This essay by Mark Honegger, in Mosaic (vol. 47, issue 3, 2014) provides an interesting note on what was taking place in Taylor’s world at the time these poems were written:
Taylor excoriates himself for his sins; his failure is a personal failure before God, and his keen sense of unworthiness coincides with a number of external pressures. Taylor had a strong sense of circumstances being providentially directed by God, who responds to the moral acts of humanity. These two poems were written in 1690. His beloved wife of fifteen years, Elizabeth, had died in 1689 (five of their eight children had preceded Elizabeth in death). In 1690 the town of Westfield, where Taylor ministered, asked him to take a salary cut: ten years later Taylor would threaten to leave there because of salary disputes with his parish. At this time, a smallpox epidemic spread throughout the colony. It eventually claimed a number of lives from Westfield itself. The references in Meditation 39 to “Green, Yellow, Blew streakt Poyson hellish, ranck, / Bubs hatcht in natures nest on Serpents Eggs” may be a reference to the signs of smallpox (Powell), and the Puritans were wont to interpret such epidemics as a sign of God’s judgment. Finally, Taylor was engaged in a major theological disagreement with a prominent clergyman in the colony, Solomon Stoddard, over who should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper, a dispute that was to occupy Taylor’s attention for the rest of his life. To sum up, Taylor’s life outside his poetry was desperate on many accounts, in his family, in his small frontier village, within the church at large in the colony. It is no surprise that Meditations 39 and 40 show a poignant sense of desperation as well. The cumulative stresses of Taylor’s life appear to be expressed as a spiritual crisis before God. What this essay also shows is that Taylor’s external woes, his interpretation of his circumstances as spiritual distress, and the expression of both in the most powerful imagery of sin’s power and loathsomeness in all of his poetry, also coincide with the disturbance in Taylor’s sensorium that is expressed by his line: “I have more Sight than Sense.” Though both Meditations 39 and 40 (which begin in desperation) end in hope and calmness, there may not have been an internal harmony in Taylor’s soul at this time to match the spiritual harmony with which these poems conclude.
“I have more Sight than Sense”: the sensorium in Taylor’s Meditations 38-40, Mark Honegger. Mr. Honegger’s essay primarily concerns the choice of sensory metaphors in Taylor.