‘Sonnet 1 is featured in Astrophil and Stella, a sonnet sequence that has 108 sonnets and 11 songs. Astrophil and Stella was probably written in the 1580s and it narrates the story of Astrophil and his hopeless passion for Stella. Moreover, it is the first sonnet sequence written in the English language. Particularly, ‘Sonnet 1’ depicts the lyrical voice’s motivation for writing the sonnet sequence. The lyrical voice believes that, if his loved one reads the sonnets, she would return his affection. Moreover, the lyrical voice focuses on the difficulties of writing
‘Sonnet 1’ resembles a Petrarchan sonnet. It has 14 lines and it is written in iambic Hexameter. ‘Sonnet 1 can be divided in an octet and a sestet and it has an ABAB ABAB CDCDEE rhyme scheme. Moreover, the poem has love and creation as its main themes.
Sonnet 1 Analysis
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 sunburned brain.
The octet of ‘Sonnet 1’ introduces the sonnet sequence as a whole. The lyrical voice expresses his wish to transmit his love in his writing: “Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show”. The lyrical voice’s reflection about writing enables him to make a love sonnet. Nevertheless, the lyrical voice’s writing shows that he knows that he will never win Stella’s love (“That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain,/Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know”), but he can’t help but desire her and express his love to her (“Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain”). The lyrical voice believes that Stella will read his writings and become deeply acquainted with his love, and if she pities him, he will win the “grace” of her attention. This clash between passion and reason will be present in this sonnet and in the entire sequence. Moreover, it shows courtly love, a medieval tradition in which the desperate lover watches the woman, his loved one, from afar.
Moreover, the lyrical voice is concerned with how he expresses his emotions. Notice the metatextuality that the lyrical voice introduces by talking about his own writing. He thinks that he has made a mistake by looking at other’s writings (“Studying inventions fine”) and trying to emulate them to express “the blackest face of woe”. He thought that this could serve as inspiration: “Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow/Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburned brain”. There is natural imagery in the final lines of the octet in order to accentuate this particular emotional writing.
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,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write.”
The sestet of ‘Sonnet 1’ introduces the volta, turn in Italian. The lyrical voice focuses on the composition of poetry and personifies the moment of writing (“wanting Invention’s stay:/Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows”). He still reflects on studying other poets and their writing: “And others’ feet still seemed but strangers in my way/Thus great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes”. Notice how the metatextuality is accentuated and deepened in this stanza. Then, the lyrical voice turns into his own and particular moment of writing: “Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite/ ‘Fool,’ said my Muse to me, ‘look in thy heart and write’”. These final lines are crucial, as they suggest two main things. First, there is a divine influence that the lyrical voice finds while writing. And, secondly, the lyrical voice constructs his own poetic and literary consciousness towards his own writings and those of others.
About Phillip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney was born in 1554 and died in 1586. He was an English poet, scholar, soldier, and courtier. Sir Philip Sidney is remembered as one of the main literary figures of the Elizabethan age. His most notable works include: Astrophel and Stella, The Defence of Poesy (also known as The Defence of Poetry or An Apology for Poetry), and The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia.