Astrophil and Stella Sonnet 37 My mouth doth water and my breast doth swell

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Philip Sidney (ca. 1582) A variation of the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet, the rhyme scheme in Sonnet 37 follows an octave and sestet rhyme pattern of abbaabba, cdcdee. The poem itself, however, exhibits an additional variation—a syntactical and semantic one that is an aberration within the sonnet tradition. This poem is unique in that it uses the first quatrain to announce a riddle, which then evolves over the next 10 lines.

Sonnet 37 is also significant because it is the first poem in Astrophil and Stella that actually refers to Penelope Devereux Rich, the model for Stella. Sir Philip Sidney here demonstrates that the abject lover is not as powerless as he might appear; indeed, he has power over the beloved because he writes (names) her. Sometimes the naming is not very flattering. For example, as he describes his tongue's role in the creative process, "Rich" rhymes with "itch" (l. 2). Puns on the name Rich appear throughout the sonnet, reducing the beloved to material goods (commodification). She is the property of another man, and the lover is an upstart for pursuing her through his poems.

Sonnet 37 also uses images associated with pregnancy (for example, swollen breasts) to talk humorously about giving birth to his poetry. In this case, he gives birth to a poem in the form of a riddle for the court, the intended audience of the work, making this one of the few poems in the sequence whose intended audience is not the beloved. Though pregnancy is a female attribute, Sidney successfully appropriates the image for his own masculine purpose, and then proves to be more fertile than biological women, as he produces numerous poems.

See also Astrophil and Stella (OVERVIEW).

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  • toby
    What is the tone of sonnet 37?
    4 months ago

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