Thomas Traherne was born the son of a Hereford shoemaker, in about 1636. He was raised by a wealthy innkeeper by the name of Traherne, after his own parents' death. Thomas had a good education and entered Brasenose College at Oxford University from 1652, achieving an M.A. in arts and divinity in 1661. In the meantime, he was admitted in 1657 to the rectory of Credenhill, near Hereford and was ordained in 1660. After being a parish priest for ten years, he became, from 1667, the private chaplain to Sir Orlando Bridgeman, on his appointment as Lord Keeper of the Seals of Charles II. After seven years in this service, Traherne died in his patron's house at Teddington, near Hampton court, and was buried on 10 October, 1674, in the church there.
Thomas was one of the English Metaphysical poets and yet, in his lifetime, only one of his works was ever printed.
His works have been textually corrupted and even attributed to others. He entrusted manuscripts of his Thanksgivings and Six Days of Creation to close friend Susanna Hopton, only to have her mistaken as their author when she submitted them for publication 25 years after his death. His brother Philip held on to Traherne's Poems of Felicity even longer, revising the poems at length.
In 1896 a manuscript of his poetry and prose was discovered in a London bookstall and subsequently was published as Poems (1903) and Centuries of Meditations (1908). These manuscripts were nearly attributed to Henry Vaughan. Through the persistence of the publisher Bertram Dobell the poems were revealed to be the Traherne's work. Shortly afterwards, another manuscript was found in the Burney Collection at the British Library. This manuscript contained more of Traherne's poems, some of which were in the Dobell manuscript but all of these poems were in Philip Traherne's handwriting. Philip's version contains many revisions, yet enough similarities to indicate the existence of yet another manuscript from which he may have been working.
Thomas Traherne's contribution to literature includes a depiction of childhood experiences not known in the literature of that time. His elders struggled to teach Thomas to prize "things" but eventually succeeded. He had to unlearn this as an adult and decided that Man could do God no greater homage than to delight in His creation:
"Our blessedness to see
Is even to the Deity
A Beatific Vision! He attains
His Ends while we enjoy. In us He reigns."
His writings express an ardent, childlike love of God and a firm belief in man's relation to the divine. Traherne remembered the innocence of childhood, and insisted that he "must become a child again":
"Long time before
I in my mother's womb was born,
A God preparing did this glorious store
The world for me adorn.
Into His Eden so divine and fair,
So wide and bright, I come His son and heir."
Thomas was a lover of good company but he remained single throughout his life. He was a man of deep prayer and led a simple, devout and caring life. There are mixed reports about his wealth, differing from accumulating no wealth, to being able to leave a legacy of five houses for the poor of Hereford. However, his will shows that he possessed little beyond his books, and thought it worthwhile to bequeath his "old hat."