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This article is taken from PN Review 124, Volume 25 Number 2, November - December 1998.

The Ceremonial Law: A New Work Thomas Traherne

In late 1996, almost exactly one hundred years since the first two Traherne manuscripts were purchased for a few pence from two London bookbarrows in the winter of 1896-97, another new manuscript was found, continuing the remarkable series of discoveries which has made Traherne known to the twentieth century as a writer of great beauty and originality. This manuscript contains a previously unknown poem by Traherne, entitled The Ceremonial Law, which consists of over 1,800 lines of heroic couplets, and is written entirely in his own hand. It was identified by Laetitia Yeandle of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC, having been in the library, catalogued as an anonymous work, since its purchase in 1958.1 As the poem itself comments, 'Tis strange to see how fitly things conspire'.

The poem is a biblical one, a type of work very popular in the seventeenth century. It combines a lively narrative based on the books of Genesis and Exodus with an exposition of their typological, ethical and devotional significance, and is divided into twenty-four sections of varying length, each focusing on a scriptural episode. Interestingly, and contrary to what readers of Traherne might expect, it does not describe or celebrate the Creation or the life of Adam in Eden, but opens its exposition with 'Adams Fall'. The poem is unfinished, breaking off in mid-line just after the account of Moses' descent from Sinai. Probably Traherne intended to continue it; the manuscript contains evidence that he showed it to a ...


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