliest palace.” Dainty no longer carries the same connotation as it did for Taylor, but the meaning is apparent by looking at the parallel construction: This is the finest which could be. To call a human being a “draft” (a drawing) is an interesting play on the concept of “image.”

A vessel and palace likewise make sense as that bears or displays something greater. 

As we have previously considered, the reference is ambiguous in that it appears to refer to Christ (who would be the greatest of all examples) and yet the reference in the end will be to Taylor and his prayer to be remade.

The fourth line creates a nearly impossible combination of metaphors: this draft, vessel, palace, is now stowed between the decks of a ship. A draft could easily fit below deck, but to put a ship or even more strangely a palace below deck is impossible. Perhaps the use of the word “vessel” in line 2 suggested a return to a ship in line 4.

This for Taylor must have been a vivid image, when we realize that he had taken a ship from England to New England in the 17th century, which would have been a couple of months in a cramped tiny ship in the middle of the Atlantic. That many things must be been spoiled below decks on these trips in the salt water and bilge I take for granted. 

And it is there in the depths of the vessel, churning on the sea, something of surpassing value. An enemy has thrown it into the bilge where is now ruined and sloshing in the half light.

a bilge pump

This is an apt image for the fallen human race; and for the head of the redeemed race, the Second Adam Christ as he was struck down at the cross. 

And before leaving this stanza we should know the alliteration:

The daintiest draft thy pencil ever drew

The finest vessel, Lord, thy fingers framed

The stateliest palace angels e’er did view

Under thy hatch betwixt decks here contained

Broke, marred, spoiled, undone, defiled doth lie

In rubbish ruined by thine enemy.