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Still I complain; I am complaining still.

Oh! Woe is me! Was ever heart like mine?

A sty of filth, a trough of washing swill

A dunghill pit, a puddle of mere slim,

A nest of vipers, hive of hornet; stings,                          5

A bag of poison, civit-box of sins.

Was ever heart like mine? So bad? Black, vile?

Is any devil blacker, or can hell

Produce its match? It is the very soil

Where Satan reads his charms, and set his spell.       10

His bowling alley, where he shears his fleece

At nine pins, nine holes, morrice, Fox and Geese.


The opening of the poem is remarkable. To begin in the middle of an action, in medias res, is the form of an epic. The Illiad begins years into the Trojan War. Paradise Lost begins with Satan already cast down and Adam created. But lyrics usually begin at their beginning.

Here, the poem begins “Still I complain.” Unless we take the other poems written so far in this series of mediations as part of the conversation, we come into this poem mid-complaint and without a background.

The effect is interesting: We need to read what is written as part of a continuing complaint. Perhaps that explains the rather extended complaint which will follow. Taylor will four times in the poem write, “Was ever heart like mine.” He will speak at length concerning the depravity and sinfulness of heart.

We must heart this as a continuing complaint over his own sinfulness. “I am complaining still.”

He is incredulous that he possesses a heart capable of such sin, “Oh! Woe is me.”

And then he asks his question

Was ever heart like mine? (2)

The repetition and peculiar form of the question make for an interesting allusion to an earlier poem of George Herbert.  Taylor studied Herbert in school and Herbert Stanford in his introduction to Taylor’s collected poems (1960) states that Herbert was a favorite poet of Taylor. Therefore, we are on good ground to see the allusion: (1) the questions are rhetorically distinct and similar to one-another; (2) Taylor would have known the poem from which the allusion comes.

Herbert’s poem The Sacrifice recounts the passion of Christ, from Christ’s point of view. Two representative stanzas read:

Mine own Apostle, who the bag did beare,

Though he had all I had, did not forbeare

To sell me also, and to put me there:

                                              Was ever grief like mine?

For thirtie pence he did my death devise,

Who at three hundred did the ointment prize,

Not half so sweet as my sweet sacrifice:

                                              Was ever grief like mine?

Each stanza ends with the refrain, “Was ever grief like mine?” Of particular interest for our allusion here is found in these stanzas:

O all ye who passe by, behold and see;

Man stole the fruit, but I must climbe the tree;

The tree of life to all, but onely me:

                                              Was ever grief like mine?

Lo, here I hang, charg’d with a world of sinne,

The greater world o’ th’ two; for that came in

By  words, but this by sorrow I must win:

                                              Was ever grief like mine?

The death of Christ was for the sin of man. Christ was charged with sin, and for the sin man bore grief like no one.

Taylor alluding to this poem of Christ’s grief experienced for Taylor’s sin and look to his own heart and asks, Was ever a heart like mine. Taylor supplies the sin; Christ suffers the grief. Man stole the fruit; Christ is hoist onto the tree.

The first stanza simply recounts the foul things present in his heart: sty, swill, dunghill, puddle, vipers, hornets, stings, poison, sin. It is appropriate that the last in the list of evils is plain sin.

The second stanza begins with the question, Was ever a heart like mine? But this time, rather than recount the evil it contains it references his heart’s relationship to the Devil. His heart is the place where the Devil conducts magic (charms, spells); it is the place where Satan plays games and rejoices. The image of his heart as the Devil’s bowling alley or the place the Devil plays tag (Fox and Geese) is striking and terrifying.

He is filled with all evil; and evil has a playground in his heart. He thinks of Christ’s death and grief (“Was ever a grief like mine”) and can think only of his own evil (“Was ever a heart like mine.”)