Philip Sidney (ca. 1582) In Sonnet 10, Astrophil addresses "Reason," and the poem draws on a typical Neoplatonic dialectical opposition between reason and passion. The last two lines express the classical and Renaissance moral philosophical paradox that the faculty of reason is supposed to rule over the passions in the soul. Yet in this sonnet, Reason abandons its rule of the soul in order to serve the object of Astrophil's passion, Stella. Sonnet 10 is written in the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet style that Sir Philip Sid ney frequently used in Astrophil and Stella. Although the turn occurs at line 9, as is usual in Italian sonnets, the forceful couplet at the end of this poem is reminiscent of the English sonnet form that Shakespeare preferred.
Astrophil introduces his paradox in the first quatrain, although this is not obvious until the end of the poem. He tells Reason that even though Reason would prefer to fight against the "sence" (Astrophil's five senses, through which he experiences Stella) and "love" that Astrophil prefers, Reason will find its principles obeyed all the same. In the remainder of the octave, Astrophil suggests employments more fruitful for Reason than attempting to subdue his passion. He uses an anaphora to tell Reason what it ought to do: it should "clime the Muses' hill, / or reach the fruite of Nature's choisest tree, / or seeke heavn's course, or heavn's inside to see" (ll. 3-5). The Muses' "hill," usually Mount Parnassus, is the source for poetic inspiration. The fruit of Nature's tree refers to seeking patterns in Nature to be emulated, and seeking heaven's course alludes to cosmological speculations as well as to the fact that "Stella" means "star," and "Astrophil" star-lover. Astrophil concludes his octet with the relatively gentle admonition that Reason should "leave love to will" (l. 8).
In line 9, the sonnet's initial turn, Astrophil returns to his claim that Reason wants to fight against both love and the delight Astrophil takes in his senses when he is around Stella. Reason is a sword fighter who gives "wounds of dispraise" with "sword of wit" (l. 10), but whose "cunning fence"—that is, artful fencing skill— will be foiled by the blows delivered by "Stella's rayes" (ll. 11-12). Here Sidney probably puns on the word foyle (l. 11), using it as a verb but also referring to the fencing foil.
The couplet extends the fencing metaphor and constrains it to an obviously courtly sporting combat, asserting that after it has been struck by Stella's rays, Reason itself kneels in submission and offers its services to prove the necessity of loving Stella. Astrophil uses a chiasmus—"By reason good, good reason [Stella] to love" (ll. 13-14)—to illustrate Reason's reversal of its former argument against love. Thus, reason is well "serv'd," as Astrophil asserts in line 1, by being taught by Stella's beauty and virtue that to love Stella is ultimately reasonable.
See also Astrophil and Stella (OVERVIEW).
Astrophil and Stella: Sonnet 15 ("You that do search for every purling spring") Sir Philip Sidney (ca. 1582) Sonnet 15 returns to the admonition against insincere imitation that characterizes Sonnets 1 and 6. It is written in iambic pentameter and follows the Italian (Petrachan) sonnet form. Here, lines 9 and 10 form a couplet that sums up the octave, so that the poet's rhyme scheme for the SESTET (cdcd, ee) becomes ccdeed. Likewise, the volta (turn) we expect in line 9 is delayed until line 12, where it is marked by the adversative but.
In the octave, Astrophil lists the faulty practices of imitative poets. In the first quatrain, he speaks of their practices figuratively, suggesting that they seek every "spring" that flows from Mount Parnassus, the mythological home of the Muses, (inspiration) and "wring" their poetics from every flower, "not sweet perhaps," that grows nearby (ll. 2-4). Thus, not only are imitative poets too busy looking for models to imitate, they also imitate poor models—the flowers that are not sweet. When Astrophil expands his criticism to include the sins of alliteration and poor imitation of Petrarchan conceits, he alliterates as he mocks alliteration, characterizing it as "running in ratling rowes" (l. 6). He then mocks the use of Petrarchan imagery as "poore Petrarch's long-deceased woes" and "new-borne sighes and denisened wit" (ll. 8-9). "Denisend wit" is a controversial phrase in the poem. It has been variously printed as "devised wit" and "wit disguised," but the most authoritative manuscripts contain "denisend wit," so critics have taken line 8 to mean that the wits of imitators of Petrarch are inhabited with nothing more than sighs.
The first half of the sestet completes the thought of the octave. Astrophil tells imitative poets, "You take wrong waies," and he warns them that "stolne goods"— that is, the ideas, imagery, and techniques they borrow from other poets—are eventually recognized as unoriginal. He then goes in to make inspirational suggestions. on one hand, the advice is what we would expect, for he tells lesser poets to look at Stella and then begin to write (l. 14). Like the typical poet-lover, Astrophil protests that his beloved is the fairest and most inspiring beloved of all. But on the other hand, Astrophil does not exactly say that admiring Stella will make his listener into a better poet. Instead, he says that if such a poet want to "nurse" his "name . . . at fullest breasts of Fame," he should fix his gaze on Stella (ll. 12-13). Stella is a means to fame, not necessarily to good poetry. This reference resonates with the imagery of Parnassus and Petrarch (the Italian poet whose style and imagery heavily influenced 16th-century lyric poetry). But at the same time, it reveals that Astrophil has been playing a game in seeming to oppose insincere imitation against sincere inspiration: instead, he opposes poor poetry that deserves its oblivion to better poetry that earns fame by taking Stella as its object.
See also Astrophil and Stella (overview); Sidney, Sir Philip; sonnet.
Coldiron, A. E. B. "Sidney, Watson, and the 'Wrong Ways' to Renaissance Lyric Poetics." In Renaissance Papers, edited by Trevor Howard-Hill and Philip Rollinson, 4962. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House Press, 1997.
Astrophil and Stella: Sonnet 16 ("In nature apt to like when I did see") Sir Philip Sidney (ca. 1582) Sonnet 16 is unusual in that, rather than maintaining a pose of sincerity that is subtly undermined by the terms in which he expresses it, Astrophil here narrates his conversion from being one who merely believes he loves into a true lover. It follows the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet form in that its first two quatrains constitute a coherent octave, rhymed abbaabba. The turn, where Astrophil tells us of truly falling in love, occurs at line 9, so that the last part of the sonnet may be taken as a coherent sestet, rhyming cdcdee. Sonnet 16 also marks a shift in the SoNNET sequence itself. Though there is some variance in their themes, the first 15 sonnets emphasize the difference between Astrophil's claim to sincerity and his criticism of other, more imitative poets. Sonnet 16, in contrast, begins Astrophil's long account of his own follies.
The first quatrain is an apostrophe to love in which Astrophil expresses the shallowness of his initial infatuations in unflattering terms that evoke a cool and avaricious assessment. Before he saw Stella, he compared "beauties"—a word that primarily denotes beautiful women but also suggests different kinds of beauty itself—to the measurement of the purity of gold. Thus, the beauties he has seen "were of manie Carrets fine" (l. 2): relatively refined and pure gold. These beauties convinced Astrophil that he was "full" of love (ll. 3-4). The second quatrain continues the apostrophe, explaining that Astrophil did not feel in himself the "flames" of love that others claimed to feel, and that he denigrated these others' expressions as a "whine" over a mere "pinne's hurt" (ll. 6-7). In line 8 he says he based his judgment on his own as-yet shallow experience of love.
In the third quatrain, Astrophil ceases his address to Love and speaks about love instead, characterizing his dalliance as playing "with this young Lyon" (l. 9). In this image, he alludes to a fable in which a shepherd brings home a lion cub, thinking to make it a pet. When the lion matures, it destroys the shepherd's flocks, an action that is subsequently compared to the devastation of Troy wrought by Paris's love for Helen. Thus, Astrophil hints at the destructive power that he himself will find in love. He questions whether his eyes were "curst or blest" (l. 10) when they first beheld Stella, which caused him to fall in love truly; in this, he exploits the fascination with paradox that characterizes 16th-century love poetry, and particularly Petrarchan love poetry. Astrophil compares himself to a schoolboy in the end of the quatrain, claiming that, having seen Stella, he "speld" (which means both learned and written out—like this very poem, in fact) a "new lesson" (l. 12).
The couplet extends the metaphor of Astrophil-as-schoolboy, as he explains to us that he has "learn'd Love right" now that he has seen Stella (l. 13). Astro-phil's conclusion invokes much darker imagery and implies that he has fallen from a state of innocence. He asserts that one who has learned of love by an experience like his own is like one who "by being poisond doth poison know" (l. 14). Poison is used as a metaphor for corruption and sin, an image derived from the story of Adam and Eve, with Astrophil's knowledge of love being congruous with Adam's knowledge of good and evil.
See also Astrophil and Stella (overview); Sidney, Sir Philip.
Richards, Jennifer. "Philip Sidney, Mary Sidney, and Protestant Poetics." Sidney Newsletter & Journal 14, no. 1
Joel B. Davis
Astrophil and Stella: Sonnet 18 ("With what sharp checks I in myself am shent") Sir Philip Sidney (ca. 1582) This sonnet is the first in the Astrophil and Stella sonnet sequence that takes full advantage of the contrastive possibilities of the terminal couplet, projecting the object of desire as oppositional to an entire set of inherited values. The opening octave of this Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet is also deeply invested in the oppositional dialectic of desire. Throughout the poem, three sets of opposites (reason-passion, natural position-artful indolence, wealth-bankruptcy) are combined to describe, through negation, the rightful place of the desiring subject. The speaker is "banck-rout" (l. 3) and "unable quite to pay even Nature's rent" (l. 5) because "my wealth I have most idly spent" (l. 8)—a condition not unknown to the young aristocrats of the day. It is "Reason's audite" (l. 2) that demonstrates that the speaker's natural, aristocratic, and ultimately desirable position has been pawned. This form of rational introspection into the speaker's failure to live up to his inherited expectations leads to a kind of self-loathing at the end of the octave.
The expected volta between the octave and the sestet never comes as the litany of self-abuse continues. The rhyme of the intellectual "toyes" (l. 9) the speaker creates—his poetry with "vaine annoyes" (l. 11)—is reminiscent of Sir Philip Sidney's own suggestions that his writings Arcadia and the Defense of Poesy were trifles and ink-wasting. The indolence and loss of purpose is concluded and surpassed in line 12 with a suggestion of the speaker's own damnation: "I see my course to lose my self doth bend." In the loss of his "self," the speaker implies the loss of his own soul, which is against nature and reason.
The couplet turns on the rest of the poem, framing Stella and the inherited values of an aristocratic culture as mutually incompatible. The speaker recognizes that his actions are denying him his "birthright" (l. 6), yet he is not as saddened by that as by the fact that he cannot lose more "for Stella's sake" (l. 14). The repeated "no" midway through the couplet turns the speaker's love for Stella into desire for greater sorrow, thus pitting Petrarchan self-loathing against a uniquely English heritage of aristocratic birthright and the loss of wealth.
See also Astrophil and Stella (OVERVIEW).
Astrophil and Stella: Sonnet 20 ("Fly, fly, my friends, I have my death-wound, fly") Sir Philip Sidney (ca. 1582) This sonnet reflects the viewpoint of a soldier who has just received a mortal wound. The first octave begins with the narrator telling his friends to fly for he has received his "death wound" (l. 1). A "muth'ring boy" (l. 2) lay in ambush "like a thief" and assailed the narrator, the "wrongful prey" (l. 4). The concluding sestet details the narrator's naïve approach to the place of ambush—enjoying the "prospect" (l. 10), yet unaware that his assailant lay in wait. The narrator's serenity is broken when he sees his attacker move with "lightening grace" and fire at him. The final line concludes with the narrator feeling the bullet hitting his heart.
The sonnet displays a number of Renaissance conventions. one is the horror of the advent of modern warfare (the narrator is shot from ambush, not slain in hand-to-hand combat). Another is the development of an elaborate conceit by which the entire sonnet could be seen as an allegory for an individual falling in love: The unsuspecting narrator is pierced in the heart by a bullet from an unexpected source, just as the hapless Astrophil was ambushed by the waiting Stella, who struck his heart with love.
See also Astrophil and Stella (overview); Sidney, Sir Philip,
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