Astrophil and Stella, Sonnet 47

What, have I thus betrayed my liberty?
Can those black beams such burning marks engrave
In my free side? Or am I born a slave,
Whose neck becomes such yoke of tyranny?
Or want I sense to feel my misery?
Or sprite, disdain of such disdain to have,
Who for long faith, though daily help I crave,
May get no alms but scorn of beggary?
Virtue awake; beauty but beauty is;
I may, I must, I can, I will, I do
Leave following that, which it is gain to miss.
Let her go! Soft, but here she comes. Go to,
Unkind, I love you not. O me, that eye
Doth make my heart give to my tongue the lie.

I suggest you click here to open the sonnet in a separate window, so that you can refer directly to it as you read on through the analysis.

Reading note: “following” in line 11 is elided to two syllables.

The “slave to love” is a well-worn Petrarchan conceit, but in the context of this sequence it points to the speaker apparently reaching the same conclusion that his critical friends have been trying to impress upon him, that he is destroying himself with his pathetic infatuation. The jerky rhythms of this sonnet, with thoughts of varying lengths, reflect the speaker’s inner torment, perhaps overstated a bit in parody, as the poem turns downright comic at the end.

Despite the irregular thought-lengths, the poem as a whole has the most typical outline for an Italian sonnet, with a strong change of direction coming after the octave.  In fact the sestet begins with exactly that—a determination to change direction—and this both culminates and ends three words into the twelfth line with “Let her go!” At this point Stella herself approaches, and the speaker returns to the whimpering mass he was before. The comic determination and failure to grow a spine is accentuated by the unusually monosyllabic language from line 10 on; the last five lines contain 48 words.

The sonnet begins and ends with the power of Stella’s eyes, much-referenced throughout the sonnets, and particularly in Sonnet 42. In this case they become the branding irons used to permanently mark as slaves men who, in some instances (“my free side”) were formerly free. The other dismal possibilities the speaker considers are (lines 2-3) he was born into slavery, or (line 4) he has become inured to it, or (line 5) he lacks a man’s spirit (“sprite”) to rise up and resist abuse. Lines 7 and 8 make more direct reference to the futility of his love, likening himself to a beggar who is despised rather than pitied for his persistent self-humiliation.

The invocation to “Virtue” that opens the sestet recalls the abstract enemy to passion mentioned several times in earlier sonnets—but in this context we are also reminded of the older meaning of the word, rooted in vir—manliness. The speaker is seeking the will to recognize that Stella’s beauty is not unique; there are “other fish in the pond,” as the saying goes. But line 10, both asyndeton and auxesis, turns almost farcical with its five attempts to start the next sentence before the final “I do” manages to launch into the rest of the thought; one is reminded of the cartoonish coward who shouts “Let me at ‘em, let me at ‘em,” while being easily held back by his friends. Finally “released,” he works his way to “Let her go!” before her approach immediate shuts him up. Though he implies that “Go to, Unkind, I love you not” is spoken with his tongue, it is clear from his self-silencing (“Soft”) that his muttering is not actually in her hearing. In any event, one more flash of that enslaving eye puts him firmly back in his abject place.

Next time (weekend of May 2): Sonnet 48
Jonathan Smith is Professor of English at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana.

Astrophil and Stella, Sonnet 46

I cursed thee oft; I pity now thy case,
Blind-hitting boy, since she that thee and me
Rules with a beck, so tyrannizeth thee,
That thou must want or food or dwelling place,
For she protests to banish thee her face.
Her face? O Love, a rogue thou then should’st be,
If Love learn not alone to love and see,
Without desire to feed of further grace.
Alas poor wag, that now a scholar art
To such a schoolmistress, whose lessons new
Thou needs must miss, and so thou needs must smart.
Yet dear, let me his pardon get of you,
So long (though he from book mich to desire)
Till without fuel you can make hot fire.

I suggest you click here to open the sonnet in a separate window, so that you can refer directly to it as you read on through the analysis.

Reading notes: the first “or” in line 4 means “either,” so it is necessary to make a slight lift after “want,” so that “want or food” doesn’t sound like a noun phrase. (To complicate this still further, Sidney clearly intends the “either/or” to mean “both/and,” since Cupid is denied the face where he both lives and “feeds” on grace.)
“Mich” in line 13 is not a typo; it is an archaic verb meaning “to be truant.”  Shakespeareans may recognize it from Falstaff’s rhetorical question in 1HenryIV II.4, “Shall the blessed sun of heaven prove a micher and eat blackberries?”
“Fuel” in the last line has two syllables.

The sonnet is addressed to Cupid (“Blind-hitting boy”), or “Love.” It is somewhat oddly divided, in that the first thought runs through five lines and, because of the ABBA quatrains, in effect ends with a couplet.* This allows three three-line thoughts to develop the implications of Cupid’s being “banished” from Stella’s face (has she taken to frowning lately?), so it could be argued that the poem’s fulcrum comes at this atypical spot. (Alternatively, it is signaled by “Alas” in the much more usual location.) “Rules with a beck” simply means that Stella has both Cupid and the speaker at her beck and call, and the modern way of saying “protests to banish” would be “protests by banishing.”

Exiled from Stella’s face, Cupid must needs be a “rogue,” a sort of vagrant deprived of his usual place and purpose, if (lines 7-8) he cannot learn what the speaker already knows, how to remain alone and loving without hope of return.

Cupid’s awkward situation is compared (lines 9-11) to the paradoxical one of a schoolboy with a particularly harsh schoolmarm, who has in effect been suspended from school, but now is whipped (“needs must smart”) for being absent!

The final tercet is tight and slightly difficult.  The grammatical crux is the construction “So long . . . till,” which means “Unless and until,” followed by an impossibility; as in “So long till [unless and until] money grows on trees, you must work for a living.”  Now to put the poem’s own meaning back in, the speaker is asking Stella (the harsh schoolmistress) to pardon her wayward pupil (though he parenthetically continues to be wayward by turning from his studies to desire the teacher) unless and until she can make a hot fire without fuel; i.e., Cupid needs to be back in place for her to enkindle the “hot fire” of the speaker’s love.

* Duncan-Jones’s editing makes a more conventional sonnet division by making a more abrupt self-interruption. She ends line 4 with a period, and then starts a new thought, which is broken off with a dash at the end of line 5.

Next time (weekend of April 18): Sonnet 47
Jonathan Smith is Professor of English at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana.