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To the Angel Spirit by Mary Sidney Herbert

‘To the Angel Spirit’ is Mary Sidney Herbert’s dedicatory poem to her brother, Sir Philip Sidney, written when she had completed their translation of the Psalms of David.

‘To the Angel Spirit’ is Mary Sidney Herbert’s dedicatory poem to her brother, Sir Philip Sidney, written when she had completed their translation of the Psalms of David. After Sir Philip’s death on 17 October 1586, Mary Sidney Herbert continued work on the translation of the Psalms that they had begun together. Philip and Mary’s translations were not printed but were circulated in manuscript.

To the Angel Spirit Dedicated to Mary’s Brother, Sidney

Mary’s dedicatory poem ‘To the Angel spirit of the most excellent Sir Philip Sidney’, celebrates her completion of their translation of the Psalms and appears in the Tixall manuscript. The first two verses, in extract below, emphasize their collaboration, associating him with the spirit and herself with the ‘mortal stuff’, or task of writing. She has ‘impressed’, or put onto paper, the devotions he inspired.

Watch the video showing a reading of two verses of the poem in the Sidney family chapel in Penshurst Church. The text is below if you wish to read it yourself as well.

‘To the Angel spirit of the most excellent Sir Philip Sidney’
To thee, pure sprite, to thee alone’s addressed
This coupled work, by double interest thine.
First raised by thy blest hand, and what is mine
Inspired by thee, thy secret power impressed.
So dared my Muse with thine itself combine,
As mortal stuff with that which is divine;
Thy light’ning beams gave lustre to the rest,
That heaven’s king may deign his own, transformed
In substance no, but superficial tire
By thee put on, to praise – not to aspire
To – those high tones so in themselves adorned,
Which angels sing in their celestial choir,
And all of tongues with soul and voice admire
These sacred hymns the kingly prophet formed.

Notes
sprite] spirit or ghost of Sir Philip Sidney
heaven’s king] King David, to whom the Psalms are attributed.
superficial tire] outward clothes. Mary describes translating the Psalms of David as putting new clothes onto the ‘substance’ or original body of work by David.
tongues] All translators of the Psalms in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French and English admire David. The word draws on the idea of the disciples being inspired to speak in many tongues at Pentecost
kingly prophet] King David

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Penshurst Place and the Sidney Family of Writers

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