Thomas Traherne

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Thomas Traherne, MA (1636 or 1637, Hereford, England - ca. September 27, 1674, Teddington) was an English poet and religious writer.


  • 1 Life
  • 2 Works
  • 3 Influence
  • 5 Further reading
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


He was born in Hereford, son of a shoemaker. He entered Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1652, achieving an MA in arts and divinity nine years later. After receiving his degree in 1656 he took holy orders and worked for ten years as a parish priest in Credenhill, near Hereford, before becoming the private chaplain to Sir Orlando Bridgeman, the Lord Keeper of the Seals of Charles II, and minister at Teddington in 1667. He died at Bridgeman's house at Teddington on or about the 27th of September 1674 and is buried in St Mary's Church under the reading desk.


Thomas led a humble and devout life, and was well read in primitive antiquity and the fathers. Only one of his literary works, Roman Forgeries (1673), was published in his lifetime. Christian Ethicks (1675) followed soon, followed later by A Serious and Patheticall Contemplation of the Mercies of God (1699), but then much of his finest work was lost, corrupted or misattributed to other writers.

His poems have a curious history. They were left in manuscript and presumably passed with the rest of his library into the hands of his brother Philip. They then became apparently the possession of the Skipps of Ledbury, Herefordshire. When the property of this family was dispersed in 1888 the value of the manuscripts was unrecognised, for in 1896 or 1897 they were discovered by W. T. Brooke on a street bookstall. Alexander Grosart bought them, and proposed to include them in his edition of the works of Henry Vaughan, to whom he was disposed to assign them. He left this task uncompleted, and Bertram Dobell, who eventually secured the manuscripts, was able to establish the authorship of Thomas Traherne.

The discovery included, beside the poems, four complete Centuries of Meditation, short paragraphs embodying reflexions on religion and morals. Some of these, evidently autobiographical in character, describe a childhood from which the "glory and the dream" was slow to depart. Of the power of nature to inform the mind with beauty, and the ecstatic harmony of a child with the natural world, the earlier poems, which contain his best work, are full. In their manner, as in their matter, they remind the reader of William Blake and William Wordsworth. The poems on childhood may well have been inspired by Vaughan's lines entitled The Retreat. He quotes George Herbert's "Longing" in the newly discovered Lambeth Manuscript. His poetry is essentially metaphysical and his workmanship is uneven, but the collection contains passages of great beauty.

His poems were published in Poems (1903) and Centuries of Meditations (1908).More recently, the Select Meditations were published in 1997. The newest discoveries are The Ceremonial Law, an unfinished epic poem found at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC and the Lambeth Manuscript at the Lambeth Palace Library in London. The Lambeth Manuscipt contains four and a fragmentary fifth mainly prose works kown as: Inducements to Retiredness, A Sober View of Dr Twisse, Seeds of Eternity, The Kingdom of God and the fragment Love. For accounts of these discoveries see the Times Literary Supplement articles by Julia Smith and Laetitia Yeandle (Nov 7 1997) and Denise Inge and Cal Macfarlane (2 June 2000).

Thomas was one of the Metaphysical poets and probably the most celebratory of all of them, his writing expressing an ardent, childlike love of God and a firm belief in man's relation to divinity. He introduced a child’s viewpoint unknown in the religious literature of the time, recalling the innocence of childhood experience, with little mention of sin and suffering and concentrating more on the glory of creation, to the extent that some have seen his verse as bordering upon pantheism. However, recent discoveries such as the Select Meditations, Inducements to Retiredness and A Sober View of Dr Twisse contain both discussion of church doctrines surrounding the question of sin, and moments of personal confession.


Traherne's work was personally influential on the thought of such notables as Thomas Merton, Dorothy Sayers, Elizabeth Jennings and C. S. Lewis, who called Centuries of Meditations "almost the most beautiful book in English."

A stanza from Traherne is quoted in the movie Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce by abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson quotes, "Strange treasures in this fair world appear..." and goes on to say it is from a poem by Thomas Traherne.


  • The world is a mirror of Infinite Beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a Temple of Majesty, yet no man regards it. It is a region of Light and Peace, did not men disquiet it. It is the Paradise of God. It is more to man since he is fallen than it was before. It is the place of Angels and the Gate of Heaven. First Century, Meditation 31
  • You are as prone to love, as the sun is to shine. Second Century, Meditation 65
  • As nothing is more easy than to think, so nothing is more difficult than to think well. First Century, Meditation 8
  • Souls are god's jewels. "First Century,Meditation 15"

Further reading

  • Thomas Traherne: Poetry and Prose, Denise Inge (ed), SPCK 2002
  • Select Meditations, Julia Smith (ed), Carcanet, 1997.
  • The Works of Thomas Traherne volume 1, Jan Ross(ed), Boydell and Brewer 2005.
  • Landscapes of Glory: Daily Readings with Thomas Traherne, Donald Allchin (ed), Dartman Longman Todd, 1989.
  • Waking Up in Heaven: A Contemporary Edition of Centuries of Meditations, David Buresh (ed), Hesed Press, 2002.
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition article "Thomas Traherne", a publication now in the public domain.
  • Selected Poetry of Thomas Traherne at Representative Poetry Online
  • The Strange Case of Thomas Traherne by Forrest Gander
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