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This article is taken from PN Review 216, Volume 40 Number 4, March - April 2014.

Vestiges 7: William Alabaster Adam Crothers
Vestiges 7 William Alabaster

Reproduced by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge

The ‘Vestiges’ to date have invoked failure, disappointment, overreaching: poets seeming to fail their art, or being failed by it. This might as well continue with a nod to the seven-teenth-century devotional poet and religious waverer William Alabaster. In 1959, editing his Sonnets, G.M. Story and Helen Gardner lamented the ‘incompetence’ of this ‘inexact’ writer of ‘minor verse’ whose poems ‘do not merit an extended commentary’. One may feel prompted to take Alabaster’s side.

The sonnet pictured here is from the Alabaster manuscript at St John’s, one of six extant manuscripts, none of them in the poet’s hand. A sonnet, yet not, there being only thirteen lines:

My tears are of no vulgar kind I know,
For elemental water strives with fire,
But my tears do with flame of love conspire,
Therefore I rather think that they do flow
From those spiritual springs that are entire
Unto the lamps of heaven, and do inspire
A gentle temper to each thing below.
For love of Christ to tears mine eyes do turn,
And melted tears do make my soul to burn,
And burning love doth make my tears more deep,
And deeper tears cause love to flame above.
What wonder then though thus I love to weep,
I love to weep because I love to love.

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