VI/I (ca. 1590) In October 1589, Scotland's James VI (King James I of England) sailed for Norway to marry Anne of Denmark. During the couple's stay in Denmark, James visited astronomer Tycho Brahe on March 20, 1590. On the island of Hven, between Denmark and Sweden, Tycho had built an observatory named Uraniborg, after Urania, the astronomers' muse. Tycho Brahe's work, undertaken before the discovery of the telescope, is of great significance for Renaissance astronomy, influencing Johannes Kepler and, through him, Isaac Newton.
After the visit, James composed "A Sonnet on Ticho Brahe" as well as two more poems, each entitled "Another on the same." The second is also a sonnet, while the third is a hexastich (poem consisting of six verses or lines). Editors today sometimes print the poems as separate entries but more often treat them as a series.
"A Sonnet on Ticho Brahe" traces the creation of the universe: God, "he [who] in ordour everie thing hade broght" (l. 3), fashions the earth, humanity, and the beasts. The planets were traditionally believed to govern life on earth, "as heavenlie impes to governe bodies basse" (l. 11). The sonnet is elegantly concluded in the closing couplet: "The greate is Ticho who by this his booke / Commandement doth ouer these commanders brooke" (ll. 13-14). "Commandement," or understanding of the workings of the planets (and by extension of the works of God) is Brahe's great accomplishment.
The notion of the heavenly spheres in the first sonnet, "eache Planet in his place" (l. 9), is continued in the second, where "euerie planet hath his owen repaire" (l. 19). The poem stresses the beauty of divine order and praises "Tichoes tooles" (l. 25), his instruments, and possibly the planetary model at Uraniborg, reflecting all heaven's "ordour" (l. 24) in miniature. The syntax of the final hexastich (six-line poem) is complex and ambiguous. It appears to argue that Brahe, in guiding or tracking the course of the sun, is wiser than the mythic character Phaeton, who died attempting the same, or even the sun god Apollo, Urania's "eldest fos-tre dear" (l. 34). The lines juxtapose modern scientific understanding with non-Christian notions of the workings of the universe, favoring Brahe's insights.
It should be noted that James's depiction of the heavens is rather old-fashioned, following the Ptolemaic system rather than the Copernican model that Brahe followed and revised. Although James's poems are flattering, scientific discovery had not yet replaced poetic commonplaces: The king's work does not reflect Brahe's astronomical discoveries. Nonetheless, they are a fine tribute to a significant scientist.
See also James VI/I.
Westcott, Allan F., ed. New Poems by James I of England.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1911. Craigie, James, ed. The Poems of James VI of Scotland. 2 vols.
Edinburgh: Scottish Text Society, 1955, 1958.
SONNET SEQUENCE The term sonnet sequence refers to a collection of related sonnets. A sonnet is a poem that consists of 14 lines and can take different forms: the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet, The English sonnet (also known as the Shakespearean or Elizabethan sonnet) or the Spenserian sonnet. The term Italian, or Petrarchan, sonnet is derived from the 14th-century poet Petrarch, who refined the sonnet and the sonnet sequence in Italy. Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, brought the sonnet into England, and Wyatt translated many of Petrarch's poems. While the first English sonnet sequence was by Anne Vaughan Lock (reflections of Psalm 51 in 1560), Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella (published in 1591 and again in 1598) represents the first Petrarchan sonnet sequence in England. Astrophil and Stella offers typical Petrarchan conceits: the poet's unrequited love, the unrelenting lady, images of Cupid, descriptions of the beloved's beauty (the blazon), and the poet's failure to win the lady's love.
Atypical sequences also appeared in the 16th century. William Shakespeare's sonnets (published in 1609) take some of these Petrarchan motifs and make drastic changes to the typical scenario. He addresses Sonnets 1-126 to a young man, known as the lovely boy, and Sonnets 127-154 talk about the woman commonly known as the Dark Lady. Shakespeare's sonnets tend to be reflective or nostalgic rather than longing. Shakespeare also utilizes a different sonnet structure than his predecessors, the English sonnet (also called the Shakespearean sonnet because of his influence on this form). Edmund Spenser's sonnet sequence Amoretti (1595), dedicated to his bride, Elizabeth Boyle, differs from Sidney's and Shakespeare's sequences in both form and content. Amoretti does have the typical Petrarchan motif of the lover trying to win the lady's hand, but in this sequence he actually succeeds. A collection of poems called Epithalamion accompanied Amoretti in publication and enforce the difference between typical Petrarchan sequences and Spenser's (epithalamion means wedding song).
The sonnet sequence is a very significant poetic feature for several reasons. First, as some scholars and critics argue, poets used their sonnets for political or monetary reasons. For example, there is the argument that Shakespeare's poems portray his relationship with his patron Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, and during this time writers commonly sought the patronage of those who could support them financially.
Critics have also argued that Sidney's Astrophil and Stella expresses his political frustrations with Queen Elizabeth I, and therefore she is Stella. They suggest that Sidney wanted to demonstrate her power over him politically, and he therefore used this language to flatter the queen in an attempt to advance his status at court.
In addition, an argument exists that sonnets reveal important biographical insights into authors' personal lives. The "Dark Lady" of Shakespeare's Sonnets 127154 could be, as some have suggested, his mistress (poet Aemelia Lanyer has been suggested), while the rival poet in other Shakespeare sonnets could refer to Ben Jonson. Some argue that Stella in Sidney's Astrophil and Stella is Penelope Devereaux, the woman whom Sidney had once entertained marrying, and that his sonnets display his disappointment over losing her to Lord Rich in 1581. Edmund Spenser also seems to present biographical details in Sonnet 74 of Amoretti. He references his mother, the queen, and his wife Elizabeth in one of his sonnets, and some have said that both Amoretti and Epi-thalamion refer to his courtship and marriage.
The sonnet and the sonnet sequence had become tired by the early 17th century, but poets later continued the tradition with some alterations. Lady Mary Wroth wrote Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (1621) and imitated conventions that her uncle, Sir Philip Sidney, had used in Astrophil and Stella. However, she did alter a significant detail: The beloved becomes male and the pining lover female. John Donne wrote his Holy Sonnets before his death in 1633. Instead of a lover complaining about his unrelenting beloved, these sonnets discuss his relationship with God.
Dubrow, Heather. Echoes of Desire: English Petrarchism and Its Counter-Discourses. Ithaca, N.Y., and London: Cornell University Press, 1995. Lever, J. W. The Elizabethan Love Sonnet. London: Methuen, 1966.
Kerri Lynn Allen
"SOOTE SEASON, THE" ("DESCRIPTION OF SPRING, WHEREIN EVERY THING RENEWS, SAVE ONLY THE LOVER") Henry Howard, earl of Surrey
(1547) This sonnet, along with Henry Howard, earl of Surrey's other lyric poetry, was published posthumously in 1547 in Tottel's Miscellany, thus making it impossible to date accurately. The publisher took the liberty of giving it a title, "Description of Spring, Wherein Every Thing Renews, Save Only the Lover," but modern editions prefer the above.
The poem combines medieval English constructions found in accentual verse with its original Petrarchan verse, while still rendering a thoroughly early modern desiring subject. Adapted from the 310th sonnet of Petrarch's Canzoniere, the poem takes the setting of the original and replaces it with an English rather than Italian summertime scene. In its depiction of an English summer scene, the ideal locus amoenus has more in common with medieval lyric poetry such as "Sumer is Icumen In" and Geoffrey Chaucer's General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales than the Italian summer of Petrarch's creation. The simplicity of the rhyme scheme is appropriated from medieval sources and forced into the 14-line sonnet format—abab, abab, abab, aa.
The poem is formally a list-sonnet, with each line of the first 12 representing some new part of the list to be described. It relies heavily on alliteration in its description of spring: "bud and bloom forth brings" (l. 1), "The hart hath hung his old head" (l. 6), "adder all her slough away she slings" (l. 9). The heavy accentual rhythm of lines like "The buck in brake his winter coat he slings," (l. 7) is reminiscent of the driving rhythms of Middle English lyrics and ballads. Also, the use of word forms that were already becoming outdated such as soote, eke, and the adjective smale, conjures a sense of nostalgia. Even the use of the often overlooked pun in "mings" is reliant on an older, almost forgotten meaning which was "to remember" as well as "to mix." It is ironic that Surrey employs these archaic poetic devices to describe the spring wherein all that is old is renewed.
The oscillation between present and past tense of the verbs in the sonnet ("brings," "clad," "sings," "told," etc.) is indicative of the subject's inability to deal with the absence of his object of desire, as expressed in the couplet. The isolated subject is able to observe the change and growth that spring suggests but is unable to join in it himself. As time moves forward, so his
"sorrow springs" (l. 14), which marks the end of the alternating pattern as well as a verb and a pun that sums up the sonnet's enterprise. The final couplet, whose verbs are in the present tense, locates the subject desires in the past, for the renewal of all things means the loss of all things of old. Surrey's deliberate use of archaic vocabulary intensifies these changes and emphasizes the sense of loss while refocusing the emotion inward.
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