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York: oxford university Press, 1989. Fabry, Frank J. "Sidney's Verse Adaptations to Two Sixteenth-Century Italian Art Songs." Renaissance Quarterly 23, no. 3 (1970): 237-255. Marquis, Paul A. "Rereading Sidney's Certain Sonnets."
Renaissance Studies 8, no. 1 (1994): 65-75. Ringler, William A., ed. The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney.
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Jones. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973. Warkentin, Germaine. "Sidney's Certain Sonnets: Speculations on the Evolution of the Text." The Library 2, no. 1
Certain Sonnets 31: "Thou Blind Man's Mark"
Sir Philip Sidney (ca. 1581) This sonnet steps away from English sonnet form and instead follows Continental sonnet traditions. Composed of an octave and sestet, Certain Sonnets 31 experiments with an unusual rhyme scheme (ababbaba, bccbcc) that uses only three end-rhymes and risks stiltedness. Some might prefer the term quatorzain for Sonnet 31 because of the unorthodox rhyme scheme, which appears in no other poems in Sir Philip Sidney's Certain Sonnets. However, this sonnet employs other conventions of the form. It has 14 rhymed lines, and the octave details a problem, while the sestet resolves the problem.
The octave describes the poet in an emotional and self-critical state, as if he were pointing at himself in the mirror and seeing his own weakness and inclination toward fancifulness and pursuit of love, leaving him "fond fancie's scum" (l. 2). In the course of this self-flagellation, the poet characterizes himself as a blind man's abused target, a fool's contrivance, and "dregs of scattred thought" (ll. 1-2). He has squandered his intelligence to pursue fancy: "Desire, desire I have too dearely bought" (l. 5), he cries, and the result is a "mangled mind" (l. 6) that should "to higher things prepare" (l. 8). As the son of Sir Henry Sidney, an administrator for Queen Elizabeth I who served as both lord president of the Marches of Wales and lord deputy of Ireland, and, for a time, as heir to Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, Sidney had great expectations for himself—and so did others, in England and on the Continent.
The traditional volta opens the sestet. The poet moves from self-flagellation to a refusal to see himself as completely defeated, asserting that fancy has worked in vain to ruin him, making him aspire to idle and worthless things. Moving out of his despair, the poet insists that efforts to destroy him are in vain. Fancy has incited only smoke; he has not been burned or destroyed: "In vaine thou kindlest all thy smokie fire" (l. 11). These lines show growth as the poet construes his struggles as a battle between himself and fancy (i.e., both fancifulness and an amorous inclination). In the final three lines of the sonnet, the poet recommits to a new life shaped around virtue's lesson (ll. 12-14). This teaches him to keep his own counsel and to stifle desire—"Desiring nought but how to kill desire" (l. 14)—thus changing direction from the pursuit of the fanciful to the achievement of higher things.
See also Certain Sonnets (overview).
Certain Sonnets 32: "Leave me, O Love" Sir Philip Sidney (1581) In this poem from Sir Philip Sidney's Certain Sonnets, the speaker rejects human, temporal, impermanent love in favor of eternal love— the love for and of God. It is the most explicitly Christian, as well as the most specifically biblical of all Sidney's sonnets. Thematically, it completes the collection because it complements part of the first sonnet, which reads: "I yeeld, o Love, unto thy loathed yoke . . ." (Certain Sonnets 1.9). Sidney redefines love's "yoke," and shifts his speaker's allegiance from the lord of [courtly] love to the Lord of all Love.
Sidney rarely uses explicit references to any source texts, so specific references to the gospel and psalms passages mark this sonnet as unique among his secular writings, putting it more in line with the Psalms that Sidney translated with his sister, Mary Sidney Herbert, countess of Pembroke (1561-1621), and with the general Protestant cast of his overall literary and political character. This sonnet produces a mood not typical of Sidney's writing; it is absent in the sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella, in the two versions of the Arcadia, and rare in his prose works.
Structurally, Sonnet 32 is a variation of the English sonnet; it has three quatrains, each with its own pair of rhyme sounds, and an ending couplet. The structural logic, however, reads better as an Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet—that is, as two quatrains making an octave with a sestet, since the couplet completes, rather than contrasts with, the preceding four lines. Unlike a typical English sonnet, Sidney utilizes an interlocking rhyme scheme of abab, cdcd, dd, and all the rhymes are masculine (accented). This sonnet shows Sidney at his mature best. The iambic pentameter is consistent, and its rhythms are emphasized by the alliteration used only in the first quatrain; other devices are employed in the remaining 10 lines.
As the sonnet opens, the speaker commands the impermanent, mortal love that reaches "but to dust" (l. 1) to leave him, and urges his mind to reach up for more elevated, important, and permanent heavenly love. Sidney alludes to Matthew 6:19-20, contrasting that which moth and rust consume—all material possessions and human affections—with that which neither moth nor rust can consume—heaven and divine love. Fleeting, mortal, ephemeral things give only momentary joy or satisfaction.
in the second quatrain, the speaker urges himself to pull in the sun of his personality ("beames"), to become humble, to yield his power, pride, and talent to "that sweet yoke, where lasting freedoms be" (l. 6). This image owes its power to Matthew, chapter 11, where Jesus urges his followers to take up the yoke of following him, calling it a light, easy burden. The last two lines of the stanza reflect a psalm verse that says humans see light in God's light (Ps. 36.9).
In the final six lines, the speaker urges himself to hold tightly to the light of salvation that can guide the living person through the course of mortal life to a happy conclusion in heaven. The speaker condemns any who "slide." Since each "comes of heavn'ly breath," it is a principal human obligation to reject the claims of impermanent things in favor of "Eternall Love." The speaker concludes by asking eternal love to maintain its life in him.
Critics have been quick to pick up on this tonal shift. A great deal of scholarship contextualizes this sonnet within the burgeoning Protestant state as well as Sidney's own troubled political career. As well, it can be connected to the Sldneian Psalmes begun by Sidney and finished by his sister after his death.
See also Certain Sonnets (overview).
Marjory E. Lange
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