Astrophil and Stella, Sonnet 89

Now that of absence the most irksome night,
With darkest shade doth overcome my day;
Since Stella’s eyes, wont to give me my day,
Leaving my hemisphere, leave me in night;
Each day seems long, and longs for long-stayed night;
The night as tedious, woos the approach of day;
Tired with the dusty toils of busy day,
Languished with horrors of the silent night,
Suffering the ills both of the day and night,
While no night is more dark than is my day,
Nor no day hath less quiet than my night;
With such bad mixture of my night and day,
That living thus in blackest winter night,
I feel the flames of hottest summer day.

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: “tedious” in line 6 and “suffering” in line 9 are both two syllables; and “the approach” in line 6 is elided to “th’approach.”

The third of three “absence” sonnets, this one is unique among Sidney’s rhyme schemes in that only two words, “night” and “day,” are rhymed throughout. This is a characteristic merging of sound and sense because the poem is about the tiresome repetition of nights and days passing without Stella.

The idea of “absence” as something that obscures the light for which Stella is named—mentioned briefly in line 6 of the previous sonnet—here moves into a full discussion of day vs. night. The first quatrain picks up the theme of Sonnet 88, and it sounds as if we might still just be discussing the “night” of absence, but the main clause has been suspended until line 5: “Each day seems long, and longs for long-stayed night.” With one of his classic antanaclases, Sidney changes direction, suggesting the night is actually something to be desired. But quickly, within another line, we learn that no, neither is desirable, as each is just the tedious waiting for the other; time just needs to pass for the solitary lover.

At this point, just six lines in, all sense of Italian sonnet structure is gone—“the numbers altered,” as Malvolio would say. A new complex sentence begins in line 7, and does not reach its main clause until line 14; and it is just a repetitive and deliberately uninteresting alternation between the woes of day and those of night. It culminates in the final two lines by suggesting the speaker has the worst of each: a “winter night” (when nights are coldest and darkest) and a “summer day” (when days are hottest), each of course being when nights and days are longest, the real point of the poem.

Next time (weekend of December 11): Sonnet 90
Jonathan Smith is Emeritus Professor of English at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana.              

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