Friday, February 16, 2007


We are studying early American history and literature. Yesterday we learned about Edward Taylor, a Puritan pastor and author. He served his parishioners in the little, then frontier town of Westfield, Massachusetts for 58 years. His poetry was virtually unknown until 1937 when his manuscripts were discovered in the possession of the Yale University Library. We read several of his poems. The following poem is one of his most well known and most often quoted.

If you’re not familiar with spinning and weaving terms, see the explanations below. Also, I've used more modern spelling. To read the poem in the original spelling, click here.

Housewifery by Edward Taylor

Make me, O Lord, Thy spinning wheel complete.
Thy holy Word my distaff make for me;
Make mine affections Thy swift flyers neat;
And make my soul Thy holy spool to be;
My conversation make to be Thy reel,
And reel the yarn thereon spun of Thy wheel.

Make me Thy loom then; knit therein this twine;
And make Thy Holy Spirit, Lord, wind quills;
Then weave the web Thyself. They yarn is fine.
Thine ordinances make my fulling mills.
The dye the same in heavenly colors choice,
All pinked with varnished flowers of paradise.

Then clothe therewith mine understanding, will,
Affections, judgment, conscience, memory,
My words and action, that their shine may fill
My ways with glory and Thee glorify.
Then mine apparel shall display before Ye
That I am clothed in holy robes for glory.

Spinning and weaving terminology with which Taylor was very familiar:
A distaff is a staff that holds the flax or wool fibers which are drawn from as the spinner needs them when spinning. A distaff can be attached to a belt, mounted on the bench of a spinning wheel, or free-standing. It keeps the unspun fibers untangled and makes spinning easier.

The flyer is the u-shaped device on a treadle spinning wheel that twists the yarn. It is driven by the larger flywheel. One rotation of the flywheel yields many rotations of the flyer.

A reel is a round object that thread is wound on.

A quill is a tube on which weft threads (the ones that go across the warp to make the web) are wound for use in a shuttle.

Fulling was a step in clothmaking that involved cleaning, shrinking and thickening the cloth. It gots rid of oils, dirt, and impurities in the wool. It was done in a fulling mill, a trough or water mill in which the cloth was beaten with wooden hammers.

No, I don’t know that much about spinning and weaving, but I found lots of help on the web and from Amelia Garripole of The Bellwether. Learning about these these terms helped me understand Taylor's imagery better. Enjoy.


Kelly said...

I have always loved this poem. The terms really helped me, too.
They also helped me with all the terms that my curriculum uses on their's "Tapestry of Grace," so their online magazine is "The Distaff," the essential documents are on a private site called "The Loom," and the yahoo group I'm part of is called "Loose Threads." :-)

Josh and Dana said...

I thought about you Saturday when I saw what looked to be a really old wooden spinning wheel-like contraption for sale at the furniture consignment store by our house (used to be the old bread shop). I didn't see how much it was, but it seemed to generate some attention from other shopers. I feel sure you would have appreciated more than I did.