Seeing and Believing: Thomas Traherne’s Poetic Language and the Reading Eye

  • Jane Partner
Part of the Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern Literature book series (CKEML, volume 1)


Vision plays a central role in Thomas Traherne’s theology. The pervasive motif of the ‘Infant Ey’ expresses his belief that the spiritual status of the individual depends upon their ability to look correctly at the world so as to perceive God in all his works; a process that enables the viewer to achieve an experience of heaven on earth. This chapter examines the ways in which Traherne’s theological ideas about sight are put into practice in the visual presentation of his poetry. Traherne uses the disrupted, multidirectional structure of his texts to assert the inadequacy of the rational mind and of conventional language to express mystical experience. This motif forms an important part of his formal poetic strategy to oblige the reader to view his texts through the ‘Infant Ey’. Partner offers a fresh interpretation of the sources and precedents for his innovative typography, examining in particular how his use of brackets derives from existing practices in the graphic organisation of knowledge. Partner considers how a more fully contextualised reading of Traherne’s style can lead to a fuller understanding of how he seeks to change the way that his reader looks at the world by changing the way that we read.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jane Partner
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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