Astrophil and Stella, Sonnet 72 and Second Song

Desire, though thou my old companion art,
And oft so clings to my pure love, that I
One from the other scarcely can descry,
While each doth blow the fire of my heart;
Now from thy fellowship I needs must part;
Venus is taught with Dian’s wings to fly;
I must no more in thy sweet passions lie;
Virtue’s gold now must head my Cupid’s dart.
Service and honour, wonder with delight,
Fear to offend, will worthy to appear,
Care shining in mine eyes, faith in my sprite;
These things are left me by my only dear.
But thou, Desire, because thou wouldst have all,
Now banished art—but yet, alas, how shall?

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.

. . . Our story continues. When we left off, our love-sick speaker had tried to maintain his new-found virtue for a whole sonnet, only to have personified Desire break in in the final line and demand to be fed. This sonnet is the speaker’s response to Desire, in which, like a stout recovering addict, he holds off the temptation for just a bit longer, thirteen and two fifths lines, to be exact.

I’m perhaps too flippant about a universal (or at least universally recognizable) conflict between the demands of “pure love” (the Platonic bonding of souls, or “marriage of true minds,” as Shakespeare famously phrased it) and the less pure desires that often intrude upon it. The first quatrain acknowledges this conflict, and the second ostensibly resolves it in favor of the Platonic virtue: the passionate Venus must give way to the virginal Dianna; Cupid’s arrowheads (see Sonnet 65) are now capped with “Virtue’s gold.”

Desire, as an abstract noun, has been a member of a “team” of such nouns, which are named, and in some cases modified, in the first tercet of the sestet: service, honour, wonder, delight, fear (to offend), (worthy) will—these are all still acceptable (we are told in line 12), but Desire has been booted off the team. And that . . . is that.

But three feet remain in the poem, just enough for a fragmentary protest against the injustice of it all: “but yet, alas, how shall?” How shall you possibly be banished? How shall I live without you?

Second Song

Have I caught my heavenly jewel,
Teaching sleep most fair to be?
Now will I teach her that she,
When she wakes, is too, too cruel.

Since sweet sleep her eyes hath charmed,
The two only darts of Love:
Now will I with that boy prove
Some play, while he is disarmed.

Her tongue waking still refuseth,
Giving frankly niggard “no”;
Now will I attempt to know
What “no” her tongue sleeping useth.

See, the hand which waking guardeth,
Sleeping, grants a free resort;
Now will I invade the fort;
Cowards love with loss rewardeth.

But, oh, fool, think of the danger
Of her just and high disdain:
Now will I, alas, refrain,
Love fears nothing else but anger.

Yet those lips so sweetly swelling
Do invite a stealing kiss:
Now will I but venture this,
Who will read, must first learn spelling.

O sweet kiss—but ah, she’s waking.
Louring beauty chastens me;
Now will I away hence flee;
Fool, more fool, for no more taking.

Reading notes: “heavenly” in line 1 is elided to two syllables; the feminine rhymes in the first and fourth lines of all the other stanzas suggest that “jewel,” “cruel,” “charmed,” and “disarmed” in the first two stanzas are pronounced with the added syllable at the end.

The dominant meter of this song is trochaic tetrameter, with a silent final beat (in music, a “rest”) in the middle lines of each stanza, thus a masculine rhyme sandwiched between a feminine rhyme in each instance.

The song is playful in both form and subject matter, but with the slightly sinister undertone of Jachimo’s crime in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, and somewhat serious, or at least lingering, consequences in the sonnets that follow. The turn in the “plot” here is simply that the speaker finds Stella sleeping and steals a kiss.

The second stanza offers the slightly odd idea that the speaker is jousting (“prove some play”) with Cupid while Cupid s “disarmed,” since the eyes that are Cupid’s arrows (“darts”) are closed; but “prove” also suggests that he is just “testing” or trying out the fruits of love. The third and fourth stanzas make it clear that he understands this is a trespass, in terms of the waking understanding between Stella and him; and there is a moment of hesitation in the fifth, when he considers the cost of making her angry.

The last two stanzas are where the sinister hint of his true intentions appears. The lips are just too appealing, we are told in the penultimate stanza, where the educational metaphor of the final line suggests that love-making has to start somewhere, so . . .

And then in the final stanza, after the actual kiss both wakens and angers her, causing him to flee, he immediately regrets that he had not “tak[en]” more.

Next time (weekend of April 17): Sonnet 73
Jonathan Smith is Professor of English at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana.

Astrophil and Stella, Sonnet 66

And do I see some cause a hope to feed,
Or doth the tedious burden of long woe
In weakened minds, quick apprehension breed,
Of every image which may comfort show?
I cannot brag of word, much less of deed;
Fortune wheels still with me in one sort slow:
My wealth no more, and no whit less my need,
Desire still on the stilts of fear doth go.
And yet amid all fears a hope there is
Stol’n to my heart, since last fair night, nay day,
Stella’s eyes sent to me the beams of bliss,
Looking on me, while I looked other way:
But when mine eyes back to their heaven did move,
They fled with blush, which guilty seemed of 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 note: “heaven” in line 13 is one syllable.

For a stretch of twenty sonnets, starting with this one, there is a perceived warming toward the speaker by Stella, with the “high point,” perhaps, being a stolen kiss (while she is asleep) in Sonnet 73. This sonnet considers the perception itself, questioning whether it has any basis. The opening quatrain poses two possibilities: (1) there are indeed signs of hope (line 1); or (2) the speaker is being driven crazy by the long torment of his longing, and is starting to be delusional. “Lovers and madmen,” Theseus tells us in Midsummer Night’s Dream, “have such seething brains” that their “imagination bodies forth/The form of things unknown,” and “if it would but apprehend some joy,/It comprehends some bringer of that joy.” The speaker of our sonnet wonders if he has seen something real, or has suffered the affliction that Theseus describes; and what would-be lover has not wrestled with precisely that doubt at some point?

This sonnet, like the previous one, is in Sidney’s second-favorite form, which closely resembles English sonnet form because the sestet is divided by rhyme into quatrain and couplet—and indeed (unlike 65) this one is even closer to “English” in that it is a rare Sidney sonnet with no strong break after line 11. He uses this structure to explore the two sides of delusion vs. hope in the second quatrain and “quatrain three” of the faux-English form, respectively. The latter finally starts describing the specific moment that has started these musings, and the couplet wraps it up in all its lasting ambiguity.

Quatrain two is a small masterpiece of sonnet writing, perfectly capturing the mental struggle of the whole poem. It begins with the absolute admission that he has nothing (word nor deed) to show for his love-quest so far. The Wheel of Fortune (which classically tends to stay in motion and keep changing the fortunes of people) in this one matter (“one sort”) barely moves. Line seven is a lovely chiasmus with a twist. “Wealth” and “need” in the line are both relative to the prize of Stella, so the sense of the line is that he is just as needy and just as poor as ever in that respect. The chiasmus is between my-wealth-no-more and no-less-my-need, but one more syllable was needed, and “whit” creates yet another sound-play within the alliteration: in one side of line we have an M-W and an N-M; when we cross we get N-W and M-N, with initial sounds in the phrases swapping places. Finally (for this quatrain) we get the payoff image in line 8, where “stilts” must be understood in its renaissance meaning of “crutches”; so desire still stumbles along on the crutches of fear, a perfect and compact image of a hopeful but nervous and still unsuccessful lover. And the line has the added sound effect of a “stumble” in the second foot, where both syllables are unstressed.

And yet, and yet, and yet . . . In the “third quatrain” we get the hope-inducing incident itself, simpler to relate and again perhaps familiar to any hopeful lover. The night before (turned hyperbolic “day” by the rays emanating from Stella’s starry eyes) the speaker sensed, without exactly looking, that Stella was gazing at him. So of course he had to look, and of course, if she was looking at him, she had to look somewhere else, and this seemed to him to reflect the desired combination of interest and guilt on her part . . . . But we’ll have to wait for further evidence.

Next time (weekend of January 23): Sonnet 67
Jonathan Smith is Professor of English at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana.