Book Review: Divine Emblems

Divine Enblems:  Temporal Things Spiritualized, by John Bunyan

[Note:  This book has been given free of charge by Aneko Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

As the third book written by John Bunyan that I have received free of charge from this publisher [1], the second of which I had never heard of, it is clear that we have a positive trend when it comes to remembering the works of this seventeenth century independent pastor who spent more than a decade in jail for preaching without a government license.  So far at least, the more I am becoming familiar with the forgotten and obscure books of John Bunyan, the more I appreciate them.  This particular book was written for children, and it is worthwhile not only as a short book of poems in its own right written for reasons of instructing faith and cautioning youth against folly, but also for the way that the book is a reminder of a time when more was expected of children with regards to being sensitive to biblical allusions as well as an understanding of creation and agriculture than is often the case at present.  This volume is especially to be praised for its sharp sense of humor, and this is a book that will please adults who enjoy spiritual poetry [2].

This short volume of about 100 pages is composed mostly of 49 poems by Bunyan along with a great many beautiful illustrations and then some material including the original note to the editors and a short publishing history of the book.  This book comes as a surprise in several ways, part of it because it shows that there was a fairly wide appreciation of the way that God’s creation can be used in moral instruction.  In many places this book reads like the Book of Proverbs, which was aimed at a similar audience and has similarly moving poetry and moral reflections drawn from village life.  What was also a surprise and a revelation was the extent to which some of these poems packed considerable punch.  Bunyan makes use of the way that spiders were then thought to be particularly venomous by having a talking spider rebuke a sinner who wishes to squash the spider he views as being a moral irritant though not aggressive to him in the book’s longest poem.  Some of the verses included hit hard even today, such as this one about clothing (31):

“God gave us clothes to hide our nakedness,
And we by them do it expose to view.
Our pride and unclean minds to an excess,
By our apparel, we to others show.”

Likewise, Bunyan’s comments about a simple penny loaf are full of much deeper importance about the threat of starvation (75):

“Thy price one penny is in time of plenty,
In famine doubled, ’tis from one to twenty.
Yea, no man knows what price on thee to set
When there is but one penny loaf to get.”

As long as there are children and adults who are interested in reading meditations taken from a time when people were in greater communion and contact with God’s creation, this book of poems will draw appreciation, as Bunyan was an excellent poet with a fine sense of wit and considerable skill at constructing rhyme and meter.  Rural contemporary audiences in particular will find this book to be immensely pleasing as an aid to personal devotions as well as for purposes of homeschooling, as it offers a chance for young readers who like to think on ants and spiders and snails and horses and riders and who by such fondness can become familiar with some very pleasing poetry from almost 350 years ago that still reads well even now, and likely will as long as there are audiences who can draw moral truths from God’s creation and who can appreciate the way that the author draws his own insights from the words of the Bible.  This is the sort of book that will likely help a reader to wonder how many more forgotten classics were written by the man who, if he is remembered today at all, is only as the writer of Pilgrim’s Progress, and not as a writer of considerable skill and somewhat alarming productivity.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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