The Sonnets of William Alabaster

By William Alabaster; G. M. Story et al. | Go to book overview

COMMENTARY

ALBASTER'S poems do not merit an extended commentary; but they frequently require some elucidation and this at times involves a discussion of the reading of the text. The only important source for the sonnets is the Scriptures and the traditional interpretations of them. These are quoted in their most familiar form, the Psalms from the Prayer Book and other books from the Authorized Version; but all texts have been checked against the Vulgate. In general Alabaster does not appear to be affected by the precise wording of one version or another; but there is at times an echo of the Prayer-Book wording of the Psalms with which as a former Protestant clergyman he would have been very familiar. For traditional interpretations of the Scriptures, the Glossed Bible, with the Postils of Nicholas of Lyra has been consulted. Occasionally, I have drawn attention to a parallel with, or an anticipation of, other religious poets.

A good many passages defy exact elucidation, and the contrast between Alabaster at his best and Alabaster at his worst raises the posibility that some of the sonnets are in the nature of first drafts which the author never attempted to perfect. This is suggested by the occurrence of a number of lines which are one or two syllables short. Nine of these have been left unemended (3. 12; 4. 3; 8. 9; 13. 6; 50. 5; 63. 4; 63. 11; 72. 1; 74. 14). Six (13. 2; 22. 11; 22. 14; 45. 9; 66. 3; 67. 8) have been patched by supplying an obvious word or extra syllable. It is possible that the editor has here done for the author what he should have done for himself. Another pointer to the same conclusion is that four of the sonnets have only thirteen lines and thus show a defect in the rhyme scheme. This also can be explained on the supposition that such defective sonnets are 'effusions' hastily composed and never worked up into proper form. In one of these imperfect sonnets (65) both manuscripts leave a gap in the text and there is a hiatus in sense, so that the fault here would seem to lie with the common ancestor of B and J. But in the others (18, 51, 72) the absence of a line is not indicated by any gap in the writing and the sense does not appear to be defective. This makes it seem likely that the flaw is not due to accidents of transmission but derives from the author's own failure to achieve a proper form.

Faced with poems of such unequal accomplishment and a poet so inexact in his use of language, a commentator has at times to be content to suggest a general sense and acknowledge that often another

-45-

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The Sonnets of William Alabaster
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Oxford English Monographs ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • References and Abbreviations ix
  • General Introduction xi
  • Textual Introduction xliv
  • Divine Meditations 1
  • The Portrait of Christ's Death 1
  • Penitential Sonnets 7
  • Resurrection 11
  • Upon the Ensigns of Christ's Crucifying 13
  • Miscellaneous Sonnets (i) 19
  • New Jerusalem 23
  • Personal Sonnets 26
  • The Incarnation 30
  • Miscellaneous Sonnets (2) 38
  • Doubtful Poems 43
  • Commentary 45
  • Appendix 63
  • Index of First LInes 64
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