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Sonnets by Philip and Robert Sidney: responses to a Petrarchan tradition

Read these sonnets by Philip and Robert Sidney to find out how how each poet responded to the tradition of love sonnets created by Petrarch.
© Alison Findlay Lancaster University

Use what you have learned so far about Petrarchan Sonnet tradition to read these two sonnets by Sir Philip Sidney and one by his brother Sir Robert Sidney.

There are questions to prompt you on things to look out for. Jot some notes and then post a comment about these sonnets.

“Astrophil and Stella” by Sir Philip Sidney – Sonnet 1

  • How does the speaker in this sonnet struggle to escape from the well-worn tradition of writing love poems and strive to express his love in an authentic way?
  • Does he ever reach his goal?
  • Underline or mark any words that refer to the writing of other poets in one colour and, with another colour, mark any words or phrases that refer to original or authentic expressions.
  • What impression does the poem give of the beloved (the woman the speaker is in love with)?
Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain,
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,— [4]
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe; Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain, Oft turning others’ leaves to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burned brain. [8]
But words came halting forth, wanting invention’s stay;
Invention, nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows, And others’ feet still seemed but strangers in my way.
Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes, [12]
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,
Fool, said my muse to me, look in thy heart and write.

“Astrophil and Stella” by Sir Philip Sidney – Sonnet 47

  • How does this sonnet effectively convey the lover/speaker’s feeling of being trapped in love? (e.g. use of imagery and structure of the sonnet)
  • What happens at the ‘turn’ of the sonnet after line 8?
  • What changes occur on line 12 and where does the speaker end up?
Why 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? [4]
Or want I sense to feel my misery?
Or sprite, disdain of such disdain to have?
Who for long faith, tho’ daily help I crave,
May get no alms but scorn of beggary. [8]
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, [12]
Unkind, I love you not: O me, that eye
Doth make my heart give to my tongue the lie.
Robert Sidney, ‘Poems and Lyrics’, British Library Manuscript Add MS 58435**

Sir Robert Sidney – Sonnet 6

  • How does Robert Sidney make use of the courtly convention of the blazon (where the beloved is ‘dismembered’ or fragmented into a series of body parts to be praised one by one) in this sonnet?
  • Where does he make use of the Petrarchan tradition of the lover as suffering abjectly in relation to a superior mistress (like the speaker in Philip Sidney’s Sonnet 47)?
  • When is the poem set and why is this timing important?
When rest locks up the treasures of delight
That face, those eyes, that voice, those hands, that breast –
Not in them nor the sun sad earth now blest,
And no power left, that comfort may the night; [4]
Cares which in darkness shine, finding her sight
Eclipsed which from them is my safeguard best,
Revive my secret flames, and without rest
Show me unto myself in a true light. [8]
They are not flames of love but fires of pain
That burn so fair; love far from me is fled,
Who all love give and no love have again.
Repulses and the thousand-formed head [12]
Of scorn I see, while unjust night from me
Her beauty hides, and shows her cruelty.

Post a comment telling others anything you liked or found interesting about these sonnets.

© Alison Findlay Lancaster University
This article is from the free online

Penshurst Place and the Sidney Family of Writers

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