Edward Taylor was a colonial American poet who used his talent to express his religious views. He used symbolism, anthropomorphism, and sometimes straightforwardness to get across his Puritan-influenced beliefs. His poetry represents his commitment to love and serve God even in the isolation of the frontier life. He transformed his rural experiences into beautiful, religious works which can still be applied to our lives today.
Taylor’s “Upon a Wasp Chilled with Cold” follows, as you could have guessed, a cold wasp trying to warm herself. Taylor typically wrote in two modes: evangelical/theological or private/self-reflective; this poem is one of the latter modes. He is using nature in order to say something about humans and their relationship with God.
The bear that breathes the northern blast
Did numb, torpedo-like, a wasp
Whose stiffened limbs encramped, lay bathing
In Sol’s warm breath and shine as saving,
Which with her hands she chafes and stands
Rubbing her legs, shanks, thighs, and hands.
Her pretty toes, and fingers’ ends
Nipped with this breath, she out extends
Unto the sun, in great desire
To warm her digits at that fire.
Doth hold her temples in this state
Where pulse doth beat, and head doth ache.
Doth turn, and stretch her body small,
Doth comb her velvet capital.
As if her little brain pan were
A volume of choice precepts clear.
As if her satin jacket hot
Contained apothecary’s shop
Of nature’s receipts, that prevails
To remedy all her sad ails,
As if her velvet helmet high
Did turret rationality.
She fans her wing up to the wind
As if her pettycoat were lined,
With reason’s fleece, and hoists sails
And humming flies in thankful gales
Unto her dun curled palace hall
Her warm thanks offering for all.
Lord, clear my misted sight that IEdward Taylor
May hence view Thy divinity,
Some sparks whereof thou up dost hasp
Within this little downy wasp
In whose small corporation we
A school and a schoolmaster see,
Where we may learn, and easily find
A nimble spirit bravely mind
Her work in every limb: and lace
It up neat with a vital grace,
Acting each part though ne’er so small
Here of this fustian animal.
Till I enravished climb into
The Godhead on this ladder do,
Where all my pipes inspired upraise
An heavenly music furred with praise.
There are many different ways that one could look at this poem: human souls without God vs human souls with God, God gives each creature what they need, hope in the middle of the tough times, and many other lessons could come out of this poem.
When the wasp is basically frozen is how Taylor represents the human soul without God’s love. It is cold, numb, and stiff. When we do not have God’s love we become bitter towards others, desensitized to the world around us, and callous in our ways. We do things how we want to without thinking of the ones around us. However, when we have God’s love in our soul, we are warm, awake, and mobile. We are kind toward our neighbors, alert in our faith, and open to change. We take God’s love and show it throughout our whole lives.
This poem also shows us how God provides for every creature. He taught her how to find sunlight that would warm her whole body, how to rub her legs together in order to create heat through friction, and how to catch the wind with her wings for the smoothest sailing. Taylor used the lesson about the birds in Matthew 6:26-27 as inspiration for this poem, as well. If God takes care of the birds and the wasps, of course He has planned out your life and takes care of you every day. He has given every creature exactly what they need to live, and we should trust in Him to provide. The wasp does not worry about what to wear or what to eat; it trusts God to provide. In the same way we should trust God to provide for us.
Even in the struggle that the wasp faces, she has hope and continues to fight to become warm. God gave her the knowledge of healing, referred to in the poem like an apothecary’s shop. This goes back to the fact that God takes care of His creatures, big and small. There is such a great deal of hope that comes from that statement. If God gave the wasp so much inner strength to endure the bitter cold, think of how much we could accomplish when we trust in God through the tough times. When we have hope we are able to be open to what God has planned for us.
In today’s world we are constantly told to only trust yourself. If you want something done right, then do it yourself. You create your own destiny. Look out for yourself. However, Taylor shows us that we only are alive because God has blessed us with life. God used His hands to form us and put us on the earth, He planned out our entire lives with purpose and direction, and He made every creature to praise His name. When we trust God we are aligned with His will, which is a very important type of praise. Even if it gets cold and seems like you have nowhere to go, God will provide a light and a path for you if you trust in Him.