Philip Sidney – Astrophil and Stella (the end)

The Eleventh Song is the dialogue between Stella and Astrophil, standing in the night under her window like Romeo. Stella lists all the reasons the poet’s love may end – the passage of time, her absence, other women, his own reason and the memory of all the sufferings inflicted by this love. But the poet rebuffs all these arguments: in time his love will not diminish but grow, her absence would only help if he could become absent from himself, other women are like the pictures of saints, not matching her perfection, and reason and the past wrongs just make him love her more.  She has to forbid him to come as she is afraid she may be observed and he has to depart.

Sonnet 106 begins with the complaint against Hope – it told the poet Stella would be back and she is not. Now Hope herself flees in disgrace. There are other beautiful women around and they might make him forget Stella, but they are going to be only as about effective as the thoughtless man who told his freshly wounded friend to forget about his pain and be merry.

Sonnet 108, the last one in the sequence, gives no conclusion, which is a part of Petrarchan tradition – love just goes on forever, even unhappy one. It is based on alchemical imagery using the metaphors of gold and lead. Sorrow pours hot lead, melted by the poet’s love, into his breast. His only light is the thought of his beloved, but when his soul flies to her, like a young bird to its nest, Despair clips its wings. The gold of Phoebus, i.e. the rays of sun are no use for one who is locked behind iron doors. Stella’s “works” (also an alchemical term) cause the poet to feel joy in his sadness and sadness in his joy.

And this it the end of Sidney’s section. I enjoyed him most when he is light and self-mocking. I enjoyed him less when he got into the tortuous paradoxes. His prose texts, with the constant allusions to the Classical literature, were a bit too ponderous. But overall an interesting read.


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