long-serving politician and soldier, Robert Sidney was governor of Flushing in the occupied Protestant Netherlands and eventually retired to the family estate at Penshurst, in Kent, becoming viscount de l'Isle in 1605 and earl of Leicester in 1618. Sidney was not known as a poet until recently. In 1973, a manuscript at Warwick Castle was identified as Robert's own manuscript of poems. It is the largest collection from the period in its author's own hand.
Modeled loosely (though with a less obvious sequential structure) on his brother Sir Philip Sidney's Astro-phil and Stella, Robert Sidney's collection of poems was mainly written in a short burst in the 1590s, after Philip's death and while Robert was serving in the Low Countries. It is full of nostalgia and loss that has personal origins—his brother's death, his separation from family, and his political frustrations—and is permeated by a melancholy brooding derived from the popular Petrarchan model. His verse includes poems where his life as a soldier, "the hardy captain, unused to retire" (Sonnet 7.1) is directly addressed; others where he looks nostalgically westward toward Penshurst, where "love holds fast his heart" (Song 6.18). Other poems are less personalized love plaints and sonnets addressed to the typical Petrarchan beloved, who is at once elevated and complained against as "you that take pleasure in your cruelty" (Sonnet 25.1), and happiness is balanced by the pain of "my true mishaps in your betraying love" (Sonnet 16.11).
Robert's verse is careful and sometimes plodding, but it is metrically versatile, showing an interest in experimenting with a variety of metrical and stanzaic forms. The emotions of his poems are expressed in broad sweeps—generalized but poignant feelings about time, disillusion, absence, and death. Like Sir Walter Raleigh, another courtier-poet who felt the uncertainties of fortune on his career, Sidney uses the lyric both to escape from the world's pressures and to brood over the pressures that made him seek that solace.
Perhaps his most impressive poem is Song 6, which is based on the traditional BALLAD about a pilgrim returning from the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. It is a 136-line dialogue between a pilgrim and a lady
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