Traherne's Concept of Felicity: Part 4

Traherne's Understanding of Felicity

Traherne has demonstrated in the first group of poems that Felicity, characterized by pure intelligence and bliss, is the basis of personal fullness. As he writes in the poem "Fullnesse," "my Perfect Being" was "a Fountain or a Spring, / Refreshing me in every thing" (ll. 9, 14-15). He now turns his attention more to reflecting upon the nature and ramifications of this experience. He begins by considering why and how the mind is able to experience and grow in Felicity.

The first of the next three sets of poems has as its central theme the naturalness and spontaneousness of Nature's "teachings" including, most especially, those dealing with Felicity. As Traherne writes in "Ease":

How easily doth Nature teach the Soul,
How irresistible is her Infusion! There's
Nothing found that can her force control. . . .
(ll. 1-3)

Nature effortlessly teaches the soul that its own nature is bliss through an irresistible infusion. This gentle, easy force cannot be controlled or manipulated. In the poem "Nature" he explains:

I was by Nature prone and apt to love
All Light and Beauty, both in Heaven above,
And Earth beneath, prone even to Admire,
Adore and Praise as well as to Desire.
My inclinations raised me up on high,
And guided me to all Infinity.
(ll. 13-18)

His natural inclinations--his love of truth ("Light") and beauty--led him spontaneously to their infinite source, Felicity. This innate response, called in the Centuries the "Principle of Nature," is the starting point in the poems for Traherne's investigation of the qualities of Felicity. It suggests that Felicity is a natural experience, that is, it is entirely in keeping with the nature of the mind. Similarly, Maharishi (1963) has explained the principle of the natural tendency of the mind to move in the direction of increasing charm as the basis of his Transcendental Meditation technique.

A light becomes faint and dim as we go away from the source, and the intensity increases as we proceed towards the source. Similarly, when the mind goes in the direction of the absolute bliss of transcendental Being [transcendental consciousness], it finds increasing charm at every step of its march. The mind is charmed and is led to experience transcendental Being. (pp. 49-50)

Traherne's central premise in his methodical investigation of the effects of experiencing Felicity is also that it is only necessary to take advantage of the natural inclination of the mind to desire greater happiness and then the whole process will go automatically. Once these conditions have been met, as Traherne has also argued in the Centuries, the deep inner bliss of Felicity will unfold on its own. But he lacks a systematic technique that would allow anyone to efficiently use this natural tendency of the mind--a technique such as Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation program that provides systematic, effortless experience of transcendental consciousness.

Traherne now reflects, in the second set of poems, upon the effect that the experience of Felicity has not just on individual human life, but on the life of the whole universe. "The Designe," one of the poems in this set, has as its theme the beauty of Nature's infinitely coordinated "design" or plan. The dynamic process of "circulation," as Traherne calls it, integrates all the diverse objects and activities of expressed nature. Traherne conceives of the universe as a magnificently ordered system whose manifold activities are supported and glorified by human beings who radiate Felicity. Our bodies were made, he writes in another poem, "The Estate,"

. . . to be like Suns, whose Rays,
Dispersed, Scatter many thousand Ways.
They Drink in Nectars, and Disburse again
In Purer Beams, those Streams,
Those Nectars which are caused by Joys.

(ll. 35-39)

Humans established in the experience of Felicity, who drink in the enjoyment of the world, "disburse" Felicity's enhancing influence throughout nature. -18-

In the final set of poems in Part II ("The Anticipation" to "Love"), Traherne divulges the existence of an advanced state of Felicity, "Felicity Glorified." It is a supreme state of love which develops naturally out of the overflowing happiness which characterizes the earlier phases of Felicity. He began to develop this theme of an even greater state of Felicity in the uncompleted fifth Century of Centuries of Meditations, in which he specifies God as "the Sovereign Object of all Felicity" (V. 1), the most sublime object to be perceived in the state of Felicity. In the bulk of these meditations he catalogs God's attributes, namely his infinity (V. 2-5), his eternity (V. 7-8) and his omnipresence (V. 9). In the last, Meditation 10, Traherne states that God's "Essence" is the source of "Delights of inestimable value" and is "wholly Busied in all Parts and places in his Dominion, perfecting and completing our Bliss and Happiness." The bliss of inner Felicity, in other words, is transformed into an even greater experience through devotion to God. Traherne picks up this theme, now, in the poems. In "The Recovery," for example, he makes the interesting assertion that:

Tis not alone a Lively Sense
A clear and Quick Intelligence
A free, Profound, and full Esteem:
Though these Elixirs all and Ends to[o] seem. . . .
(ll. 51-54)

Instead, it is "A Heart returned for all these Joys, / These are the Things admired, /. . . These are the Nectar and the Quintessence / The Cream and Flower that most affect his Sense" (ll. 56-57, 59-60), that is, which most please God. Traherne proclaims that:

One Voluntary Act of Love
Far more Delightful to his Soul doth Prove
And is above all these as far as Love.
(ll. 68-70)

Judging from the above lines, the lively joy of Felicity appears to be but a stepping stone to the more fully expanded bliss of divine love.

The lines again suggest experience of the sixth state of consciousness, "refined cosmic consciousness" or God consciousness (glimpses of which can be experienced even before unbounded awareness is in fact permanently established in the mind in cosmic consciousness), in which "the silent ocean of bliss, the silent ocean of love, begins to rise in waves of devotion" (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 1967, p. 307). Maharishi explains that the physiological integration of this sixth state of consciousness is cultivated through highly refined mental activity:

In order to define activity of this quality, we must analyze the whole range of activity. The activity of the organs of action is the most gross, the activity of the senses of perception is more refined, the mental activity of thought is finer still, and the activity of feeling and emotion is the finest of all. One could further classify different levels of quality in emotional activity, such as anger, fear, despair, happiness, reverence, service and love.

The activity of devotion comprises the feelings of service, reverence and love, which are the most refined qualities of feeling. (p. 315)

The devoted service to which Maharishi refers as the foundation of the sixth state of consciousness is evident in poems in this set on the theme of Felicity Glorified. The poem "Love" in particular crystallizes Traherne's thinking on the growth of unbounded love. It commences with a long, brilliant catalog of love's qualities.

O Nectar! O Delicious Stream!
O ravishing and only Pleasure! Where
Shall such another Theme
Inspire my Tongue with Joys, or please mine Ear!
Abridgement of Delights!
And Queen of Sights!
O Mine of Rarities! O Kingdom Wide!
O more! O Cause of all! O Glorious Bride!
O God! O Bride of God! O King!
O Soul and Crown of every thing!
(ll. 1-10)

Love is the only true pleasure (l. 2): "Where / Shall such another Theme / Inspire my Tongue with Joys, or please mine Ear!" (ll. 2-4). Traherne calls it an "Abridgement [condensation] of Delights," and a "Mine of Rarities!" (ll. 5, 7). It is the cause of all creation, and the "Bride of God" (ll. 8-9). He then congratulates himself on having found the "Endless Monarch" he has always desired to see, who is a spring of all the "Glories, Honors, friendships, Pleasures, / Joys, Praises, Beauties, and Celestial treasures" (ll. 12-18):

Did not I covet to behold
Some Endless Monarch, that did always live
In Palaces of Gold
Willing all Kingdoms Realms and Crowns to give
Unto my Soul! Whose Love
A Spring might prove
Of Endless Glories, Honors, friendships, Pleasures
Joys, Praises, Beauties and Celestial Treasures!
Lo, now I see there's such a King,
The fountain Head of every Thing!
(ll. 11-20)

But the reality of the experience exceeds his highest expectations:

Did my Ambition ever Dream
Of such a Lord, of such a Love! Did I
Expect so Sweet a Stream
As this at any time! Could any Eye
Believe it? Why all Power
Is used here
Joys down from Heaven on my Head to shower . . .
(ll. 21-27)

The sweet stream of concentrated pleasure and love Traherne celebrates, and his incredulous happiness at the true "Depths of Blessedness" (l. 37), reflect refined perceptions. He believes, despite himself, that all of the power of Nature "is used here" to shower down infinite joys upon him. He concludes by affirming that

I am his Image, and his Friend.
His Son, Bride, Glory, Temple, End.
(ll. 39-40)>

Maharishi's description of the development of the sixth state of consciousness allows us to interpret Traherne's poems not simply as metaphor, but as descriptions of sublime experience. Traherne is not a "natural philosopher" or scientist; he is a poet exploring psycho-emotional realities. Still, two ideas that have the power of intuitive discoveries have emerged from his analysis of Felicity in the above poems: (1) that the mind's natural tendency is to move in the direction of finer values of happiness until it enjoys pure happiness, and (2) that infinite happiness, seemingly the pinnacle of human experience, is the basis of perceptual refinements that dramatically enhance human experience even further. Both of these insights, as has been illustrated, have parallels with Maharishi's Vedic Science and Technology.

Felicity: Experience and Understanding

The last eight Dobell poems ("Thoughts. I" to "Goodnesse," poems 30-37) suggest a synthesis of the experience of Felicity and its intellectual understanding. Traherne has considered Felicity from the experiential (poems 1-15) and from a more analytical (poems 16-29) perspective, corresponding to the two aspects of the scientific method. He now rounds out his sequence by displaying in "Thoughts I-IV" an intimate union of these two complementary angles of inquiry in the unhampered power and grace of an intellect which itself is lively with the experience of infinite happiness. "Thoughts. I," the leading poem in the set, overflows with Traherne's reflections on the unbounded power of thought in the state of Felicity, in which thoughts become the effervescent "Offsprings and Effects of bliss":

Ye brisk Divine and Living things
, Ye great Exemplars, and ye Heavenly Springs,
Which I within me see;
Ye Machines Great,
Which in my Spirit God did Seat,
Ye Engines of Felicity;
Ye Wondrous Fabrics of his Hands,
Who all possesseth that he understands;
That ye are pent within my Breast,
Yet rove at large from East to West,
And are Invisible, yet Infinite;
Is my Transcendent, and my Best Delight.
(ll. 1-12)
Ye Thoughts and Apprehensions are
The Heavenly Streams which fill the Soul with rare
Transcendent Perfect Pleasures.
At any time,
As if ye still were in your Prime,
Ye Open all his Heavenly Treasures.
His joys accessible are found
To you, and those Things enter which Surround
The Soul, Ye Living Things within!
Where had all Joy and Glory been
Had ye not made the Soul those Things to Know,
Which Seated in it make the fairest Show?
(ll. 25-36)

Thoughts, which he metaphorically calls "Machines Great" and the dynamic "Engines of Felicity," bubble up blissfully in this transformed state of mind. He perceives them to be the "Fabrics" or expressions of intelligence, a stream of "transcendent" delights. His experience of these "Heavenly Treasures" or pleasures (ll. 21, 4-7), a development without which "all the Joy and Glory" would have been incomplete, suggests the great happiness, based on the direct experience of the state of transcendental consciousness, that arises in higher states of consciousness. Thoughts, he now believes, are the subtle instruments which in fact link him to external nature. Thoughts have illuminated all "those Things . . . which Surround / The Soul"--all of the treasures of the world, which now vibrate joyously like "Living Things within!" (ll. 31-33).

Traherne continues:

O ye Conceptions of Delight!
Ye that inform my Soul with Life and Sight!
Ye Representatives, and Springs
Of inward Pleasure!
Ye Joys! Ye Ends of Outward Treasure!
Ye Inward, and ye Living Things!
The Thought, or Joy Conceived is
The inward Fabric of my Standing Bliss.
It is the Substance of my Mind
Transformed, and with its Objects lined.
The Quintessence, Elixir, Spirit, Cream.
'Tis Strange that Things unseen should be Supreme.
The Eye's confined, the Body pent
In narrow Room: Limbs are of small Extent.
But Thoughts are always free.
And as they're best,
So can they even in the Breast,
Rove o'er the World with Liberty:
Can Enter Ages, Present be
In any Kingdom, into Bosoms see.
Thoughts, Thoughts can come to Things, and view,
What Bodies can[']t approach unto.
They know no Bar, Denial, Limit, Wall:
But have a Liberty to look on all.
Like Bees they fly from Flower to Flower,
Appear in Every Closet, Temple, Bower;
And suck the Sweet from thence,
No Eye can see:
As Tasters to the Deity.
Incredible's their Excellence.
For ever-more they will be seen
Nor ever moulder into less Esteem.
They ever show an Equal face,
And are Immortal in their place.
Ten thousand Ages hence they are as Strong,
Ten thousand Ages hence they are as Young.
(ll. 49-84)

Thoughts in this state of purity have become "The inward Fabric of my Standing [continuing] Bliss" and the "Substance of my mind / Transformed, and with its Objects lined" (ll. 56-58). They are his "Transcendent and Best Delight" for through them he can possess within his Self all objects of perception and thereby delight in the "fairest Show." They enable him to gloriously transcend all external boundaries, any "Bar, Limit, Wall" (l. 71), and "Rove o'er the World with Liberty" (l. 66) and visit all places and times. Thoughts are, finally, "Immortal in their place" (l. 82) for they will remain true and real, "Strong" and "Young" throughout time.

Maharishi (1967) explains that "The level at which a desire is appreciated differs according to the level of the conscious mind of the individual. Men of purer mind appreciate thought and desire at a much subtler level during the process of thinking" (p. 282). Traherne seems to be just such an individual. Though his "Thoughts" poems can refer to just any thoughts, his characterization of cognition seems to reflect the enhanced potency and charm of a "purer" mind, a mind familiar with transcendental consciousness. The very "Substance" of his mind, he states, has been "transformed" into pure pleasure and delight. It is in this context that Traherne's "thoughts" take on full meaning: an intimacy with "Being" or pure consciousness.

In "Desire," one of the last Dobell poems, Traherne reminds the reader that the path from the state of Misery--in which his "Soul was full of Groans" (l. 15) and his heart was "a deep profound Abyss, / And every Joy and Pleasure a Wound"/ (ll. 22-23)--to full Glory has been the natural tendency to desire to enjoy or "Prize, and Taste, and See" more and more happiness.

This Soaring Sacred Thirst,
Ambassador of Bliss, approached first,
Making a Place in me,
That made me apt to Prize, and Taste, and See,
For not the objects, but the Sense
Of Things, doth Bliss to Souls dispense,
And make it Lord like Thee.
(ll. 53-59)

Traherne has joyously reached the goal of this "Soaring Sacred Thirst" which was the herald or "Ambassador" of infinite happiness.


In "Goodnesse," which brings his sequence of poems to a close, Traherne eulogizes, through a series of figurative comparisons, the sweet fullness of the lives of those who live Felicity. They overflow with bliss: "rich Affections do like precious Seas / Of Nectar and Ambrosia please" (ll. 61-62). Their senses, represented by their lips, which are compared sensuously to "Soft and Swelling Grapes" (l. 64), drink in refined delights. Their eyes shine like stars, though "more Divine" (ll. 63-64). Their hearts delight in the blessings that God showers down upon their friends. Their voices spontaneously burst forth in "A Choir of Blessed and Harmonious Songs" (ll. 64-65). Most of all, "Their Bosoms, fraught with Love / Are Heavens all Heavens above" (ll. 67-68).

Maharishi (1986) explains that "The great Vedic wisdom, which declares life to be bliss, is now going to be a common experience in the world" (p. 37), and that Heaven on Earth, so delightfully evoked by Traherne, will become a reality. In presenting a detailed and lively picture of a state of infinite happiness, Traherne stirs readers to embrace this beautiful possibility full-heartedly. Traherne's position is always that, no matter how incredible a thing may sound, "Experience will make it Plain" (IV. 46.), a fitting modus operandi for a poet of the scientific age. Though the exact parallels between Felicity and Maharishi's descriptions of higher states must necessarily remain tentative, Felicity is obviously a sublime experience, and textual evidence suggests that his experience of Felicity was something more than a fleeting, isolated phenomenon. As he writes in "Innocence," "A World of true Delight/. . . to this day [I] do see" (l. 47-8). He also seems to indicate a recurrent experience of Felicity in Select Meditations where he writes, "When I retire first I seem to come in my Self to a center, but in this center I find Eternity, and all its Riches" (I. 81). It is tempting to infer from this statement that Traherne has had the experience of retiring into the state of transcendental consciousness on repeated occasions. In any case, Felicity's power to inspire Traherne never flags. It is never out of the picture, but is an intimate part of his sense of self. As he writes in Century II, "Infinity we know and feel by our souls: and feel it so Naturally, as if it were the very Essence and Being of the Soul" (II. 81).

But though he joyously induces the reader to "let all your Affections extend to the Endless Wideness" (II. 92), he lacked knowledge of a easy and effective technique for developing unbounded awareness. Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program now makes it possible for anyone to gain the benefit of this enriching state of being. It also makes Traherne's work finally accessible in all its intellectual wholeness and depth, freeing him of the charge, once and for all, of "mysticism" or facile optimism. Traherne's boundless optimism is based on objective reality, and that he recognized the importance of a scientific approach, as rudimentary as his application of Bacon's inductive methodology may be, is highly significant. It ranks him at least in spirit among the scientists of our own day exploring the frontiers of consciousness. As Maharishi (1986) explains:

Today, those who exclude consciousness are not with the times, they are far behind. Every generation has a few scientists who are really dedicated to research, and the fruit of their research is enjoyed by all. It is very fortunate for the world that much has been uncovered about the reality of that self-referral state of intelligence at the basis of all the designs of life in creation. All who are practicing the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program are the real scientists of this generation, on the forefront of scientific investigation. (p. 28)

Traherne appears to have been just such a "scientist" for his own generation. Though men and women of his own time did not have the opportunity to partake of the fruits of Traherne's "research" into consciousness, after centuries of obscurity, these fruits are now finally available "to be enjoyed by all."


I would like to thank all those who read the manuscript. Special thanks to Dr. Samuel Boothby, Executive Editor of Modern Science and Vedic Science and Dr. Silvine Marbury Farnell, Professor of Literature at Maharishi International University, whose suggestions throughout the revision process were invaluable.


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