Philip Sidney – Astrophil and Stella (ctd.)

Sonnet 6 is another meditation upon the poetry, or rather its inadequacy to express love. Some poets when writing about their love use elaborate language, and other mythological allusions. Some go for the pastoral style and some for “lovers’ complaints”, writing about their woes. But Sidney can only say that he loves Stella, which is a bit disingenuous, taking into account that he is in the process of writing the whole sonnet cycle about her. I guess the paradox is the point here. Interestingly enough, in this and some of the following sonnets Sidney switches from the English sonnet (3 x 4-line stanzas plus the finishing couplet) to the Italian sonnet (2 x 4 line stanza and 2 x 3 lines stanzas, linked by rhyme patterns).

Sonnet 7 is about Stella’s black eyes. Did Nature give her black eyes to offset better her beauty, like the painter who puts his picture in the black frame? Or did she do it to protect her lovers, who would be dazzled by the brightness of her eyes if they were not black? Or to show that even though black is stereotypically the antonym of beauty, she can overcome it and create something beautiful and black? All of these, and also to give the mourning weed for Love residing in Stella’s eyes and mourning all those dying for her. Sidney here makes a slight mistake, since the line 12 doesn’t rhyme with any other line in the poem. Or maybe I should get all litty-critty and argue that of course it is on purpose, because the slight imperfection in his poem is like the blackness of Stella’s eyes, offsetting her beauty.

Sonnet 9 is a rather belaboured extended simile, comparing Stella’s face to a building made of various precious stones: her forehead is of alabaster, her lips of red porphyry etc. Her black eyes are like “touch”, which was apparently Elizabethan English for jet, black stone, which when rubbed can generate static electricity and attract small straws. The sonnet ends with a complicated pun on “touch’ the stone, and the eyes who can touch the poet without touching.

Sonnet 10 sends away the Reason to its proper occupations – knowledge, poetry and souch, instead of quarrelling with the poet’s love and sense, because, as soon as he sees Stella, Reason himself has to bend his knee and admit that it is reasonable to worship her.

Sonnet 15 is another meditation on poetry. Sidney discusses in this text what he considers derivative poetry: using elaborate language, searching dictionaries, ransacking the poetry of Petrarch for figures of speech. But these are “stolen goods” and if you want to become famous, get your inspiration directly from the view of Stella.

 

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