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• Thomas Traherne – Teddington’s Greatest Poet

• Thomas Traherne – Teddington’s Greatest Poet

By the Reverend Joe Moffatt, Vicar of St Mary with St Alban, Teddington

Over the centuries, Teddington has been home to many remarkable people. Among these is Thomas Traherne (1637-74), who became chaplain to Sir Orlando Bridgeman, Lord Keeper of the Seal under King Charles II and Lord of the Manor in Teddington. Traherne died at a relatively early age in Teddington and is buried beneath the church of St Mary and St Alban, where there is a commemorative window and a memorial plaque.

Traherne has emerged as one of the greatest poets and spiritual writers of the 17th century, but it’s only by chance that much of his work is known to us. In 1897 a collector, looking through the contents of booksellers’ stalls in London, found some poem manuscripts. Initially, he thought they were by another 17th century poet, Henry Vaughan. Later they were identified as by Traherne. In 1964 a bookseller came across what turned out to be prose work of Traherne. Another manuscript volume, rescued from a burning rubbish heap in the 1960s, was much later identified as his. Then in 1997 two more unpublished Traherne manuscripts were identified.

Traherne was born and brought up near Hereford during the Civil War, and in due course became a scholar, poet and priest. We now know he wrote much poetry and prose, though little was published during his lifetime. As was quite common at the time, he would sometimes make manuscript copies available to friends and fellow-writers. (Such writers have been called ‘chamber poets’. Say this carefully!)

His most anthologised poems (such as Wonder) tend to express optimism and awe at the beauty of our world – especially as viewed in childhood. ‘How like an angel came I down!/How bright are all things here!’

This has led some to consider him naive. However, this appears to ignore his profound interest in the theological and political struggles of his day, his experiences during his childhood – and such poems as that which starts, ‘Mankind is sick, the World distempered lies,/Opprest with Sins and Miseries…’

Traherne’s work not only reveals profound faith, but also wide-ranging interest in the scientific discoveries of his day.

Interest in the work and life of Thomas Traherne – in the past far below that of such contemporaries as John Donne, George Herbert and Henry Vaughan – has grown remarkably in recent decades. Much of his work has been published for the first time – and there may well be more to come.

We will be commemorating Thomas Traherne on the anniversary of his burial, Thursday October 10th, with a service at 8pm. This will include some of his poems, both spoken and set to music, and a sermon by Dr Jonathan Williams, a local historian and member of the congregation at St Mary with St Alban. We also have a Traherne Reading Group which meets on occasional Thursday afternoons. If you would like to find out more, please contact Dr Gerry Gregory: gerrygregory38@aol.com

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