The ‘turn’ to faith

Of turning. 67.

Wilt thou use turners craft still? ye by my trouth.

Much thrift and most suretie in turners craft growth.

Halfe turne or whole turne, where turners be turning.

Turnying keepes turners from hangyng and burning.

John Heywoods ‘Of turning’ from his Epygrams (1562)

This short poem by John Heywood neatly encapsulates one of the central anxieties about conversion – that those who turned merely did so to save their skins, rather than their souls. The potential for a convert to continue to ‘revolve’, turning from one faith only to re-turn at a later point, was a very real one: the convert and poet William Alabaster famously vacillated from Protestant to Catholic and back again.  The image of movement at the heart of Heywood’s poem also recalls how the manipulation of language undertaken by the poet or rhetorician is another kind of ‘turn’. ‘Turner’s craft’ is perhaps ultimately employed by the writer who records the faith experiences of the convert in order to persuade the reader to embark upon a ‘turn’ of their own.

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