Sidneian Psalms Psalm 139 Domine Probasti o Lord in me there lieth nought

Mary Sidney Herbert, countess of Pembroke

(1599) In the biblical version of Psalm 139, the pattern of stark contrasts of beginning and ends, before and after, and high and low is intended to show God's absolute knowledge and protection. In Mary Sidney Herbert's translation, there is a smoothing out of the contrasts. She replaces them with puns and jangling wordplay—a characteristic found in Hebrew poetry, but also a favorite Elizabethan practice.

The wordplay itself becomes a way of deeply knowing, a kind of secret probing that seems to hide its intentions just as it is at work. Both eye and ear are important to the rhyme that Herbert imposes on the verse. As the psalm develops, she follows closely the subject of the biblical psalm, choosing not to inject herself or typical imagery from her time period. God is both creator and knower, and cursing against God's enemies reveals devotion to God.

Psalm 139 is representative of Herbert's method in the translation of the Psalms: Her work shows the triumph of the Protestant vision of the world, especially in its reliance upon personal reading of the Bible, coupled with religious and political triumph.

See also Sidnean Psalms (overview).

Daniel F. Pigg

SIDNEY, SIR PHILIP (1554-1586) Born to Sir Henry Sidney, lord deputy of Ireland, and Lady Mary Dudley Sidney, sister of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, Sir Philip Sidney was a celebrity during his own lifetime. At age 10, he entered Shrewsbury School, where he met his lifelong friend and biographer, Sir Fulke Greville. Though he later attended Oxford University, Sidney did not take a degree; rather, he supplemented his formal education with three years of extensive traveling throughout the Continent (1572-75). The journey left ineffable impressions on him. For instance, he witnessed the Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day, a gory event resulting in the deaths of numerous Huguenots (French Protestants), which strengthened his Protestant resolve.

Sidney was greatly admired by his contemporaries as both an author and a patron. His literary circle included Greville, Thomas Drant, Edward Dyer, and Edmund Spenser, who went so far as to dedicate The Shepheard's Calender (1579) to him. Sidney's own works include Lady of May (1578), an entertaining piece composed in honor of Queen Elizabeth I; the SONNET SEQUENCE entitled Astrophil and Stella, which is credited with establishing the genre's popularity; Arcadia, a pastoral prose romance, revised later into the New Arcadia (1590); Certain Sonnets (1598); and the magisterial Defense of Poesy (1595).

Though Sidney's literary life seemed charmed, his political and romantic entanglements were complicated. In 1580, he was dismissed from court for publicly opposing Queen Elizabeth's proposed marriage to the Catholic duke of Anjou. Soon afterward, in 1581, his beloved Penelope Devereux, the daughter of the earl of Essex, married Lord Rich, though she had supposedly been engaged to Sidney in 1576. Two years later, Sidney married Frances Walsingham, the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, and was knighted.

Four years later, in the Battle of zutphen on September 22, 1586, Sidney was mortally wounded in the left thigh. He succumbed to a gangrenous infection at the age of 32 on October 17, 1586. Virtually the entire country mourned Sidney's death. His sister, Mary Sidney Herbert, countess of Pembroke, became the custodian of Sidney's prolific writings and kept his memory alive. Sidney retained his status even after death, and he continues to be admired today.

See also quatorzain; Sidneian Psalms; Shepheardes Calender, The.

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