70 Sir Philip Sidney: Astrophil and Stella

“Sir Philip Sidney” by unknown artist. Wikimedia Commons.


by Deanna Holmes



Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) was a prominent figure of English literature even in his lifetime and helped define the Elizabethan era. He was a poet, courtier, scholar and soldier who was considered the “ideal”  man of his day. Born into an aristocratic and influential family (his father was lord president of Wales, his uncle was the Queen’s most trusted advisor), he was destined for the life of a statesman. When Queen Elizabeth failed to give him an important post, he turned his creative energies to poetry and playwriting. In 1581, he is speculated to have fallen in love with Penelope Devereaux, the lady in waiting to a countess; she married someone else but he is thought to have composed Astrophel and Stella with her in mind (Ringler). Around the same time, he would compose the single greatest example of literary criticism of the age, The Defence of Poesie. These sonnets feature elements of the Italian models of Petrarch and Ronsard and are considered revolutionary in defining Elizabethan poetry. Astrophil and Stella shows the spectrum of love and the different shades and colors in the relations between Astrophil (the star lover) and Stella (the star).



“Astrophil and Stella” is a series of 108 sonnets interspersed with 11 songs and is about a love affair. The narrator Astrophil falls in love with Stella who he believes will be his partner in life. Because Astrophil is the “author” in the sequence, we become aware of the dropped hints of his inner thoughts and emotions. Stella’s actions are later revealed through the speeches to Astrophil. In the beginning, Stella does not bestow any affection on Astrophil and it becomes clear that the feelings aren’t mutual; Stella proceeds to still be kind towards him. Astrophil later discovers that the woman he deeply loves is married to another man. During the marriage, Stella also discovers that she is unhappy which makes Astrophil become more in tune with his feelings for her. He eventually grows to love Stella not only by being in her presence but also by gaining knowledge of what and who she is. Stella then returns Astrophil’s affection, though Stella isn’t completely satisfied. At the end of the sonnet, Astrophil tries to persuade her into making love with him despite her marriage vows. As a result, Stella ends the relationship and begins to let him know that the affair could no longer be consummated. Even though Stella loves Astrophil she will not continue to break her marriage vows.



In “Astrophil and Stella” one of the themes presented is love against desire (“Astrophil and Stella”). Astrophil is deeply in love with Stella, but the feelings aren’t reciprocated. This love eventually turns into desire he can’t seem to control, which leads to an end to their platonic relationship.

Works Cited

“Atrophil and Stella.” British Literature Wiki, n.d. sites.udel.edu/britlitwiki/astrophil-and-stella/ Accessed 03 May 2020.

Ringler, William Andrew. “Sir Philip Sidney.” Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. www.britannica.com/biography/Philip-Sidney/ Accessed 03 May 2020.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does Sir Philip Sidney present Astrophil and Stella’s character and personality in the text?
  2. As we know throughout this sonnet Stella’s inner thoughts and emotions were never revealed. Would the story have been any different if it was written by Stella?
  3. Do you think Stella has any remorse from gaining power through the pain that she has caused him?
  4. How does his love change over the course of these sonnets? Do you think Astrophil is in love with the idea of her and not the actual person?
  5. What causes Stella to be unhappy in her marriage and why do you think she chose to stay?

Further Resources

  • A documentary on Philip Sidney’s life and works, “Shakespeare’s Muse of Fire”
  • An article from the Guardian: “The Dazzling World of Sir Philip Sidney”
  • An annotated text of “Atrophil and Stella” from Lousiana Tech University

Reading: From Astrophil and Stella



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;

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-burn’d brain.

But words came halting forth, wanting Invention’s stay,

Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows,

And others’ feet still seem’d but strangers in my way.

Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,

Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite–

“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write.”

Loving, and wishing to show my love in verse,

So that Stella might find pleasure in my pain,

So that pleasure might make her read, and reading make her know me,

And knowledge might win pity for me, and pity might obtain grace,

I looked for fitting words to depict the darkest face of sadness,

Studying clever creations in order to entertain her mind,

Often turning others’ pages to see if, from them,

Fresh and fruitful ideas would flow into my brain.

But words came out lamely, lacking the support of Imagination:

Imagination, nature’s child, fled the blows of Study, her stepmother:

And the writings (‘feet’) of others seemed only alien things in the way.

So while pregnant with the desire to speak, helpless with the birth pangs,

Biting at my pen which disobeyed me, beating myself in anger,

My Muse said to me ‘Fool, look in your heart and write.’



Not at first sight, nor with a dribbed shot

Love gave the wound, which while I breathe will bleed;

But known worth did in mine of time proceed,

Till by degrees it had full conquest got:

I saw and liked, I liked but loved not;

I lov’d, but straight did not what Love decreed.

At length to love’s decrees I, forc’d, agreed,

Yet with repining at so partial lot.

Now even that footstep of lost liberty

Is gone, and now like slave-born Muscovite

I call it praise to suffer tyranny;

And now employ the remnant of my wit

To make myself believe that all is well,

While with a feeling skill I paint my hell.

Love gave the wound, which will bleed as long as I breathe,

But not at the first sight of her, nor with a chance shot,

Rather her established worth tunnelled away for a time,

Until, little by little, it achieved a complete conquest.

I saw her and liked her: I liked her but did not love her yet:

Then I loved her but did not immediately obey Love’s demands:

At length under duress I agreed to Love’s commands,

Though complaining about the unfairness of my fate.

Now even that step on the ladder of lost freedom

Is vanished, and like a Muscovite born to love slavery,

I call undergoing tyranny something worthy of praise:

And now I make use of what is left of my intelligence

To convince myself that everything is well,

While with sensitive art I depict my self in hell.

Note: The Muscovites were under the rule of Ivan the Terrible at this time.



It is most true, that eyes are form’d to serve

The inward light; and that the heavenly part

Ought to be king, from whose rules who do swerve,

Rebels to Nature, strive for their own smart.

It is most true, what we call Cupid’s dart,

An image is, which for ourselves we carve:

And, fools, adore in temple of our heart,

Till that good God make Church and churchman starve.

True, that true beauty virtue is indeed,

Whereof this beauty can be but a shade,

Which elements with mortal mixture breed:

True, that on earth we are but pilgrims made,

And should in soul up to our country move:

True, and yet true that I must Stella love.

It is true that our eyes are created to serve

The inner light of the soul, and that the heavenly part

Of us ought to be king, and those who deviate from its rules

Are rebels against Nature, and their efforts harm themselves.

It is true that what we call Cupid’s arrow

Is a symbolic image that we carve out for ourselves,

And foolishly give adoration to in our hearts as if in a temple,

Until that false god puts Church and churchmen out of work.

It is true that Virtue is indeed true beauty,

Of which earthly beauty can only be a shadow

Made from a mortal mixture of the elements:

It is true that we are only created to be pilgrims on earth,

And should, within our souls, travel upwards to our true country:

All this is true, and yet it is also true that I must love Stella.

Note: Plato’s theory is that mortal beauty is a shadow of ideal virtue, the elements combining and then dissolving again in death.



Some lovers speak when they their Muses entertain,

Of hopes begot by fear, of wot not what desires:

Of force of heav’nly beams, infusing hellish pain:

Of living deaths, dear wounds, fair storms, and freezing fires.

Some one his song in Jove, and Jove’s strange tales attires,

Broidered with bulls and swans, powdered with golden rain;

Another humbler wit to shepherd’s pipe retires,

Yet hiding royal blood full oft in rural vein.

To some a sweetest plaint a sweetest style affords,

While tears pour out his ink, and sighs breathe out his words:

His paper pale despair, and pain his pen doth move.

I can speak what I feel, and feel as much as they,

But think that all the map of my state I display,

When trembling voice brings forth that I do Stella love.

Some lovers, when inspired by their Muses,

Speak about hopes created by fear, and of who-knows-what desires,

Of the power of heavenly rays infusing hellish pain,

Of living deaths, dear wounds, fair storms, and freezing fires:

One of them dresses his poems with Jupiter and Jupiter’s strange tales,

Embroidering them with bulls and swans, sprinkling golden rain:

Another humbler poet writes about pastoral shepherd’s flutes,

But often hiding royal attitudes in the rural similes and metaphors:

To some poets a sweet sadness allows their sweetest style,

While they use tears for ink, and breathe out their words in sighs,

And pale despair is their paper, and pain moves their pen.

I can speak what I feel, and feel as much as they do,

But I think that I show everything I can of my state of mind

When my trembling voice utters its love for Stella.

Note: Petrarch used the oxymoron heavily e.g. freezing fires. The other references are perhaps to Ronsard and the Pléiades, the Virgilian school of pastoral poetry, and Dante’s dolce stil nuovo, the sweet new style of Dante, Cavalcante, and others. For Jupiter, and Europa, Leda and Danae whom he raped while disguised as a bull, swan, and shower of gold respectively see Ovid, Metamorphoses VI:103-114.



When Nature made her chief work, Stella’s eyes,

In colour black why wrapp’d she beams so bright?

Would she in beamy black, like painter wise,

Frame daintiest lustre, mix’d of shades and light?

Or did she else that sober hue devise,

In object best to knit and strength our sight,

Lest if no veil those brave gleams did disguise,

They sun-like should more dazzle than delight?

Or would she her miraculous power show,

That whereas black seems Beauty’s contrary,

She even in black doth make all beauties flow?

Both so and thus, she minding Love should be

Placed ever there, gave him this mourning weed,

To honour all their deaths, who for her bleed.

Why did Nature wrap Stella’s eyes, those bright rays

That are Nature’s main work, in black colouring?

Did Nature wish, like a skilled painter using chiarascuro technique,

To create the finest lustre by mixing shadows and light?

Or did Nature create that sombre shade of colour

In order to knit together and strengthen our powers of vision,

In case Stella’s sun-like eyes should dazzle more than they delight

By being free of any protective veil?

Or did Nature wish to show her miraculous powers

By making all beauties appear with a black colouring

Even though black is not regarded as being beautiful?

No, it is as follows: Nature remembering that Love should always be

Placed in Stella’s eyes, gave Love’s clothes this mournful colour,

To honour the deaths of all those who bleed to death for her sake.

Note: Stella, Penelope Devereux, had dark eyes and fair hair.



Queen Virtue’s court, which some call Stella’s face,

Prepar’d by Nature’s choicest furniture,

Hath his front built of alabaster pure;

Gold in the covering of that stately place.

The door by which sometimes comes forth her Grace

Red porphyr is, which lock of pearl makes sure,

Whose porches rich (which name of cheeks endure)

Marble mix’d red and white do interlace.

The windows now through which this heav’nly guest

Looks o’er the world, and can find nothing such,

Which dare claim from those lights the name of best,

Of touch they are that without touch doth touch,

Which Cupid’s self from Beauty’s mine did draw:

Of touch they are, and poor I am their straw.

Some call Stella’s face the Court of Queen Virtue,

And being made with Nature’s main materials

Its frontage (her face and forehead) is built of pure alabaster:

Gold (her hair) is the covering of that stately place:

The door (her mouth) out of which her grace sometimes comes

Is red porphyry, which pearl locks (her teeth) make secure,

Whose rich porches (which are called her cheeks)

Are interlaced with red and white marble:

The windows (her eyes) through which this heavenly guest

Looks at the world, and can find nothing that can lay claim

To being the best when compared with them, are made of touchstone

(Jasper, used to prove gold alloys) that without touching the heart,

do touch its emotions, and which Cupid himself brought from his mines:

They are of touchwood/paper and I am the poor straw they set light to.



Reason, in faith thou art well serv’d, that still

Wouldst brabbling be with sense and love in me:

I rather wish’d thee climb the Muses’ hill,

Or reach the fruit of Nature’s choicest tree,

Or seek heav’n’s course, or heav’n’s inside to see:

Why shouldst thou toil our thorny soil to till?

Leave sense, and those which sense’s objects be:

Deal thou with powers of thoughts, leave love to will.

But thou wouldst needs fight both with love and sense,

With sword of wit, giving wounds of dispraise,

Till downright blows did foil thy cunning fence:

For soon as they strake thee with Stella’s rays,

Reason thou kneel’dst, and offeredst straight to prove

By reason good, good reason her to love.

Reason you are truly making a mistake if you still

Wish to quibble within me about love and sensation.

I would rather desire you to climb Parnassus, the Muse’s hill,

Or reach for the fruit of the most excellent tree in Nature,

Or search out the intent of Heaven, or try to see its inner form.

Why should you labour to cultivate my thorny soil?

Leave sensation, and the objects of the senses:

Deal with the power of thought, leave love to the power of the will.

But you seemed to wish to fight against love and sensation,

Giving wounds of disparagement with the sword of wit,

Until real blows foiled your cunning defences:

Since as soon as you were struck by the rays from Stella’s eyes,

You knelt down, Reason, and straight away offered to prove

That loving her was reasonable by using good rational argument



You that do search for every purling spring,

Which from the ribs of old Parnassus flows,

And every flower, not sweet perhaps, which grows

Near thereabouts, into your poesy wring;

You that do dictionary’s method bring

Into your rimes, running in rattling rows;

You that poor Petrarch’s long-deceased woes,

With new-born sighs and denizen’d wit do sing,

You take wrong ways: those far-fet helps be such

As do bewray a want of inward touch:

And sure at length stol’n goods do come to light.

But if (both for your love and skill) your name

You seek to nurse at fullest breasts of Fame,

Stella behold, and then begin to endite.

You who search for every rippling stream

Which flows from the ribs of old Mount Parnassus,

And gather every flower, not the sweetest one perhaps,

Which grows near there, into your poetry:

You who bring dictionary compilation methods

Into your rhymes, alliterating by ‘running them in rattling rows’:

You who sing long dead Petrarch’s woes

With new sighs and naturalised (once-foreign) wit:

You take wrong ways, those far-fetched aids are such

As expose a want of inner touch:

And surely at last stolen goods do come to light.

But if you seek (both for your love and skill)

To nurse your name at the fullest breasts of Fame,

Gaze on Stella, and then begin descriptively to write.

Note: The sonnets of Petrarch’s Canzoniere were heavily imitated all over Europe.



In nature apt to like when I did see

Beauties, which were of many carats fine,

My boiling sprites did thither soon incline,

And, Love, I thought that I was full of thee:

But finding not those restless flames in me,

Which others said did make their souls to pine,

I thought those babes of some pin’s hurt did whine,

By my love judging what love’s pain might be.

But while I thus with this young lion played,

Mine eyes (shall I say curst or blest?) beheld

Stella; now she is nam’d, need more be said?

In her sight I a lesson new have spell’d,

I now have learn’d Love right, and learn’d even so,

As who by being poisoned doth poison know.

Tending, by nature, to like those beauties, whom I saw,

Who were of many carats in value,

My fiery spirits soon inclined towards them,

And, Love, I thought that I was full of you:

But finding that there was not the restless flame in me

That others said made their souls pine,

I thought they were babies whining at the scratch of a pin,

Judging by my own pain what Love’s pain might be.

But while I was playing like this with the lion cub,

My eyes (shall I say cursed or blessed?) beheld

Stella: now she is named, need any more be said?

In her sight I have spelled out a new lesson:

I now have learned love correctly, and learned like

One who knows poison by being poisoned.

Note: The story of the lion cub that destroyed the flocks of its protector was used by Aeschylus regarding Helen of Troy.



With what sharp checks I in myself am shent,

When into Reason’s audit I do go:

And by just counts myself a bankrupt know

Of all the goods, which heav’n to me hath lent:

Unable quite to pay even Nature’s rent,

Which unto it by birthright I do owe:

And, which is worse, no good excuse can show,

But that my wealth I have most idly spent.

My youth doth waste, my knowledge brings forth toys,

My wit doth strive those passions to defend,

Which for reward spoil it with vain annoys.

I see my course to lose myself doth bend:

I see and yet no greater sorrow take,

Than that I lose no more for Stella’s sake.

With what sharp rebukes I am shamed in myself

When I enter into Reason’s audit,

And by careful counting know myself to be bankrupt

Of all those goods, which heaven has lent me,

Unable even to be quit by paying Nature’s rent,

(By dying) which I owe her by birthright;

And, what is worse, not able to show a good excuse

Except that I have spent my wealth most idly.

My youth wastes away, my knowledge produces toys,

My wit strives to defend those passions

The reward of which is to spoil my wit with vain anxieties.

I see that my course points towards my losing myself:

I see, and yet take from that no greater sorrow

Than that I do not lose even more for Stella’s sake.



Fly, fly, my friends, I have my death wound; fly!

See there that boy, that murd’ring boy I say,

Who like a thief, hid in dark bush doth lie,

Till bloody bullet get him wrongful prey.

So tyrant he no fitter place could spy,

Nor so fair level in so secret stay,

As that sweet black which veils the heav’nly eye:

There himself with his shot he close doth lay.

Poor passenger, pass now thereby I did,

And stayed pleas’d with the prospect of the place,

While that black hue from me the bad guest hid:

But straight I saw motions of lightning grace,

And then descried the glist’ring of his dart:

But ere I could fly hence, it pierc’d my heart.

Fly, fly, my friends, I have my death-wound, fly;

See that boy there, that murdering boy, I say,

Who like a thief lies hidden in a dark bush,

Till a bloody bullet wins him a wrongful victim:

He is so tyrannical he could see no better place,

Nor aim so successfully, in a concealment as secret

As that sweet black which veils the heavenly eye:

There he lies closely hidden with his shot.

I, a poor passer-by, did pass by there just now,

And stayed, pleased with the look of the place,

While that black colour hid the bad guest from me;

But I straightaway saw motions of lightning grace,

And then made out the gleaming of his arrow:

But before I could flee from there, it pierced my heart.



Your words, my friend, (right healthful caustics) blame

My young mind marr’d, whom Love doth windlass so,

That mine own writings like bad servants show

My wits, quick in vain thoughts, in virtue lame;

That Plato I read for nought, but if he tame

Such doltish gyres; that to my birth I owe

Nobler desires, lest else that friendly foe,

Great Expectation, were a train of shame.

For since mad March great promise made of me,

If now the May of my years much decline,

What can be hoped my harvest time will be?

Sure you say well, “Your wisdom’s golden mine,

Dig deep with learning’s spade.” Now tell me this,

Hath this world aught so fair as Stella is?

Your words my friend (truly health-giving corrosives) blame

My young spoilt mind, I, whom Love ensnares so

That my own writings show my thoughts to be bad servants,

Quick at vain thoughts, lame in virtuous ones:

That I read Plato uselessly unless he tames

My coltish moods: that I owe towards my high birth

Nobler desires, or else that friendly foe,

Great Expectation, will wear a train of shame.

For since mad March showed me to have great promise,

If now the May of my years declines greatly from it,

What can it be hoped that my harvest time will show?

Truly you say well: ‘Dig deep your wisdom’s golden mine

With learning’s spade,’ now tell me this,

Has this world anything as lovely as Stella is?

Note: Plato likened Reason to a charioteer of the passions.



Because I oft in dark abstracted guise

Seem most alone in greatest company,

With dearth of words, or answers quite awry,

To them that would make speech of speech arise,

They deem, and of their doom the rumour flies,

That poison foul of bubbling pride doth lie

So in my swelling breast that only I

Fawn on myself, and others do despise:

Yet pride I think doth not my soul possess,

Which looks too oft in his unflatt’ring glass:

But one worse fault, ambition, I confess,

That makes me oft my best friends overpass,

Unseen, unheard, while thought to highest place

Bends all his powers, even unto Stella’s grace.

Because I often, in a dark abstracted mood,

Seem most alone among the greatest company,

With a dearth of words to say, or answers that are awry,

Those, who wish to make speech follow from speech,

Judge, and rumour flies abroad from their judgment,

That the foul poison of bubbling pride so lies

In my swelling breast that I only

Fawn on myself, and despise others:

Yet I do not think pride possesses my soul,

Which looks too often in its unflattering mirror:

But one worse fault, ambition, I confess to,

That makes me often overlook my best friends,

Unseen, unheard, while thought bends all its powers

To the highest place, that is to Stella’s grace.



You that with allegory’s curious frame,

Of others’ children changelings use to make,

With me those pains for God’s sake do not take:

I list not dig so deep for brazen fame.

When I say “Stella,” I do mean the same

Princess of Beauty, for whose only sake

The reins of Love I love, though never slake,

And joy therein, though nations count it shame.

I beg no subject to use eloquence,

Nor in hid ways do guide Philosophy:

Look at my hands for no such quintessence;

But know that I in pure simplicity

Breathe out the flames which burn within my heart

Love only reading unto me this art.

You who are used to making changelings of other’s children

(Poems) by employing allegory’s curious structure,

Do not take those pains with me for God’s sake.

I do not wish to dig so deep for brazen fame.

When I say, ‘Stella’, I actually mean that same

Princess of beauty, for whose sake alone

I love the reins of love, though they are never slackened,

And joy in them, though nations count it shameful.

I do not ask for a subject in order to be eloquent,

Nor seek to lead philosophy amongst hidden ways:

Look for no such quintessence at my hands,

But know that I, in pure simplicity,

Breathe out the flames that burn in my heart,

Love alone teaching me this art.



With how sad steps, oh Moon, thou climb’st the skies,

How silently, and with how wan a face.

What, may it be, that even in heav’nly place

That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?

Sure, if that long with Love acquainted eyes

Can judge of Love, thou feel’st a lover’s case;

I read it in thy looks; thy languish’d grace

To me that feel the like, thy state descries.

Then ev’n of fellowship, oh Moon, tell me

Is constant love deem’d there but want of wit?

Are beauties there as proud as here thy be?

Do they above love to be lov’d, and yet

Those lovers scorn whom that Love doth possess?

Do they call virtue there ungratefulness?

With what sad steps O Moon you climb the skies,

How silently and with how pale a face:

What, can it be that even in a heavenly place

That busy archer (Cupid) tries out his sharp arrows?

Surely, if eyes that are long acquainted with love

Can make judgments about it, you feel for lovers:

I read it in your looks: your languished grace

Reveals your state to me who feel similarly.

Therefore out of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,

Is constancy in love deemed up there also to be lack of wit?

Are beauties there as proud as they are here?

Do those above love to be loved, and yet

Scorn the lovers who are possessed by that love?

Do they call their ungratefulness (unwillingness to please) virtue also?



I might, unhappy word, oh me, I might,

And then would not, or could not see my bliss;

Till now, wrapt in a most infernal night,

I find how heav’nly day, wretch, I did miss.

Heart, rend thyself, thou dost thyself but right;

No lovely Paris made thy Helen his:

No force, no fraud, robb’d thee of thy delight,

Nor Fortune of thy fortune author is:

But to myself my self did give the blow,

While too much wit (forsooth) so troubled me,

That I respects for both our sakes must show:

And yet could not by rising morn foresee

How fair a day was near, oh punish’d eyes,

That I had been more foolish or more wise.

I might, an unhappy word, O me, I might have,

And then would not, or could not see my bliss;

Until now, wrapped in a most infernal night,

I realise how I, a wretch, missed heavenly day.

Heart rend yourself: it would only be right to do so;

No lovely Paris made your Helen his,

No force, or fraud robbed you of your delight,

Nor is Fate the author of your fate;

But I myself dealt the blow to myself,

While in truth so much thought troubled me regarding it (the abortive

Betrothal in 1576 to Stella, Penelope Devereux: she was then 12 years old)

That I was forced to be cautious, for both our sakes:

And yet I could not by rising morn (her childish looks) foresee

How fair a day (her mature beauty) was near: O punished eyes

If only I had been more foolish or more wise (thought less or loved more).



Come, let me write. “And to what end?” To ease

A burthen’d heart. “How can words ease, which are

The glasses of thy daily vexing care?”

Oft cruel fights well pictur’d forth do please.

“Art not asham’d to publish thy disease?”

Nay, that may breed my fame, it is so rare.

“But will not wise men think thy words fond ware?”

Then be they close, and so none shall displease.

“What idler thing than speak and not be heard?”

What harder thing than smart, and not to speak?

Peace, foolish wit, with wit my wit is marr’d.

Thus write I while I doubt to write, and wreak

My harms on ink’s poor loss; perhaps some find

Stella’s great powers, that so confuse my mind.

Come, let me write, ‘And for what purpose?’ to ease

A burdened heart. ‘How can words bring ease, which are the mirrors

Reflecting your daily vexing cares?’

Often cruel battles please when painted.

‘Are you not ashamed to make public knowledge of your trouble?’

No: that may increase my fame: it is so unusual.

‘But will wise men not think your words to be foolish trifles?’

Then let them be kept private and so they will displease nobody.

‘What is more useless than to speak and not be heard?’

What is harder than to be in pain, and not speak about it?

Peace foolish thoughts: my thought is marred by thought.

So I write when I am doubtful of the point of writing, and impose

My troubles on a waste of ink; perhaps some of my writings reflect

Stella’s great powers: and that is what so confuses my mind.



My mouth doth water, and my breast doth swell,

My tongue doth itch, my thoughts in labour be:

Listen then, lordings, with good ear to me,

For of my life I must a riddle tell.

Toward Aurora’s court a nymph doth dwell,

Rich in all beauties which man’s eye can see:

Beauties so far from reach of words, that we

Abase her praise, saying she doth excel:

Rich in the treasure of deserv’d renown,

Rich in the riches of a royal heart,

Rich in those gifts which give th’eternal crown;

Who though most rich in these and every part,

Which make the patents of true worldly bliss,

Hath no misfortune, but that Rich she is.

My mouth waters to utter, my breast swells for speech,

My tongue itches for it, and my thoughts are labouring to speak,

Listen then, lords, carefully to me,

Because I must relate an event in my life as a riddle.

A nymph (Penelope Rich) lives towards the Dawn (in Essex, in the East)

Rich in all the beauties a man’s eye can see,

Beauties so far above words that we reduce the praise

By even using words to say how superior she is:

Rich in the treasure of a well-deserved fame,

Rich in the riches of a royal heart,

Rich in those (spiritual) gifts that grant an eternal crown:

Who though she is rich in these things and everything

Which constitutes true earthly bliss,

Has only one misfortune, that she is (married to Lord) Rich.

Note: Lord Rich’s house was Leigh’s in Essex in Eastern England.



Come sleep, oh sleep, the certain knot of peace,

The baiting place of wit, the balm of woe,

The poor man’s wealth, the prisoner’s release,

Th’indifferent judge between the high and low;

With shield of proof shield me from out the prease

Of those fierce darts, Despair at me doth throw:

Oh make in me those civil wars to cease;

I will good tribute pay if thou do so:

Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed,

A chamber deaf to noise and blind to light;

A rosy garland, and a weary head;

And if these things, as being thine by right,

Move not thy heavy Grace, thou shalt in me

Livelier than elsewhere Stella’s image see.

Come sleep, O sleep, the reliable bond of peace,

The resting place of wit, the balm of sorrow,

The poor man’s wealth, the prisoner’s release,

The impartial judge between the high and low:

With a strong shield, shield me from the crowd

Of fierce spears that despair throws at me:

O, make me cease fighting in these civil wars:

I will pay a good tribute of gifts if you do so.

Accept, from me, smooth pillows, a sweetest bed,

A bedroom proofed against noise, and closed to light,

A rose-garland of secrecy, and a weary head:

And if these things, which belong to you as of right anyway,

Do not win your heavy thanks, you may also see

Stella’s image in my mind, more alive than elsewhere.


Having this day my horse, my hand, my lance

Guided so well, that I obtain’d the prize,

Both by the judgment of the English eyes,

And of some sent from that sweet enemy France;

Horsemen my skill in horsemanship advance,

Town-folks my strength; a daintier judge applies

His praise to sleight, which from good use doth rise;

Some lucky wits impute it but to chance;

Others, because of both sides I do take

My blood from them who did excel in this,

Think Nature me a man of arms did make.

How far they shot awry! The true cause is,

Stella look’d on, and from her heav’nly face

Sent forth the beams, which made so fair my race.

Having guided my horse, my hand, my lance, so well

Today, that I obtained the prize,

Both as judged by English eyes

And some sent from that sweet enemy France:

Horsemen proclaim my skill in horsemanship:

Townsmen my strength: a more discerning judge

Praises my dexterity achieved by constant practice:

Some who are lucky ascribe it to mere chance:

Others because I am descended on both sides

From those who excel in these pursuits,

Think it was Nature that made me good at tilting:

How mistaken they were! The true reason is

That Stella was watching, and from her heavenly face

Sent out the rays that made my competing successful.

Note: In May 1581 he participated in the tournament at court in front of Elizabeth and the French delegation (in England to negotiate a match with the Duke of Alençon).



Stella oft sees the very face of woe

Painted in my beclouded stormy face:

But cannot skill to pity my disgrace,

Not though thereof the cause herself she know:

Yet hearing late a fable, which did show

Of lovers never known, a grievous case,

Pity thereof gat in her breast such place

That, from that sea deriv’d, tears’ spring did flow.

Alas, if fancy drawn by imag’d things,

Though false, yet with free scope more grace doth breed

Than servant’s wrack, where new doubts honour brings;

Then think, my dear, that you in me do read

Of lovers’ ruin some sad tragedy:

I am not I, pity the tale of me.

Stella often sees the face of unhappiness itself

Painted on my clouded and stormy face:

But is unable to pity my state of disgrace,

Even though she knows the cause of it herself:

Yet when she heard a story, lately, that depicted

A sorry example of lovers who never met together,

Pity was so powerful in her breast,

That a stream of tears, derived from it, flowed out.

Alas, if imagination, stirred by imaginary but false things,

Nevertheless creates more kindness than the torment

Of a real lover, where honour causes doubts to arise,

Then, my dear, imagine that you are reading

Some sad tragedy concerning a lover’s ruin, in me:

I am not I, then: you can pity the story of me, instead.



What, have I thus betray’d 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?

Or want I sense to feel my misery?

Or sprite, disdain of such disdain to have,

Who for long faith, though daily help I crave,

May get no alms but scorn of beggary?

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,

Unkind, I love you not. Oh me, that eye

Doth make my heart give to my tongue the lie.

What: have I given my freedom away like this?

Can those eye-beams from her dark eyes engrave such brands

On my free side? Or was I born a slave

Whose neck is suited to such a tyrannical yoke?

Or do I lack the sensations to feel my misery?

Or do I lack spirit, to be so scorned by her scorn?

I, who, though I ask for help from her every day, receive

No alms from her, for all my long loyalty, but scorn for my begging instead.

Virtue, rouse yourself: beauty is only beauty:

I may, I must, I can, I will, I do

Cease to follow that which it is beneficial to lose.

Let her go. Peace, here she comes. ‘Away with you,

Unkind one, I do not love you’: O me, that eye of hers

Makes my heart deny the words on my tongue.



I on my horse, and Love on me doth try

Our horsemanships, while by strange work I prove

A horseman to my horse, a horse to Love;

And now man’s wrongs in me, poor beast, descry.

The reins wherewith my rider doth me tie,

Are humbled thoughts, which bit of reverence move,

Curb’d in with fear, but with gilt boss above

Of hope, which makes it seem fair to the eye.

The wand is will; thou, fancy, saddle art,

Girt fast by memory, and while I spur

My horse, he spurs with sharp desire my heart:

He sits me fast, however I do stir:

And now hath made me to his hand so right,

That in the manage myself takes delight.

I try my horsemanship on my horse, and Love tries his on me,

While, by curious effort, I show myself as a horseman

To my horse, and show myself as a horse to Love:

And now, poor beast, see man’s wrong actions in me.

The reins my rider (Love) ties me with

Are humbled thoughts, moved by the horse’s bit of Reverence,

Curbed by Fear, but with the gilt boss (metal knob on the bit)

Of Hope, that makes it (the curb) seem acceptable to the eye.

The riding crop is Will, and you, Imagination, are the saddle,

Fastened on by Memory: and while I spur

My horse, Love spurs my heart with sharp Desire:

He sits tight, however I move:

And now has made me respond so sensitively to his hand

That I myself take delight in my own training.



A strife is grown between Virtue and Love,

While each pretends that Stella must be his:

Her eyes, her lips, her all, saith Love, do this

Since they do wear his badge, most firmly prove.

But Virtue thus that title doth disprove:

That Stella (oh dear name) that Stella is

That virtuous soul, sure heir of heav’nly bliss,

Not this fair outside, which our hearts doth move;

And therefore, though her beauty and her grace

Be Love’s indeed, in Stella’s self he may

By no pretense claim any manner place.

Well, Love, since this demur our suit will stay,

Let Virtue have that Stella’s self; yet thus

That Virtue but that body grant to us.

A (legal) dispute has started between Virtue and Love,

In which each declares that Stella must be his:

Love says that her eyes, lips, all of her prove this,

Firmly, since they all wear his badge (of livery).

But Virtue disproves Love’s claim in this way, saying:

That Stella, (O dear name), that Stella is

Really her own virtuous soul, the certain heir of heavenly bliss,

Not her lovely exterior that stirs our hearts:

And therefore, though her beauty and her grace do indeed

Belong to Love, he cannot pretend to lay any kind of claim to her Self.

Well, Love, since this objection halts our (legal) action,

Let Virtue have Stella’s self (her soul): yet, in doing so,

Let Virtue which is her soul grant her body to us.


In martial sports I had my cunning tried,

And yet to break more staves did me address:

While, with the people’s shouts, I must confess,

Youth, luck, and praise, ev’n fill’d my veins with pride;

When Cupid having me his slave descried,

In Mars’s livery, prancing in the press:

“What now, Sir Fool,” said he; I would no less.

“Look here, I say.” I look’d and Stella spied,

Who hard by made a window send forth light.

My heart then quak’d, then dazzled were mine eyes;

One hand forgot to rule, th’other to fight.

Nor trumpet’s sound I heard, nor friendly cries;

My foe came on, and beat the air for me,

Till that her blush taught me my shame to see.

I had tried out my cunning in warlike sports,

But still was intent on breaking more tilting-staffs,

While, due to the crowd’s applause, I confess,

Youth, luck and praise filled my veins with pride:

When Cupid having caught sight of me, his slave,

In Mars’ livery and prancing about in the action,

Said: ‘What now, sir fool, I would like the same attention from you,

Look here, I say,’ I looked and saw Stella

Who made a nearby window send out light.

Then my heart trembled, and my eyes were dazzled,

One hand forgot to control the reins, the other to fight:

I heard neither the trumpet’s signal, nor the friendly cries:

My opponent charged, and beat the air chasing me,

Until her blush taught me to see my own shame.



Because I breathe not love to every one,

Nor do not use set colours for to wear,

Nor nourish special locks of vowed hair,

Nor give each speech the full point of a groan,

The courtly nymphs, acquainted with the moan

Of them, who in their lips Love’s standard bear;

“What he?” say they of me. “Now I dare swear,

He cannot love. No, no, let him alone.”

And think so still, so Stella know my mind,

Profess indeed I do not Cupid’s art;

But you, fair maids, at length this true shall find:

That his right badge is worn but in the heart;

Dumb swans, not chatt’ring pies, do lovers prove;

They love indeed, who quake to say they love.

Because I don’t breathe love to everyone,

And am not seen wearing the usual colours of a lover,

And don’t keep special locks of hair given as a pledge,

And don’t end each speech with a groan, like a full-stop,

The nymphs of the court, familiar with the moan of those (lovers)

Who carry Love’s standard on their lips (show their love in speech):

Say of me: ‘What, I dare swear he cannot love:

No, no, leave him be.’

And they can think so, still, as long as Stella knows my mind.

I don’t profess to know Cupid’s art:

But you, fair maids, will find this truth, in the end,

That Love’s true badge is only worn in the heart:

Dumb swans not chattering magpies, prove to be the lovers:

They love truly who tremble to say that they love.



Fie, school of Patience, fie! Your lesson is

Far, far too long to learn it without book:

What, a whole week without one piece of look,

And think I should not your large precepts miss?

When I might read those letters fair of bliss,

Which in her face teach virtue, I could brook

Somewhat thy leaden counsels, which I took

As of a friend that meant not much amiss:

But now that I, alas, do want her sight,

What, dost thou think that I can ever take

In thy cold stuff a phlegmatic delight?

No, Patience, if thou wilt my good, then make

Her come, and hear with patience my desire,

And then with patience bid me bear my fire.

Fie, school of Patience, fie: your lesson is

Far, far too long to remember without the book:

What, don’t you think that after a whole week

Without a fraction of a look I would forget your great precepts?

When I could read those fair letters of bliss,

That, in her face, teach virtue, I could tolerate

Your leaden counsels a little, which I accepted

As if they were from a well-meaning friend:

But now, alas, that I lack sight of her,

Do you think I can ever take

A chilled delight in your cold counsel?

No, Patience, if you wish me well, then make

Her come here, and listen to my passion with patience,

And then patiently tell me to endure these flames of mine.



Oft with true sighs, oft with uncalled tears,

Now with slow words, now with dumb eloquence

I Stella’s eyes assail, invade her ears;

But this at last is her sweet breath’d defense:

That who indeed infelt affection bears,

So captives to his saint both soul and sense,

That wholly hers, all selfness he forbears,

Thence his desires he learns, his life’s course thence.

Now since her chaste mind hates this love in me,

With chasten’d mind, I straight must show that she

Shall quickly me from what she hates remove.

Oh Doctor Cupid, thou for me reply,

Driv’n else to grant by angel’s sophistry,

That I love not, without I leave to love.

Often with true sighs, often with unprompted tears,

Sometimes with slow words, sometimes dumb eloquence,

I attack Stella’s eyes and invade her ears:

But this, in the end, is her sweetly breathed defence:

That whoever, indeed, experiences affection inwardly,

Makes both soul and sense so much the captives of his Saint,

That, completely hers, he forgoes all thought of self,

From his Saint he learns his desires and his life’s course.

Now since her chaste mind hates the love that is in me,

I must straightaway, with chastened mind, show

That she can quickly separate me from what she hates.

O Doctor Cupid, reply in my place,

Or I will be driven to admit, by angel’s sophistry,

That I cannot love unless I leave off loving.



Oh joy, too high for my low style to show:

Oh bliss, fit for a nobler state than me:

Envy, put out thine eyes, lest thou do see

What oceans of delight in me do flow.

My friend, that oft saw through all masks my woe,

Come, come, and let me pour myself on thee;

Gone is the winter of my misery,

My spring appears, oh see what here doth grow.

For Stella hath with words where faith doth shine,

Of her high heart giv’n me the monarchy:

I, I, O I may say that she is mine,

And though she give but thus condition’lly

This realm of bliss, while virtuous course I take,

No kings be crown’d, but they some covenants make.

O joy, too noble for my low style to display it:

O bliss, suited to a nobler state than mine:

Envy, blind yourself, in case you see

What oceans of delight flow in me.

My friend, who often saw my sorrow through all my masks,

Come, come, and let me pour out my feelings to you:

Gone is the winter of my misery,

My spring appears, O see what grows here:

For Stella has, with words in which faith shines,

Given me the monarchy of her noble heart:

I, I, O, I may say that she is mine.

And though she only makes this realm of bliss

Conditional on my taking a virtuous path,

Likewise no kings are crowned, unless they are bound by oaths.

Note: Lines here were echoed by Shakespeare(7-8) and Donne (5-6).



Who will in fairest book of Nature know

How Virtue may best lodg’d in beauty be;

Let him but learn of Love to read in thee,

Stella, those fair lines which true goodness show.

There shall he find all vices’ overthrow,

Not by rude force, but sweetest sovereignty

Of Reason, from whose light those night birds flee;

That inward sun in thine eyes shineth so.

And not content to be Perfection’s heir

Thyself, dost strive all minds that way to move,

Who mark in thee what is in thee most fair.

So while thy beauty draws the heart to love,

As fast thy virtue bends that love to good:

“But ah,” Desire still cries, “give me some food.”

He who wishes to know how virtue

May be most fittingly present in beauty,

Let him learn from Love to read those fair lines

In you, Stella, who display true goodness.

There he will he find the overthrow of all vices.

Not through crude force but by Reason’s sweetest sovereignty,

From whose light those night-birds (the vices) fly,

Because that inward sun shines so from your eyes.

And not content merely to be perfection’s heir

Yourself, you try to encourage all minds in that direction,

Minds that recognise what is most beautiful in you.

So while your beauty draws the heart to love you,

Your virtue, as quickly, directs that love towards goodness:

‘But ah,’ Desire still cries: ‘give me some nourishment.’



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 banish’d art, but yet alas how shall?

Desire, though you are my companion of old,

And often cling to my pure love, so that I

Can scarcely distinguish one of you from the other,

While each of you intensifies the fire in my heart,

Now I must part from your company:

Venus has been taught how to fly with Diana’s (chaste) wings:

I must no longer inhabit your sweet passions:

Virtue’s gold must now tip my Cupid’s arrow.

Service and honour, admiration with delight,

Fear of offending, a will worthy to be revealed,

Care shining in my eyes, Faith shining in my spirit,

These things are what my only darling has left me:

But you, Desire, because you would possess everything,

Are now banished, and yet how can you be?

Note: Sidney’s coat of arms was a blue arrow-head on a gold background,

but there is an erotic reference here also.



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 poets’ 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 fall 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, inspir’d with Stella’s kiss.

I never drank from the Muses’ well, Aganippe,

Nor ever sat in the shade of Tempe’s valley:

And Muses scorn to live in common minds:

I am a poor layman, unfit for sacred rites.

Some people, I hear, speak of poet’s fury,

But God knows I don’t know what they mean by it:

And I swear by the blackest river of hell,

That I am no pick-pocket of another’s wit.

How does it happen then that I can speak my thoughts

With such smooth ease, and what I speak flows

In verse, and my verse pleases the most intelligent?

We guess the cause: ‘What, is it this?’ ‘No, indeed’:

‘Or this?’ Much less so: ‘What is it then?’ Sure it is this:

My lips are sweet, inspired by Stella’s kiss.

Note: Aganippe was the Muses’ fountain on Mount Helicon. Tempe is the valley in Thessaly where Apollo pursued Daphne (Ovid, Metamorphoses I:567).



Oh kiss, which dost those ruddy gems impart,

Or gems, or fruits of new-found Paradise,

Breathing all bliss and sweet’ning to the heart,

Teaching dumb lips a nobler exercise;

Oh kiss, which souls, e’en souls, together ties

By links of Love, and only Nature’s art:

How fain would I paint thee to all men’s eyes,

Or of thy gifts at least shade out some part;

But she forbids, with blushing words, she says

She builds her fame on higher-seated praise;

But my heart burns, I cannot silent be.

Then since (dear life) you fain would have me peace,

And I, mad with delight, want wit to cease,

Stop you my mouth with still, still kissing me.

O kiss that shares those reddened jewels,

Either gems or fruits of a new-found paradise,

Breathing all bliss and sweetening the heart,

Teaching dumb lips a nobler exercise:

O kiss, that even ties souls together

With links of love, and Nature’s art alone:

How I wish to depict you for all men to see,

Or at least delineate some part of you.

But she forbids it: with blushing words she says

She builds her fame on a nobler praise.

But my heart burns. I cannot be silent:

Then since (dear life) you wish me to be silent,

And I, mad with delight, want words to cease,

Stop my mouth yourself by kissing me, on and on.


Fourth Song

Only joy, now here you are,

Fit to hear and ease my care:

Let my whispering voice obtain

Sweet reward for sharpest pain.

Take me to thee, and thee to me.

“No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.”

Night hath clos’d all in her cloak,

Twinkling stars love-thoughts provoke:

Danger hence good care doth keep;

Jealousy itself doth sleep:

Take me to thee, and thee to me.

“No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.”

Better place no wit can find

Cupid’s yoke to loose or bind:

These sweet flowers on fine bed, too,

Us in their best language woo:

Take me to thee, and thee to me.

“No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.”

This small light the moon bestows

Serves thy beams but to disclose,

So to raise my hap more high;

Fear not else, none can us spy:

Take me to thee, and thee to me.

“No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.”

That you heard was but a mouse,

Dumb sleep holdeth all the house

Yet asleep; methinks they say:

“Young folks, take time while you may.”

Take me to thee, and thee to me.

“No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.”

Niggard Time threats, if we miss

This large offer of our bliss,

Long stay ere he grant the same:

Sweet, then, while each thing doth frame,

Take me to thee, and thee to me.

“No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.”

You fair mother is abed,

Candles out and curtains spread;

She thinks you do letters write,

Write, but let me first indite:

Take me to thee, and thee to me.

“No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.”

Sweet alas, why strive you thus?

Concord better fitteth us;

Leave to Mars the force of hands,

Your power in your beauty stands:

Take me to thee, and thee to me.

“No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.”

Woe to me! And do you swear

Me to hate? But I forbear.

Cursed be my dest’nies all,

That brought me so high, to fall;

Soon with my death I will please thee.

“No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.”

My only joy, now you are here,

Fit to hear and ease my care:

Let my whispering voice obtain

A sweet reward for sharpest pain:

Take me to you, and you to me.

‘No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.’

Night has enclosed everything in her cloak,

Twinkling stars provoke thoughts of love:

Danger is careful to keep far away,

Jealousy itself is asleep:

Take me to you, and you to me.

‘No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.’

Thought can’t find a better place

To loose or fasten Cupid’s yoke:

These sweet flowers on a fine bed, too,

Woo us in their best language:

Take me to you, and you to me.

‘No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.’

The small light the Moon grants us,

Only serves to reveal your rays.

So as to raise my fortunes higher:

Fear nothing else, no one can see us:

Take me to you, and you to me.

‘No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.’

What you heard was merely a mouse:

Dumb sleep has gripped the whole house:

Yet, asleep, I seem to hear them say,

Young people, take time while you can:

Take me to you, and you to me.

‘No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.’

Grudging time threatens, that if we fail

To take up this fine offer of our bliss,

It will be a long time before he repeats it:

Then, sweet, while everything allows,

Take me to you, and you to me.

‘No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.’

Your lovely mother is in bed,

Candles quenched, and curtains drawn:

She thinks you’re writing letters:

Write, but let me write first:

Take me to you, and you to me.

‘No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.’

Sweet, alas, why do you struggle so?

Harmony is better suited to us.

Leave strength of hands to Mars,

Your power is in your beauty:

Take me to you, and you to me.

‘No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.’

Woe to me, do you swear

To hate me? I will restrain myself:

Cursed be my fate

That lifted me so high in order to fail:

Soon I’ll please you with my death.

‘No, no, no, no, my dear, let be.’



When I was forc’d from Stella, ever dear

Stella, food of my thoughts, heart of my heart;

Stella, whose eyes make all my tempests clear,

By iron laws of duty to depart:

Alas I found that she with me did smart;

I saw that tears did in her eyes appear;

I saw that sighs her sweetest lips did part,

And her sad words my saddest sense did hear.

For me, I wept to see pearls scatter’d so;

I sigh’d her sighs, and wailed for her woe,

Yet swam in joy, such love in her was seen.

Thus, while th’effect most bitter was to me,

And nothing than the cause more sweet could be,

I had been vex’d, if vex’d I had not been.

When I was forced to leave ever-dear Stella,

Stella, food of my thoughts, heart of my heart,

Stella, whose eyes clear away all my storms,

Bound to depart by the iron laws of duty:

Alas, I found that she was hurt because of me,

I saw that tears appeared in her eyes;

I saw that sighs parted her sweetest lips,

And my saddened mind heard her sad words.

I wept to see such pearls scattered for me,

I sighed her sighs, and cried for her sadness,

Yet swam in joy that such love was seen in her.

So, when the effect was deeply bitter to me,

Yet nothing could be sweeter than the cause,

I would have been in conflict within myself, if I were not already.



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-stay’d night;

The night as tedious, woos th’approach of day;

Tir’d with the dusty toils of busy day,

Languish’d 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.

Now that the most unpleasant night of Absence

Covers my daylight with its darkest shadow:

Because Stella’s eyes that usually give me light,

Have left my hemisphere, leaving me in night;

Each day seems long, and longs for long-delayed night:

The night, as tedious, woos the approach of day;

Tired with the dusty labours of a busy day,

Wearied by the horrors of the silent night,

Suffering the troubles of both day and night,

While no night is darker than my day,

And no day is less quiet than my night:

With such an evil mixture of my night and day,

So that, living like this in the blackest winter night,

I still feel the flames of the hottest summer day.



Stella, while now by honour’s cruel might,

I am from you, light of my life, mis-led,

And that fair you, my Sun, thus overspread

With absence’ veil, I live in sorrow’s night;

If this dark place yet show like candle light

Some beauty’s piece, as amber-colour’d head,

Milk hands, rose cheeks, or lips more sweet, more red,

Or seeing jets black but in blackness bright.

They please, I do confess; they please mine eyes,

But why? Because of you they models be,

Models such be wood globes of glist’ring skies.

Dear, therefore be not jealous over me,

If you hear that they seem my heart to move.

Not them, O no, but you in them I love.

Stella, while now, because of the demands of honour,

I am led away from you, the light of my life,

And because you my lovely sun, are overcast

With the veil of absence, I live in sorrow’s night;

And if this dark place still shows like a candle-light

Some portion of beauty, an amber-coloured head of hair,

Milk-white hands, rosy cheeks, or sweeter, redder lips,

Or jet-black eyes, bright in their blackness:

They please my eyes: I confess it.

But why do they? Because they are likenesses of you,

As wooden globes act as models of the starry skies.

So, dear, don’t be jealous concerning me,

If you hear that they appear to move my heart:

It’s not them I love, O no, it’s you in them.



Grief find the words, for thou hast made my brain

So dark with misty vapours, which arise

From out thy heavy mould, that in-bent eyes

Can scarce discern the shape of mine own pain.

Do thou then (for thou canst) do thou complain

For my poor soul, which now that sickness tries,

Which ev’n to sense, sense of itself denies,

Though harbingers of death lodge there his train.

Or if thy love of plaint yet mine forbears,

As of a caitiff worthy so to die,

Yet wail thyself, and wail with causeful tears,

That though in wretchedness thy life doth lie,

Yet growest more wretched than thy nature bears

By being plac’d in such a wretch as I.

Grief, find the words, since you have made my brain

So dark with misty vapours, those that rise

From your heavy earth, that the inner eye

Can scarcely see the shape of my own pain.

Since you can, you should make lament

For my poor soul, tormented by that sickness

That even denies self any sense of itself,

Even though premonitions of death lodge there.

Or if your love of lamentation avoids mine,

As belonging to a wretch worthy of such a death,

Still, weep yourself, and weep with reason,

That though your existence is wretched,

It grows more wretched than normal,

By being placed in such a wretch as I am.


Eleventh Song

“Who is it that this dark night

Underneath my window plaineth?”

It is one who from thy sight

Being (ah!) exil’d, disdaineth

Every other vulgar light.

“Why alas, and are you he?

Be not yet those fancies chang’d?”

Dear, when you find change in me,

Though from me you be estrang’d,

Let my change to ruin be.

“Well, in absence this will die.

Leave to see, and leave to wonder.”

Absence sure will help, if I

Can learn how myself to sunder

From what in my heart doth lie.

“But time will these thoughts remove:

Time doth work what no man knoweth.”

Time doth as the subject prove:

With time still the affection groweth

In the faithful turtledove.

“What if you new beauties see?

Will not they stir new affection?”

I will think they pictures be

(Image like of saint’s perfection)

Poorly counterfeiting thee.

“But your reason’s purest light

Bids you leave such minds to nourish.”

Dear, do Reason no such spite;

Never doth thy beauty flourish

More than in my reason’s sight.

“But the wrongs love bears will make

Love at length leave undertaking.”

No. The more fools it do shake,

In a ground of so firm making,

Deeper still they drive the stake.

“Peace, I think that some give ear.

Come no more, lest I get anger.”

Bliss, I will my bliss forbear,

Fearing, sweet, you to endanger,

But my soul shall harbour there.

“Well, be gone. Be gone, I say,

Lest that Argus’ eyes perceive you.”

Oh unjustest fortune’s sway,

Which can make me thus to leave you

And from louts to run away!

‘Who is it that complains

Beneath my window, this dark night?’

It is one who being (alas) exiled

From your sight, disdains

Every other common light.

‘Why, are you he, alas?

Are those fanciful ideas not altered yet?’

Dear, when you find I have altered,

Though you are estranged from me,

Let my alteration be to a state of ruin.

‘Well, the ability to see and to wonder

Will die because of absence.’

Certainly, absence will help, if I

Can learn how to separate my self

From what exists in my heart.

‘But time will erase these thoughts:

Time achieves what no one can conceive of.’

Time suits itself to the subject:

Affection continues to grow with time

In the faithful turtle-dove.

‘What if you see fresh beauties,

Won’t they stir a new affection?’

I will think them merely pictures

(Like images of a saint’s perfection)

Poorly representing you.

‘But your reason’s purest light

Gives you leave to nourish such states of mind.’

Dear, don’t do reason such wrong;

Your beauty never flourishes more

Than in my reason’s sight.

‘But the wrongs your love suffers

Will make love at last stop trying.’

No, the more it shakes fools,

When their love is so firmly established,

They drive the stake of love still deeper.

‘Peace, I think that someone can hear:

Come no more, lest I grow angry.’

Bliss, I will forgo my bliss,

Fearing (sweet) to endanger you,

But my soul will remain here.

‘Well, be gone, be gone, I say,

Lest that Argus’s eyes see you.’

O most unjust fortune’s power

That can make me so leave you,

And run away from these nobodies.

Note: The many-eyed Argus was set to guard the Io, Jupiter’s mistress, after her transformation into a heifer. He was lulled to sleep and killed by Mercury, and then transformed by Juno into a peacock. (Ovid: Metamorphoses I:622-746)




Oh absent presence, Stella is not here;

False flattering Hope, that with so fair a face

Bare me in hand, that in this orphan place,

Stella, I say my Stella, should appear:

What say’st thou now? Where is that dainty cheer

Thou told’st mine eyes should help their famish’d case?

But thou art gone, now that self-felt disgrace

Doth make me most to wish my comfort near.

But here I do store of fair ladies meet,

Who may with charm of conversation sweet

Make in my heavy mould new thought to grow:

Sure they prevail as much with me as he

That bade his friend, but then new maim’d, to be

Merry with him, and not think of his woe.

O absent presence, Stella is not here;

False flattering Hope that with so fair a face

Deceived me into thinking that in this bereaved place

Stella, I say my Stella, would appear.

What do you say now, where is that sweet food

You told my eyes would help their hungry state?

But you (hope) are gone, now that self-perceived disgrace

Makes me wish most deeply that your comfort were near.

But here I meet many lovely ladies,

Who may make new thoughts grow in my heavy soil

With the charm of their sweet conversation:

Certainly they succeed as effectively with me

As the man who told his friend, newly wounded,

To be merry with him, and not think of his sorrow.



When sorrow (using mine own fire’s might)

Melts down his lead into my boiling breast;

Through that dark furnace to my heart oppress’d

There shines a joy from thee, my only light;

But soon as thought of thee breeds my delight,

And my young soul flutters to thee, his nest,

Most rude despair, my daily unbidden guest,

Clips straight my wings, straight wraps me in his night,

And makes me then bow down my head and say,

“Ah, what doth Phoebus’ gold that wretch avail

Whom iron doors do keep from use of day?”

So strangely (alas) thy works in me prevail,

That in my woes for thee thou art my joy,

And in my joys for thee my only annoy.

When sorrow (using the heat of my own passion)

Melts down his lead into my boiling breast,

Through that dark furnace, to my oppressed heart,

A joy shines from you, my only light;

But as soon as thought of you gives birth to my delight,

And my young soul flutters to you, his nest,

Raw despair, my daily guest though unasked,

Immediately clips my wings, and wraps me in his night,

And then makes me bow my head and say:

Ah, what use is Apollo’s gold (sunlight) to that wretch

Whom iron doors keep from enjoying the day?

So strangely (alas) do your actions rule me,

That, in my sadness concerning you, you are still my joy,

And in my joys concerning you, you are my only suffering.

Note: There are a hundred and eight sonnets, and also a hundred and eight stanzas in the eleven songs, being the number of Penelope’s suitors in Homer. (Odyssey Book XVI:245). Each sonnet and stanza is therefore a ‘suitor’ sent on behalf of Astrophil (Sidney) to Stella (Penelope Rich).

Source Text

Braithwaite, William S. The Book of Elizabethan Verse, Chatto & Windus Publishers, 1908, is licensed under no known copyright.




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An Open Companion to Early British Literature Copyright © 2019 by Allegra Villarreal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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