Sonnet 16 is the comparison between what love used to mean to the poet – he felt admiration for certain beauties and he even thought he was full of love for them. So he didn’t understand other lovers complaining about their pain and thought they were babes whining at pin pricks. But then he saw Stella and he learnt what love is, “as who by being poisoned doth poison know”.
Sonnet 18 is a financial metaphor – Reason calls the poet to the audit and the poet has to declare himself bankrupt. His youth, his knowledge, his talent – all are spent on Stella and writing poetry for her, and the only thing he regrets is that he can’t lose even more.
Sonnet 20 is a warning to his friends to fly from the Cupid, settled in Stella’s black pupil. The poet, like a passer-by, stopped and admired the beautiful view, but then he was shot with a dart of love that pierced his heart.
Sonnet 21 quotes an imaginary dialogue with a friend rebuking the poet wasting his time on this unhappy love. The poet should have learnt from Plato how to tame desires, and he should also remember what he owes to his social position and great expectations that presumably his family have for him. If Sidney was so promising in March, meaning as a young boy, and now wastes his time in May, that is as a young man, what will his harvest be? The poet cannot but agree, and yet is there anything more beautiful in the world than Stella?
In Sonnet 27 the poet presents himself as often lost in thought and not speaking in the company, which others often mistakenly take for a sign of pride (a bit like Mr Darcy…) But no, he is not guilty of pride, he is too self-aware for that. What he is guilty of, he admits, is ambition. He seems to ignore his friends because all his thoughts are preoccupied with Stella. I must admit that in this sonnet her name appears almost as a kind of afterthought and the sonnet would be as effective as a reflection upon Sidney’s character and the gap between self-perception and the way others perceive us.
Sonnet 28 in a way addresses all the critics who claim that Stella stands for someone or something else (like all the critics who say that Laura or Beatrice are not real women, they are just poetical constructs). No, Sidney says, do not look for allegories in here. I did not invent her to have a subject to write about, or to make her the personification of some philosophical ideas. Stella is Stella and I am writing about my love for her.