The Smaragdine Knot
by Marly Youmans

Infinity, when all things it beheld
In Nothing, and of Nothing all did build,
Upon what Base was fixt the Lath, wherein
He turn’d this Globe, and riggalld it so trim?

. . .

Who Lac’de and Fillitted the earth so fine,
With Rivers like green Ribbons Smaragdine?
Who made the Sea’s its Selvedge, and its locks
Like a Quilt Ball within a Silver Box?

--Edward Taylor, from God’s Determinations

I’m a child of the Puritans, though my forebears would cast me from the golden rows of the Elect, as surely as the Angel barred Adam and Eve from the garden. But I take an interest in the ‘sad’ colors, the hymnodies that scared the wolves, the hunkered children--as numb in their cloaks as stumps by a frozen church. Foremost of my kin who crossed a sea of mermaids to the New World was a certain minister, scholar, and poet. Centuries after his death, the leather-bound book wherein he had buried his poems was unearthed in the Yale Library. Championed by the Anglophile banker-poet, T. S. Eliot, his sermons and poems are still read.

What hasn’t been known is that he kept a history of his forays into other realms. He was an adept of Puritan meditation techniques meant to restore the bridge between mortals and God. A session began with an elaborate calling-up of tangible place--the drawing-room of Hell with its gilt-framed mirrors, the sogged landscape of straw outside his door, a counting-house where a clerk tallied the gold coins called angels. The more solid the imagining, the greater the chance that drops from the fount of God could fly past the stars until a seeker found himself in a waterfall of spirit. Following prescribed steps, he might commune with men, God, or angels, his soul aroused, and be floated toward new resolution by streams of love and desire and that cataract, joy.

He used no magic; being in strong communion with the next world, what was shadow to other Puritan divines eventually became living presence to him. Neighbors spied lights streaking through the house, and one Goodman Brewster testified that he had glimpsed an angel, eyed like a peacock, at the minister’s deathbed--the visitor stirring the fire on the hearth with bright hands.

The journal was inscribed with the title, The Smaragdine Knot. In childhood, I was enraptured by the mystical, fierce, and passionate accounts. A year back, I felt a blow to my sense of family because of this book.

“I’d like to borrow the Knot,” I told my Great-uncle Samuel, a long-retired professor of Renaissance history. He has been steward of the book so long that we’ve forgotten when it passed from Great-great-great-great Aunt Tabitha.

“Gone,” he groaned, slapping the arms of his chair with both hands.

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