Sir Philip Sidney

Astrophel and Stella

Let's look at the title of this sonnet sequence. So Stella is his star, and he is the star lover.

The typical sonnet sequence has several conventions.  The opening & closing sonnets frame the rest of the sequence.  The sonnets trace the development of the relationship between the lovers, especially the shifting emotions of the speaker.  "Conceits," ingenious comparisons, are frequent. We'll examine other conventions as we go along.


Astrophel and Stella

Louing in trueth, and fayne in verse my loue to show,
That she, deare Shee, might take som pleasure of my paine,
Pleasure might cause her reade, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pittie winne, and pity grace obtaine,
I sought fit wordes to paint the blackest face of woe;
Studying inuentions fine, her wits to entertaine,
Oft turning others leaues, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitfull showers vpon my sun-burnd brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting Inuentions stay;
Inuention, Natures childe, fledde step-dame Studies blowes;
And others feet still seemde but strangers in my way.
Thus, great with childe to speak, and helplesse in my throwes,
Biting my trewand pen, beating myselfe for spite,
Fool, said my Muse to me, looke in thy heart, and write.
1-4 Notice how one thing leads to the next in his imagined chain of events. 

his pains ==> her pleasure ==> reading ==> knowledge ==> pity ==> grace 

He hopes to win her love by seeming pitiful. 

In the tradition of courtly love, the lady's "gift of grace" was when she consumated the relationship.

5-8 Wanting to seem as pitiful as possible ("paint the blackest face of woe"), he looks for inspiration in the "leaves" (pages) of others, that is, he reads their poems.
9-12 The is one of the earliest declarations of the need for originality in one's work.  Shakespeare thought nothing of stealing the plots of others, and his audiences were not surprised to find him using the ideas of others.  Sidney says he can't study others to be creative himself.  He can't always rely on the kindness of strangers. 

"feet" = their poetry.  "Foot" refers to the meter of poems.  Their feet only trip him up. 

13-14  He has to write what is in his own heart if he is to be effective.
Not at the first sight, nor with a dribbed shot,
Loue gaue the wound, which, while I breathe, will bleede;
But knowne worth did in tract of time proceed,
Till by degrees, it had full conquest got.
I saw and lik'd; I lik'd but loued not;
I lou'd, but straight did not what Loue decreed:
At length, to Loues decrees I, forc'd, agreed,
Yet with repining at so partiall lot.
Now, euen that footstep of lost libertie
Is gone; and now, like slaue-borne Muscouite,
I call it praise to suffer tyrannie;
And nowe imploy the remnant of my wit
To make myselfe beleeue that all is well,
While, with a feeling skill, I paint my hell.
1-4 He describes the way that love conquered him. It was by degrees, not a case of love at first sight. 

"Love gave the wound" - There is a tradition that love destroys going back to early Greek literature. When Virgil wrote " omnia vincit amor" (love conquers all), he did not mean that love will overcome all the obstacles in our way, but that love overcomes all OF US.

5-11 Here is one of those conceits we mentioned before. He gives another series:

Saw ==> liked but loved not ==> loved but didn't obey its commands ==> obeyed with a rebellious attitude ==> lost even his wish to be free.

The poor guy's a slave to love.

12-14  He'll describe his woeful condition while trying to convince himself that everything is ok.
Some louers speake, when they their Muses entertaine,
Of hopes begot by feare, of wot not what desires,
Of force of heau'nly beames infusing hellish paine,
Of liuing deaths, dere wounds, faire storms, and freesing fires:
Some one his song in Ioue and Ioues strange tales attires,
Bordred with buls and swans, powdred with golden raine:
Another, humbler wit, to shepherds pipe retires,
Yet hiding royall bloud full oft in rurall vaine.
To some a sweetest plaint a sweetest stile affords:
While teares poure out his inke, and sighes breathe out his words,
His paper pale despaire, and pain his pen doth moue.
I can speake what I feele, and feele as much as they,
But thinke that all the map of my state I display
When trembling voyce brings forth, that I do Stella loue.
1-11 He returns to the theme of Sonnet 1, describing why he can't copy other poets. He catalogues the various conventions of the sonnet tradition. 
  • Some say love is a force which overpowers us and makes us suffer.
  • They use oxymorons - terms that are self-contradictory. (living death, dear wounds, jumbo shrimp, etc). Sonnets were full of these.
  • Some use mythology. He refers to the various disguises used by Jove (Zeus) to gain access to the women he desired.
  • Some use the pastoral tradition, in which ladies and gentlemen masquerade as shepherds.
  • They use conceits to describe the act of writing the sonnets. His tears are ink, etc.
12-14  He feels as deeply as any of them, but all he needs to use to show his state is the quivering way he softly whispers her name. 
With how sad steps, O Moone, thou climbst the skies!
How silently, and with how wanne a face!
What, may it be that euen in heau'nly place
That busie archer his sharpe arrowes tries?
Sure, if that long-with-loue-acquainted eyes
Can iudge of loue, thou feel'st a louers case,
I reade it in thy lookes: thy languist grace,
To me that feele the like, thy state discries.
Then, eu'n of fellowship, O Moone, tell me,
Is constant loue deem'd there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
Do they aboue loue to be lou'd, and yet
Those louers scorn whom that loue doth possesse?
Do they call vertue there vngratefulnesse?
1-4 He sees the moon & decides it's love-sick also. This is an example of the pathetic fallacy, wherein we think that nature experiences the same emotions we feel. Cupid has shot the moon with one of his love arrows
5-8 He becomes sure the moon is love-sick. This is absurd even in the system of mythology he is using. Cupid belongs to Graeco-Roman myths. Diana is the goddess of the moon in that system, and she is a perpetual virgin immune to love.
9-14  Now he switches to the new Copernican view that the moon is a planet. What's it like there? 
Is the faithful lover seen as a dope? 
Are the beautiful proud? 
Do they want attention but scorn those giving it to them? 
Do the women there call ingratitude a virtue? They consider not having premarital sex a virtue; he considers it ingratitude. He's bought her supper, and now he wants her to supply dessert. When she won't, he calls her ingrateful. Thank goodness that guys aren't like that today. 
Come, Sleepe! O Sleepe, the certaine knot of peace,
The baiting-place of wit, the balme of woe,
The poor mans wealth, the prisoners release,
Th' indifferent iudge betweene the high and low!
With shield of proofe shield me from out the prease
Of those fierce darts Despaire at me doth throw.
O make in me those ciuil wars to cease;
I will good tribute pay, if thou do so.
Take thou of me smooth pillowes, sweetest bed,
A chamber deafe of noise and blind of light,
A rosie garland and a weary hed:
And if these things, as being thine in right,
Moue not thy heauy grace, thou shalt in me,
Liuelier then else-where, Stellaes image see.
1-8 Apostrophe. In literature and rhetoric, the term "apostrophe" can mean an address to a person or people not present or to something that is not a person. Here he personifies sleep and talks to it.

 He prays to sleep to come release him from his misery for a time. 

9-14  What do you offer the god Sleep to get it to come? Pillows, comfortable bed, a room quiet and dark.

Most of all, sleep should want to come because when he is asleep, the image of Stella is strongest. That is, he'll be dreaming about her, and Sleep gets to watch. The mind reels at this conceit.