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 Seventh Stanza

My reason now’s more than my sense, I feel

I have more sight than sense. Which seems to be

A rod of sun beams t’whip me for my steel.

My spirit’s spiritless, and dull in me                                   40

For my dead prayerless prayers, the Spirit’s wind

Scarce blows my mill about. I little grind.

Notes

Here is the quandary:

Taylor can see and understand his sin, and he can hate it. Why then can he not stop it? He gives an explanation developed by means of two parallel descriptions. First,

My reason now’s more than my sense,

“Sense” means emotion, desire, as in the contrast of Austen’s title, “Sense and Sensibility”. I am conflicted between my intellect and my passions.  Passion and reason are often seen as conflicting aspects of the human heart:

“He that lets loose the reins upon the necks of the unruly horses of his passions, will endanger the tumbling his reason out of the chariot.” James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 1, Samuel Lee (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 154.

“We had need to maintain a strong garrison of holy reasons against the assaults of strong passions; we may hope for the best, but fear the worst, and prepare to bear whatsoever.”

Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1862), 163.

“Sin, in the first motions and titillations thereof, in the natural conflict, the fight is between distinct faculties, reason and passion, and so is at a distance, and as it were by missile arms; but in the spiritual conflict, the fight is close and immediate, there is something of grace in every faculty to encounter the corruption there.” Edward Polhill, The Works of Edward Polhill (London: Thomas Ward and Co., 1844), 276.

The concept here is that sin has better access to the heart through the passions than through reason, sin being by definition irrational. His trouble is irrational.

The second contrast:

                                    I feel

I have more sight than sense.

Here the word “sense” takes on a different meaning, more akin to “sensibility.” I feel (which has implicitly been condemned in the first contrast with rationality) that I can see this better (sight) than I have reason (the sense) to stop what I am doing.

The poet can see and understand what is happening within him, but he feels unable to transform the working of his heart. He is seeing himself invested with a contrary army driving him along against his will. The effect of this is to increase his sense of guilt. These thoughts persecute him for his inability to change (his steel):

                                                Which seems to be

A rod of sun beams t’whip me for my steel.

The sun beams are his knowledge of his situation, which only brings him trouble.

If he cannot count on his own heart, then certainly he can count on the work of the Holy Spirit to transform his heart. But even that seems ineffective:

            My spirit’s spiritless, and dull in me                                   40

For my dead prayerless prayers, the Spirit’s wind

Scarce blows my mill about.

In both Greek and Hebrew (which would in Taylor’s knowledge and mind) the word for spirit is also the word for wind. The “Spirit’s wind” is thus a sort of pun.

His spirit (his soul, mind) is disheartened, it is “spiritless”. His prayers are without prayer. The Spirit blows upon him, but there is little effect.

The shift to the image of mill grinding (I little grind) perhaps was driven by the necessity of a rhyme on “wind”. Such mills would have been known to Taylor.

Gotland, Gotland, Bunge, Gotland, Byggnader-Jordbruk-Kvarn

The linguistic plays in this stanza are well executed:  (1) The play on two senses of the word “sense”. (2) Spiritless spirit. (3) Prayerless prayer. (4) Spirit’s wind (a play on the English translations of the biblical languages).

There is also a remarkable play on the sound of the words particularly the use of the letter “s”

My reason now’s more than my sense, I feel

I have more sight than sense. Which seems to be

A rod of sun beams t’whip me for my steel.

My spirit’s spiritless, and dull in me                                   40

For my dead prayerless prayers, the Spirit’s wind

Scarce blows my mill about. I little grind.

Finally, while “grind” may have been suggested by his previous “wind,” Taylor does put it to good effect. The preceding lines have been quite “poetic”. There is careful attention to sound and word-play. But here at the end, the elevated language of poetry become quite pedestrian. It is as if the thought itself runs out of strength. The shift to “mill” introduces a conceptual difference (again perhaps his association of mill and wind was much stronger than mine). But in the last two lines we gather up some new sounds. There are the p’s of prayer/prayerless (and Spirit). But then we come to blows, about, grind. Then the speed of the lines completely changes. There is a full stop in the middle of the final line on the word “about.”  The final sentence is prosaic, not musical, and slow, “I little grind.” It is like a resignation.