The Dobell Folio poems (Traherne, 1958), originally thought to be a disconnected series, are now generally held to be a unified sequence (Day, 1982, p. 137). A. L. Clements (1969) has argued that the sequence as a whole follows the innocence-fall-redemption pattern of the Christian theological tradition (p. 61). Stanley Stewart (1970), however, feels that it is more loosely organized than Clements believes, though he grants that "the journey of the soul from birth to the New Jerusalem [the heavenly kingdom on earth] informs the structure of the sequence" (p. 171). The explanation of Felicity, Traherne's dominant theme in the Centuries, as a transformed state of consciousness in which the mind experiences its own unbounded nature, allows an alternative interpretation of the organization of the poems. This view suggests that Traherne is again, as in the Centuries of Meditations, framing his discourse in accordance with the inductive approach to knowledge--namely, from the complementary standpoints of experience and understanding. He is seeking in this way to present a thorough, practical knowledge of the nature of Felicity that will hold up, at least in spirit, to the requirements of the infant experimental sciences of his day.
From this perspective, the ordering of the Dobell Folio poems is as follows: the first 15 poems ("The Salutation" to "Fullnesse") span the real-life experience of Felicity from its inception in infancy, through its loss in adolescence, to its possible restoration and full cognitive development in adulthood. Traherne shifts to a more analytical mode in poems 16 through 29 ("Nature" to "Love"), exploring in a fairly rudimentary way the intellectual ramifications of his experiences, including Traherne's understanding of Felicity's refinement into a glorified state of unbounded love--a state of total oneness with the universe. In the final poems, running from "Thoughts. I" to "Goodnesse" (Poems 30-37), Traherne synthesizes the experience of Felicity with his intellectual understanding into a utopian vision of a society of individuals who embody both the highest bliss of Felicity and the intellectual wisdom it engenders.
The following outline -15- divides the poem into thematic groupings, which highlight the unifying role performed by the concept of Felicity. parallel to the inductive treatment it receives in the Centuries of Meditations, Felicity is presented initially as a direct "empirical" experience which is subsequently explored and clarified through an ordered analysis:
The first fifteen poems in the series, "The Salutation" through "Fullnesse," tell the story of Felicity in an individual's development, corresponding in Christian theology to the "redemptive pattern." -16- The experience of Felicity, according to Traherne, is vibrant and clear in childhood (Innocence), is subsequently overshadowed in adolescence (Fall), but can shine, once again, in full glory in adulthood (Redemption). In the first four of these poems, he records the quintessential purity and bliss of his childhood. In the poem "Innocence," for example, he expresses the naturally positive, radiantly happy state of mind with which he was gifted as a child:
But that which most I Wonder at, which most
I did esteem my Bliss, which most I Boast,
And ever shall Enjoy, is that within
I felt no Stain, nor Spot of Sin.
No Darkness then did overshade,
But all within was Pure and Bright,
No Guilt did Crush, nor fear invade
But all my Soul was full of Light.
A Joyful Sense and Purity
Is all I can remember.
The very Night to me was Bright,
'Twas Summer in December.
Felicity, the "Joyful Sense and Purity" he remembers, seemed to shine within him from season to season, through day and night. All the world seemed like an Eden to him, in those guilt-free, unclouded days, and he was a "little Adam":
The Prospect was the Gate of Heaven, that Day
The ancient Light of Eden did convey
Into my Soul: I was an Adam there,
A little Adam in a Sphere
Of Joys! O there my Ravished sense
Was entertained in Paradise,
And had a Sight of Innocence. All was beyond all Bound and Price.
An Antepast [foretaste] of Heaven sure!
I on the Earth did reign.
Within, without me, all was pure.
I must become a Child again.
He infers from the strength and purity of his joy that he was, indeed, standing in paradise like the unfallen Adam, the king of all he surveyed, viewing the all-encircling "Gate of Heaven" in the "ancient Light of Eden."
The other poems in this group strike the same note of unqualified, unstained happiness. In the pivotal poem in the set, "The Preparative," Traherne paints a stunning, highly imaginative picture of himself within the womb:
My Body being Dead, my Limbs unknown;
Before I skilled [sic] to prize
Those living Stars mine Eyes,
Before my Tongue or Cheeks were to me shown,
Before I knew my Hands were mine,
Or that my Sinews did my Members join,
When neither Nostril, Foot, nor Ear,
As yet was seen, or felt, or did appear;
I was within
A House I knew not, newly clothed with Skin.
Then was my Soul my only All to me,
A Living Endless Eye,
Far wider than the Sky
Whose Power, whose Act, whose Essence was to see.
I was an Inward Sphere of Light,
Or an Interminable Orb of Sight,
An Endless and a Living Day,
A vital Sun that round about did ray
All Life and Sense,
A Naked Simple Pure Intelligence.
I then no Thirst nor Hunger did conceive,
No dull Necessity,
No Want was Known to me;
Without Disturbance then I did receive
The fair Ideas of all Things,
And had the Honey even without the Stings.
A Meditating Inward Eye
Gazing at Quiet did within me lie,
And every Thing
Delighted me that was their Heavenly King.
the unlimited vastness of pure existence or pure consciousness, the essential constituent and content of life. It is the field of the unlimited, the unbounded, eternal life, pure intelligence, pure existence, the absolute. (pp. 26)
Intimations of Felicity came to him throughout his childhood. They were "Divine Impressions" which "Did quickly enter and my Soul enflame" (ll. 55-56). That Felicity represents a dramatic transformation in the entire cognitive mechanism is suggested by subsequent lines, in which Traherne examines the basis of this change:
'Tis not the Object, but the Light
That maketh Heaven; 'Tis a purer Sight.
Appears to none but them that purely see.
It is not the objects of perception themselves, Traherne insists, that "Maketh Heaven," that is, that give rise to infinite happiness; it is the quality or "Light" of consciousness itself that determines how they are perceived. Felicity is a state of "pure Sight" in which, in other words, the "Light" or mechanism of perception is tremendously enhanced, resulting in a highly refined pleasure in the objects of experience. This is a large part of what, in fact, he calls Felicity. This phenomenon is independent of any attachment to those objects; it is entirely self-sufficient. Traherne calls this state of inner freedom the "Estate of Glory"; he refers, contrastingly, to a life lived outside of the influence of Felicity as the "Estate of Misery." His theory of enlightened perception parallels, in particular, Maharishi's description of enhanced sensory experience in the sixth state of consciousness, God consciousness, which will be discussed later in the essay in connection with other related poems.
In the final stanza of "The Preparative," Traherne looks ahead to the return of Felicity in adulthood and asserts that this same state of "Pure Intelligence" in the adult generates a free, alert but tranquil mind, spontaneously "Acquainted with the Golden Mean" (l. 65), the ancient Greek model of balance, and naturally in possession of beauty, excellence, and pleasure:
A Disentangled and a Naked Sens
e A Mind that[']s unpossessed,
A Disengaged Breast
, An Empty and a Quick Intelligence
Acquainted with the Golden Mean,
An Even Spirit Pure and Serene,
Is that where Beauty, Excellence,
And Pleasure keep their Court of Residence.
My Soul retire,
Get free, and so thou shalt even all Admire.
The mind in the state of Felicity--serene, detached, lively--is disentangled from outer phenomena and freely admires or enjoys everything. Maharishi (1986) explains that such a state of evenness or balance arises automatically when the mind, in its self-referral state, is attuned to pure consciousness. Maharishi explains that the field of pure consciousness
. . . is perfectly balanced because its status is self-referral, its activity self-interacting. It cannot be probed by anything from outside. It cannot be disturbed. It is a state of eternal balance, which is the ideal of balance. (p. 109)
Traherne's proposition that the full recovery of Felicity is accompanied by a natural, dynamic state of order and harmony is thus explained by Maharishi's Vedic Science and Technology.
The next seven poems, "The Instruction" to "Silence," expose the damaging effects of the post-childhood loss of Felicity, and offer some practical guidelines on how to create conditions conducive to its retrieval. In "The Instruction" and "The Vision," for example, Traherne shifts from invoking the joys of childhood Felicity to inducing the reader, now in the "estate of Misery," to regain this marvelous state. In the former poem, he admonishes the reader to renounce transitory pleasures and desires which were "to thy Spirit unknown, / When to thy Blessed Infancy / The World, thy Self, thy God was shown" (ll. 6-8). They are responsible for all unhappiness and misery because they inhibit the influence of Felicity. Forsake them, he roundly encourages ("thy flesh abjure" l. 1), in favor of the fair and "Stable" bliss of Felicity. In the poem "Silence" he then acknowledges that the first wonderful impressions of Felicity, given to him effortlessly, in "silence, "as a child, "will whisper if I will but hear, / And penetrate the Heart, if not the Ear" (ll. 87-88). The bliss of Felicity is always there, deep within the mind ("The Sight [of Felicity] / is Deep and Infinite" ["The Vision" ll. 1-2]). If we are receptive to it, and turn away from "Cares and Sins and Woes" ("The Vision" l. 8), it will "whisper" to us, making its existence known.
Maharishi (1967) describes transcendental consciousness as a state of pure silence which, when alternated with activity, becomes the basis of the development of cosmic consciousness:
The mind, traveling as it were on the ladder of activity from the relative state of waking consciousness to the silence of the transcendental field of absolute consciousness, and again from there to the activity of the waking state, establishes eternal harmony between the silence of the Absolute and the activity of the relative. This is cosmic consciousness. . . (p. 391)
. . . in the state of cosmic consciousness, the Self is experienced as separate from activity; . . . the eternal silence of transcendental Self-consciousness becomes compatible with the incessant activity of the waking state of consciousness. (p. 313)
Traherne's recognition that the mind contains within itself deep silence once more suggests that he was directly familiar with the state of transcendental consciousness.
Traherne voices in "The Instruction" the denial-of-earthly-pleasures theme of conventional religious poetry. It strikes a harsh note in the Dobell sequence, especially considering that his consistent position on "the gates of the senses" in the Centuries and in other Dobell poems is that they have brought to him the "unspeakable wonder" of "the most obvious and common things, . . . Air, Light, Heaven and Earth, Water, the Sun, Trees, Men and Women," which are all "infinite treasures" (III. 53-54). He recommends in "The Instruction" a process of denial as a means to Felicity without at all acknowledging the difficulty of subduing desires. Maharishi (1972) explains, apropos of the idea of renunciation of desires, that desires in themselves are not a hindrance to evolution; rather it is the inability to fulfill desires that creates stress (p. 1-5). When the mind, through the Transcendental Meditation technique, effortlessly "turns . . . to Being," a state of pure consciousness, it "is mainly identified with the Self" (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 1967, p. 151), pure bliss consciousness--the state of complete fulfillment. In Maharishi's explanation, Transcendental Meditation is ". . . a simple technique of transforming the whole machinery that gives rise to desire, of transforming the mind and heart so that the rising of desires and all their activities will serve as tidal waves of love and bliss . . ." (p. 240). The poem "Silence" suggests that Traherne has a solid sense of the invincible deep silence within the mind, such as described by Maharishi. More than any other poem in this set, it furthers his stated theme, to show his readers their "Great Felicity."
Though Traherne appears, uncharacteristically, to endorse in "The Instruction" the denial of the senses, he does not dwell on this theme for long, and emphasizes in later poems, like "Silence," that Felicity is always whispering deep within the mind and always within easy reach. Later in the series he proposes that the nature of the mind is to gravitate to more and more happiness and, therefore, no effort is needed to gain happiness. These other poems seem to express an important insight of Maharishi's teaching, that desires are fulfilled in transcendental consciousness without any effort. However, perhaps because he lacked an effective, natural technique such as Transcendental Meditation to systematically, yet effortlessly culture the experience of transcendental consciousness, Traherne resorts in "The Instruction" to repeating the denial-of-pleasure doctrine of his religious training.
As a set, the next poems--"My Spirit," "The Apprehension," and "Fullnesse"--have as their subject the remarkable results of cultivating the fertile, lively silence, extolled in the poem "Silence" as the source of all Felicity. The first of these poems, "My Spirit," is of chief interest in the group. As Margoliouth (Traherne, 1958) affirms, it is Traherne's "most comprehensive poem" (v. 2, p. 349). The poet begins with an extended description of his infinite soul:
My Naked Simple Life was I.
That Act so Strongly Shined
Upon the Earth, the Sea, the Sky,
That was the substance of My Mind.
The Sense it self was I.
I felt no Dross nor Matter in my Soul,
No Brims nor Borders, such as in a Bowl
We see, My Essence was Capacity.
That felt all Things,
The Thought that Springs
Therefrom's it self. It hath no other Wings
To spread abroad, nor Eyes to see,
Nor Hands Distinct to feel,
Nor Knees to Kneel:
But being Simple like the Deity
In its own Center is a Sphere
Not shut up here, but every Where.
Traherne's images correspond principally to Maharishi's description of transcendental consciousness, a state in which the "I" or finite self becomes totally identified with its "essence," pure consciousness. Traherne seems to refer to this essence with the phrase "Naked Simple Life" (l. 1). This essential Self is a lively source of thought (ll. 10-11) and feeling (l. 9). It totally lacks any "Brims or Borders." These qualities suggest the experience of transcendental consciousness, which to quote Maharishi's words again is the "field of the unlimited, the unbounded." Traherne likens the mind in this state to a "Sphere / Not shut up here, but every Where" (ll. 16-17).
In the subsequent stanzas he expands upon the unbounded nature of his "Spirit."
It Acts not from a Center to
Its Object as remote,
But present is, when it doth view,
Being with the Being it doth note.
Whatever it doth do,
It doth not by another Engine work,
But by it self; which in the Act doth lurk.
Its Essence is Transformed into a true
And perfect Act.
And so Exact
Hath God appeared in this Mysterious Fact,
That 'tis all Eye, all Act, all Sight,
And what it please can be,
Not only see,
Or do; for 'tis more Voluble than Light:
Which can put on ten thousand Forms
, Being clothed with what it self adorns.
The content of the previous stanza seems to conform to Maharishi's description of the Self. It is self-sufficient, not relying upon "another Engine" or source of power to exist (ll. 20-24). It is also self-referral because in this state of experience all of its perceptions and activities are identified with its essence (ll. 25-32). Maharishi (1986) explains the self-referral dynamics of pure consciousness as the basis of creation. The field of pure consciousness, which is awake in itself, has only itself to be aware of. In the process of becoming aware of itself, its state of wholeness, called Samhita, appears to be "broken" into a three-fold structure: the knower (Rishi), the process of knowing, (Devata), and the known (Chhandas). However, Maharishi refers to this phenomenon as the three-in-one structure of pure consciousness--it is both one (Samhita) and three (Rishi, Devata, and Chhandas) at the same time.
This is precisely the three-in-one structure of the self-referral state of consciousness. This structure is very simple to understand. The awareness is open to itself and therefore the awareness knows itself. Because the awareness knows itself it is the knower, it is the known, and it is the process of knowing. . . . This is pure consciousness . . . . (p. 29)
Maharishi further explains that the process through which the Samhita is differentiated gives rise to creation, a description reminiscent of Traherne's line, "Which can put on ten thousand Forms":
The self-referral state of pure consciousness . . . is an infinitely dynamic, inexhaustible source of energy and creativity. On that basis the whole creation goes on perpetually in its infinite variety, multiplying itself all the time. (p. 30)
Because all time and space evolve out of this transcendental field, it must be completely self-sufficient, a pure field of creative intelligence:
At the basis of all creation there is something which is wide awake in itself, something which must necessarily be completely self-sufficient because . . . from there it has to evolve into the whole creation.
That is why we take that level of creation to be unmanifest, but completely self-sufficient. (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 1980, p. 10)
As Maharishi explains, the self-referral mechanics of creation can be experienced directly in higher states of consciousness. -17-
In stanza 5 Traherne alludes to a distinct state of Felicity which is accompanied by the recognition that his "Spirit Infinite" or unbounded Self is "An Image of the Deity!" (ll. 69-72):
O Joy! O Wonder, and Delight!
O Sacred Mystery!
My Soul a Spirit Infinite!
An Image of the Deity!
A pure Substantial Light!
That Being Greatest which doth Nothing Seem!
Why 'twas my All, I nothing did esteem
But that alone. A Strange Mysterious Sphere!
A Deep Abyss
That sees and is
The only Proper Place or Bower of Bliss.
To its Creator 'tis near
In Love and Excellence
In Life and Sense,
In Greatness Worth and Nature; And so Dear;
In it, without Hyperbole,
The Son and friend of God we see.
It is a state of unbounded "Love and Excellence." It is the only "Proper" or authentic source of fullness and life in which the almighty intelligence of nature is concretely perceived and appreciated in all its inestimable value.
Traherne here merely introduces the possibility of this state of fully developed love, which he considers more completely in later poems. The description of unbounded love for the universe Traherne relates in this poem is characteristic of the sixth state of consciousness described in Maharishi's Vedic Science and Technology in which "the individual, while permanently established in the unboundedness of transcendental consciousness, experiences a much deeper appreciation of the profound harmony and grandeur of creation" (Alexander, Boyer, & Alexander, 1987, p. 96). Traherne's treatment of themes that seem to parallel Maharishi's description of God consciousness will be analyzed more completely in the next section.
Traherne's text further seems to reflect experiences of a state in which, as Maharishi (1972) explains, "The gulf between the knower and the object of his knowing has been bridged" (p. 23-9). As explained above in the introduction, Maharishi (1986) refers to this state as unity consciousness, for the mind is at one with "all activities, performances, interchanges, and exchanges" (p. 34). In stanza 3, Traherne rejoices that "Dame Nature's" treasures were all within him, and were a source of "Immediate and Internal Pleasures" (ll. 35-40). He expands upon this theme in stanza 4:
This made me present evermore
With whatso ere [sic] I saw.
An Object, if it were before
My Eye, was by Dame Nature[']s Law,
Within my Soul. Her Store
Was all at once within me; all her Treasures
Were my Immediate and Internal Pleasures,
Substantial Joys, which did inform my Mind.
With all she wrought,
My Soul was fraught,
And every Object in my Soul a Thought
Begot, or was; I could not tell,
Whether the Things did there
Which in my Spirit truly seemed to dwell;
Or whether my conforming Mind
Were not alone even all that shined.
But yet of this I was most sure,
That at the utmost Length,
(so Worthy was it to endure)
My Soul could best Express its Strength.
It was Indivisible, and so Pure,
That all my Mind was wholly Every where [sic]
What ere it saw, 'twas ever wholly there;
The Sun ten thousand Legions off, was nigh: The utmost Star,
Though seen from far,
Was present in the Apple of my Eye.
There was my Sight, My Life, my Sense,
My Substance and my Mind
My Spirit Shined
Even there, not by a Transient Influence.
The Act was Immanent, yet there.
The Thing remote, yet felt even here.
Traherne's perception of the power of his Spirit to "put on ten thousand Forms" (ll. 52-54) sounds consistent with Maharishi's descriptions of experience in unity consciousness. Traherne realizes that it is not only whole within itself, but capable of experiencing itself "wholly Every where" (ll. 55-57). Even the distant sun or the farthest star is present imminently or inherently in the substance of his mind--not as a transient, fleeting phenomenon, but in all the reality of his "Spirit."
Traherne returns to and expands upon the sphere or "orb" comparison, introduced at the beginning of "My Spirit," in stanzas 6 and 7, the final ones in the poem:
A Strange Extended Orb of Joy,
Proceeding from within,
Which did on every side convey
It self and being nigh of Kin
To God did every Way
Dilate it self even in an Instant, and
Like an Indivisible Center Stand
At once Surrounding all Eternity.
Twas not a Sphere
Yet did appear
One infinite. 'Twas somewhat every where.
And though it had a Power to see
Far more, yet still it shined
And was a Mind
Exerted[,] for it saw Infinity
Twas not a Sphere, but 'twas a
Power Invisible, and yet a Bower.
His awareness seemed to extend in every direction, paradoxically, like a dilating sphere without a definite center. But he goes on to dismiss the sphere metaphor as inadequate by relating that it was "not a sphere, / Yet did appear / One infinite. 'Twas somewhat every where" (ll. 94-96). His uncertainty over the exact nature of the experience heightens the drama of the situation. It was clearly something incredible, though it is hard to say what. He realizes, in the end, that it was the infinite power within his own mind which, though invisible, was yet like "a Bower," a garden overflowing with life.
The depth of Traherne's descriptions of experiences, which from the perspective of Maharishi's Vedic Science and Technology seem to reflect important aspects of higher states of consciousness, is impressive, as the poem "My Spirit" reveals. This poem seems to embody salient qualities of the state of unity consciousness in which the Self is experienced to be whole within itself, and spontaneously perceives all things to be nothing other than it Self.
In "The Apprehension," the next poem, Traherne relates that though his attention had strayed to "other Objects" than Felicity, the reapprehension of the true nature of the mind, as portrayed in "My Spirit," restored his "whole felicity" (l. 7) by returning him to the fullness and joy of his childhood. In the poem "Fullnesse" he then recapitulates that the attainment of a state of Felicity is the only goal "to which I may / Assent to day" (ll. 3-4), summarizing pithily: "My Bliss / Consists in this, / My Duty too / In this I view" (ll. 11-14). The infinite bliss of Felicity has reclaimed its supreme importance in his life. If Traherne has indeed glimpsed higher states of consciousness, it is only natural that he would view their development as all-important to his well-being.
Maharishi (Maharishi International University, 1974) correspondingly expresses the enormous importance of developing higher states of consciousness:
Knowledge is for action, action for achievement, achievement for fulfillment. Thus, knowledge is directly concerned with fulfillment. For complete fulfillment, complete knowledge is necessary. Complete knowledge should mean total knowledge of the object of inquiry and total knowledge of the subject: total knowledge of both the known and the knower. When the knower does not know himself, then the basis of knowledge is missing. In this situation of baseless knowledge, fulfillment will always remain baseless. This is what mankind had been left to face concerning life throughout the ages.
Now in this scientific age, it is high time for knowledge to be complete and for fulfillment to be profound for every man, for every society, for the whole human race. (p. xiii)
He therefore encourages all educational systems to incorporate his Vedic Science and Technology, which opens the mind to
the infinite, unbounded value of intelligence, broadens the awareness and makes it permanently unbounded, so that no area of life remains foreign. This is the ground of all knowledge--complete knowledge--and therefore is the basis of complete fulfillment. (p. xiii)
Insofar as Traherne sought full knowledge and personal excellence diligently, he stands as a positive example for our own time.