Philip Sidney – Astrophil and Stella (ctd.)

in a rather charming Sonnet 31 the poet addresses the Moon, guessing that it is also must be in love, since it is wan and pale. In a series of rhetorical questions he asks the Moon whether up there lover’s fidelity is also considered stupid, beauties are as proud, they love to be loved and yet scorn their lovers and whether ungratefulness to the lover is also considered virtue.

Sonnet 33 in a very cryptic way seems to address the failed marriage between Sidney and Penelope Devereux. The poet says that the worst thing is that he has nobody else to blame but himself – no other rival, or force, or fortune. He says he overthought it (“too much wit (forsooth) so troubled me”) and thought he was acting in the best interests of them both “and yet could not by rising morn foresee/ How fair a day was near”. If only I were more foolish, or more wise, the poet concludes, it would be all right. This of course tells us nothing and that is probably what Sidney intended – it was clear enough to him and to Penelope.

Sonnet 34 is a dialogue between the poet and his reason, in a form of witty one-liners. The poet asks his reason to let him write, but the reason argues that the poems are the mirror of his pain. A cruel fight well painted can be pleasing to the eye, the poet argues. But aren’t you ashamed of making it public? It can bring him fame, because it is so rare. But wise men may consider it foolish. Fine, then I won’t publish. But what’s the point of speaking without being heard? What’s harder than feeling pain and not being able to speak? Finally Sidney tells his wit to shut up, because – again like with his failed engagement – he overthinks these things and constantly doubts himself when writing.

Sonnet 37 alludes to the married name of Penelope, now Lady Rich. The nymph who lives in the east (i.e. Essex) and she is rich in all the virtues and renown. Her only misfortune is that “Rich she is”.

Sonnet 39 invokes sleep to come and in a poetical trope known from Chaucer the poet offers Morpheus all the appropriate gifts – a soft bed, garland of roses, smooth pillows. And if all these gifts do not satisfy him, he can see in the poet the image of Stella.

Sonnet 41 is one of these sonnets which like 33 I find most interesting, because here Sidney portrays himself as an individual, not as a generic Petrarchan lover. He alludes to his victory in a recent tournament and was applauded both by the English and by “some sent from that sweet enemy France”. Some attribute his victory to his horse, others to his strength, or his skill, or mere luck, or good genes. But the real reason (of course) is that Stella looked on.

 

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