Alabaster (1597-1598?) Those who study meta physical poets and poetry cannot help but enjoy William Alabaster's Sonnet 10 from his group of the first 23 sonnets in The Divine Meditations, numbers 1-11 of which focus on Christ's death. Alabaster's use of paradox and antithesis is skillful, if his summary statement in his final two lines is not. He writes in clear metaphysical style:
Though all forsake thee, lord, yet I will die, For I have chained so my will to thine That I have no will left my will to untwine, But will abide with thee most willingly.
The wordplay reflecting the multiple meanings of the term will remains reminiscent of a riddle, and Alabaster's subtle insertion of rhyme in the terms thee and willingly within the same line entices readers to say the words aloud. Alabaster extends the Renaissance devotional tradition to consider the great paradox of Christianity: that God became man in order for man to find God. Whatever one may think of Alabaster's multiple conversions between Protestantism and Catholicism, the poet's faith cannot be questioned.
The imagery of chains suggests slavery and imprisonment, but not in the sense of one will forced into service by another. Instead the speaker has voluntarily assumed the chains and has no will, or intent, to extricate himself. His abiding with his "lord" is done not in spite of his will, but actually, "willingly." The release of the will supports Alabaster's exercise in meditation, an activity undertaken to promote the realization of Divine Truth. In an allusion to St. Peter's denial of Christ at his Passion, Alabaster writes, "Though all forsake thee, lord, yet cannot I," again making clear that because of his collapse of will, he has not the power; he "cannot" forsake his lord. The speaker explains why, extending the metaphor of imprisonment and loss of essential identity:
For love hath wrought in me thy form divine That thou art more my heart than heart is mine: How can I then from myself, thyself, fly?
Alabaster not only plays with sense, he also indulges in sound manipulation through repetition of my, thy, and fly and an echo effect with heart and self. He extends the CoNCEIT of God as man, man as God. He does warn readers, however, "Thus thought St. Peter and thus thinking fell, / And by his fall did warn us not to swell," and with the term swell begins the reduction in graceful execution that marks many of his sonnets. Although swell accomplishes its sense purpose by suggesting the sin of pride, its sound proves offensive, dismaying the sensitive reader.
The final quartet does not redeem Alabaster, as his speaker declares, "Yet still in love I say I would not fall / And say in hope I trust I never shall," the eye rhyme of fall with shall serving its purpose to communicate the importance of trust, but not quite successfully convincing the reader. His penultimate line, "But cannot say in faith, what might I do," attempts to resume the wordplay that first draws the reader into the sonnet with the multiple interpretations possible for faith. However, they turn away again on the weak note of the concluding line, "To learn to say it, by hearing Christ say so!"
Alabaster might better have concluded with some term allowing stress to remain on the verb say. He might then have extended his emphasis on repetition of terms and remained fixed on his vision of man and God as one, with Christ's voice also that of man. Without the final forced so, needed for the eye rhyme with to in Alabaster's couplet, and without the exclamatory voice a reader can envision Christ quietly speaking from within man's body, mind, and soul.
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