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Meditation 33

My Lord, my life, can envy ever be

A golden virtue? Then would God I were 

Top full thereof until it colors me

With yellow streaks for thy dear sake, most dear

Till I be envious made by’t at myself,                                         5

As scarely loving thee, my life, my health.

Oh! What strange charm encrampt my heart with spite

Making my love gleam upon a toy?

Lay out cartloads of love upon a mite?

Scarce lay a mite of love on thee, my Joy?                                 10

Oh, lovely thou, shalt not thou loved be?

Shall I ashame thee thus? Oh! Shame for me!

Nature’s amazed, Oh monstrous thing, quoth she,

Not love my life? What violence doth split

True love and life, that they should sundered be?                   15

She doth not lay such eggs, nor on them sit.

How do I sever then my heart with all

It powers whose love scare to my life doth crawl.

Goly lined out a paradise in power

Where e’ery seed a royal coach became                                      20

For Life to ride in, to each shining flower.

And made man’s flower with glory all ore flame.

Hell’s ink-faced elf black venom spt upon

The same and killed it. So that life is gone. 

Life thus abused fled to the golden ark,                                    25

Lay locked up there in mercy’s seat enclosed.

Which did incorporate it whence its sparke

Enlivens all things in this ark enclosed. 

Oh, glorious ark! Life’s store-house full of glee!

Shall not my love safe locked up lie in thee?                            30

Lord ark my soule safe in thyself, whereby

I and my life again may joined be.

That I may find what once I did destroy

Again conferred upon my soul in thee.

Thou art this golden ark, this. Living tree                                35

Where life lies treasured up for all in thee.

Oh! Graft me in this tree of life within

The paradise of God, that I may live.

Thy life make live in me. I’ll then begin 

To bear thy living fruits, and them fort give.                                                   40

Give me my life this way; and I’ll bestow

My love on thee, my life, and it shall grow.

Stanza One:

My Lord, my life, can envy ever be

A golden virtue? Then would God I were 

Top full thereof until it colors me

With yellow streaks for thy dear sake, most dear

Till I be envious made by’t at myself,                                         5

As scarely loving thee, my life, my health.

Summary:

This poem beings with an address to God, whom the poet calls, “My Lord, my life”. That theme of life will run through-out the poem. The theme of “envy” will be used ironically, as noted by calling envy – a sin – a “golden virtue”.  He is expressing a desire that he be filled with envy at himself because he “scarcely” love God who is his life.

At this point in the poem, the exact nature of the envy is difficult to ascertain. What do have is a jarring introduction where he wishes (would God I were) to filled with envy against himself.

Notes:

One striking question is the use of the word “yellow” for envy:

The explanation for the use of ‘yellow’ is given thus:

There is a disease in the body, called the yellow jaundice,† which makes the persons look yellow all over: this springs from the overflowing of the gall, which, overspreading the whole man, makes it lifeless, listless. Covetousness is the yellow jaundice of the soul, which arises from the overflowing of the heart with love to yellow gold, by which a Christian is dulled and deadened.

James Nichols, “How May We Get Rid of Spiritual Sloth”, Rev. Mr. Simmons, Puritan Sermons, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 440. Envy being a form of covetousness. 

We are more familiar with envy being “green” from Shakespeare:

Iago:


O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on; that cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;
But, O, what damned minutes tells he o’er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!

The concept of envy:

The basic concept is one desiring something. 

“Not to envy the prosperity of the wicked.” John Lightfoot, The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot, ed. John Rogers Pitman, vol. 7 (London: J. F. Dove, 1822), 349. It arises from discontentment, “thy discontentedness usually breeds envy at it.” Jeremiah Burroughs, “Sermon IX,” in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (London: W. Bentley, 1651), 112. It also has the sense of being unhappy at the happiness of another, “Pride is impatient of reproof, and envy looketh with an evil eye upon their privileges and advantages in Christ.” Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 10 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 377.

Envy springing from discontentment then creates discontentment in the one on experiencing envy:

Envie is a squint-eyed foole, Job 5:2. Envie slayeth the silly one. James 3:14. If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts. Envie is a bitter thing, and causes strife, and makes that bitter too: So ver. 16. Where envying and strife is. Gal. 5:20. Hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings. 1 Cor. 3:3. There is among you envying, strife, divisions. Envy made divisions between Angels and men; it was the first sinne, not the first borne of the Devill, but that which turned Angels into Devils. The first heart-division amongst men was between Cain and Abel, and what caused it but envy? Who can stand before Envy? she is subtill, undermining, dares not appeare at the first; but if she cannot be satisfied with her under-workes, then she flings, rends, frets, and fights, uses violence, seeks to raise a contrary faction, falls on any thing in the world so be it mischief may be done

Jeremiah Burroughs, Irenicum, To the Lovers of Truth and Peace (London: Robert Dawlman, 1646), 123.

This then gives us a hint at the ironic use of envy by Taylor. He seeks to stir up a discontentment in himself to not settle for the “toy” (Stanza Two) but seek the better.

Theodore Gericault,

Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy (1822)

The quality of the desire:

Consider this language of his prayer:

Then would God I were 

Top full thereof until it colors me

With yellow streaks

His desire is that he becoming completely colored by this desire to the point that it is physically manifested: you would look at him and see this desire in him.

The ground of this desire:

until it colors me

With yellow streaks for thy dear sake, most dear

The prayed for envy is grounded in the Lord who is his life. The prayer itself, for the poem is a prayer, is directly addressed to “My Lord, my life”. And it is for the sake of the Lord that he wishes to be branded with this envy.

The paradoxical object of the desire:

Till I be envious made by’t at myself,                                         5

As scarely loving thee, my life, my health.

He seeks to be envious at himself. This presents a puzzle: How can one be envious of oneself?

The rational for the desire:

Because the poet “scarcely” love the Lord, who is his life, his health.

The quandary:

At this point we have a quandary: What does it mean that he wishes to be envious “at” himself because he does not rightly love God?

Prosody:

The stanzas are ten syllable iambic pentameter, with an ABABCC rhyme scheme. This form is known as the Italian sestet, or the sextilla.

The rhythm is regular through out. However, the phrase “by’t at” cannot satisfy the iamb well because the “by’t” must be unaccented from place: which is very difficult to perform in reading. 

The interesting musical effect in this stanza is on the word “my”. The first two phrases are “my Lord, my life”, the last two, “my life, my health.” This also forms an inclusion.