Astrophil and Stella, Sonnet 76

She comes, and straight therewith her shining twins do move
Their rays to me, who in her tedious absence lay
Benighted in cold woe; but now appears my day,
The only light of joy, the only warmth of love.
She comes, with light and warmth, which like Aurora prove
Of gentle force, so that mine eyes dare gladly play
With such a rosy morn, whose beams most freshly gay
Scorch not, but only do dark chilling sprites remove.
But lo, while I do speak, it groweth noon with me;
Her flamy glistering lights increase with time and place;
My heart cries, ‘Ah, it burns’; mine eyes now dazzled be;
No wind, no shade can cool; what help then in my case,
But with short breath, long looks, staid feet and walking head,
Pray that my sun go down with meeker beams to bed.

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: “glistering” in line 10 is elided to two syllables.

At this point in the sequence, we have two of the six sonnets written in hexameters. In this one, five of the eight lines in the octave are also enjambed, so we get a particularly leisurely stroll through ideas the speaker likes to entertain, especially in the poem’s second quatrain. For, despite Stella’s angry reaction to the stolen kiss, the effect on the speaker seems to be a heightened imagination of what might be.

The first quatrain, featuring Stella’s now-familiar eyes (“shining twins”), is a fairly straightforward statement of a plot-fact, Stella’s arrival to turn the speaker’s night to day. This is restated as a frictionless thought in the second quatrain. Here, Stella is the dawn (“Aurora”) who not only brings “light” into his life, but does it with gentleness, removing all the “chilling sprites” of night.

But this figurative language has implications or consequences; the light of a cool dawn must turn into the noon-time heat of day, i.e., the passion which Stella’s presence inspires in the speaker, as announced in line 11. So the final tercet seeks a solution to this excessive heat. In a line (13) that recalls the “throes” of Sonnet 1, Sidney wonderfully captures the situation of a man in such a state, with a pair of antitheses: as his looks grow longer, his breath grows shorter, and as his feet are rooted, his mind wanders off to another place. Finishing the conceit of a sun’s journey through the day, he envisions—nay, “pray[s] that”—a “meeker” (or more yielding) love might go to bed, a perfectly innocent gesture for the sun, but with obvious sexual suggestion for Stella.

Next time (weekend of June 12): Sonnet 77
Jonathan Smith is Professor of English at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana.

Astrophil and Stella, Sonnet 75

Of all the kings that ever here did reign,
Edward named Fourth, as first in praise I name;
Not for his fair outside, nor well-lined brain,
Although less gifts imp feathers oft on fame;
Nor that he could, young-wise, wise-valiant, frame
His sire’s revenge, joined with a kingdom’s gain;
And, gained by Mars, could yet mad Mars so tame,
That balance weighed what sword did late obtain;
Nor that he made the Flower-de-luce so ‘fraid,
Though strongly hedged of bloody lion’s paws,
That witty Lewis to him a tribute paid;
Nor this, nor that, nor any such small cause;
But only for this worthy knight durst prove
To lose his crown, rather than fail his love.

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: “flower” in line nine is one syllable (so that “flower-de-luce” sounds more or less the same as in French), as is “Lewis” (typical English spelling of “Louis” in this time) in line 11.

Still caught up in the excitement of the stolen kiss, we have this rather abrupt departure into a history lesson and paean to King Edward IV, long dead and a Yorkist king to boot, in a time when only such praise for Tudors was fashionable. There is a connection, though, or excuse for the seeming digression: Edward ignored convention, diplomacy, advice, and even propriety to marry Elizabeth Gray, the woman he loved, rather than entering into an arranged marriage of political advantage—an example that the speaker would clearly like to emulate.

But first, to establish credibility for this monarch, we have eleven lines of praise for worldly gifts, with no hint of that real message except perhaps the series of dismissals (I’m not praising him for this, nor this, nor this) of the items actually listed: Edward’s good looks and fertile brain (line 3)*; his success at not only avenging his father’s cruel death at Wakefield (vividly dramatized by Shakespeare just a few years later in Henry VI, Part 3, I.iv), but also fulfilling his father’s ambition for the English crown (lines 5-6); having done that through war, his establishing an era of peace and justice (“balance”) (7-8); and such dominance in the world that long-time enemy France was offering tribute (9-11).

The twelfth line reiterates that the speaker is not talking about everything he has been talking about for eleven lines. Then the final couplet neatly summarizes what he really admires Edward for: risking the loss of his crown to be with the woman he loved.

*The fourth line says that less gifted people are often celebrated for these qualities, using an image from the falconry practice of grafting extra wings on a bird to make it soar higher—the same image that is central to George Herbert’s shape-poem “Easter Wings.”

Next time (weekend of May 29): Sonnet 76
Jonathan Smith is Professor of English at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana.

Astrophil and Stella, Sonnet 74

I never drank of Aganippe well,
Nor ever did in shade of Tempe sit;
And muses scorn with vulgar brains to dwell;
Poor layman I, for sacred rites unfit.
Some do I hear of poet’s fury tell,
But (God wot) wot not what they mean by it;
And this I swear, by blackest brook of hell,
I am no pick-purse of another’s wit.
How falls it then, that with so smooth an ease
My thoughts I speak, and what I speak doth flow
In verse, and that my verse best wits doth please?
Guess we the cause: ‘What, is it thus?’ Fie, no;
‘Or so?’ Much less. ‘How then?’ Sure, thus it is:
My lips are sweet, inspired with Stella’s kiss.

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.

Still excited by the stolen kiss (see Second Song, covered with Sonnet 72) the poet returns to the theme of Sonnet 15, with a new twist at the end. As in the earlier sonnet, the first quatrain evokes classical sources for poetic inspiration, while the second looks to more recent fads that a poet might follow. And while Sonnet 15 had the poetic joke of a self-illustrating line—“Into your rhymes, running in rattling rows”—this one has a demonstration of “poet’s fury” in the inarticulate babble “But (God wot) wot not what”; and perhaps the very cliché-sounding “swear by blackest brook of hell” is a self-parody of the claim to be “no pick-purse of another’s wit.”

But in the sestet we move ever so gently into new territory. Sonnet 15 (like 1, 3, and 6 on the same theme) is hopeful or aspirational about the effects of Stella’s inspiration on the speaker’s poetry. At this point in the series, he has apparently had some critical success with these sonnets, which “best wits doth please.” The poetry smoothly “flows,” as illustrated by the fully enjambed tercet, lines 9-11. It’s time to ask why, but only three lines of sonnet remain, for a guessing process similar to one (for example) that took seven lines back in Sonnet 23. With remarkable economy, Sidney gets off two guesses (abbreviated to “thus” and “so”) and a final query (“How then?”), before the charmingly simple answer—and one echoing the metaphor of the opening line—is given in the bottom line.

Next time (weekend of May 15): Sonnet 75
Jonathan Smith is Professor of English at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana.