Sonnet 11 by Lady Mary Wroth

Sonnet 11 is part of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, a sonnet sequence in Countess of Montgomery’s Urania. Pamphilia to Amphilanthus describes the feelings and expressions of a girl after her love has been unfaithful to her. Particularly, in Sonnet 11, the lyrical voice is distressed and afflicted by the loss of her love; she begs for her heartache to stop, threatening to put an end to it herself.

The poem, as the title suggests, is a sonnet, meaning that it has three quatrains (stanzas with four lines) and a final rhyming couplet. The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. This type of poem is also known as a Shakespearean sonnet. Sonnet 11 has love as a main theme, but it depicts the dark side of the emotion. Moreover, the tone is aggressive and bitter in most parts of the poem, even though the lyrical voice also expresses misery and deep agony.

 

Sonnet 11 Poem Analysis

First Stanza

You endless torments that my rest oppress,

How long will you delight in my sad pain?

Will never Love your favour more express?

Shall I still live, and ever feel disdain?

The first stanza depicts the lyrical voice’s agony and anger. The lyrical voice starts by mentioning a “You”, a second person which the poem is directed to. The first image of the poem is intense, as the lyrical voice blames this “you” for his/her “endless torments”. “endless torments” suggest great suffering brought by the loss of love, by that “You”. Thus, the lyrical voice feels uneasy and can’t rest (“that my rest oppress”). The lyrical voice makes a series of rhetorical questions in order to emphasize her agony. She asks her love when will he/she will stop feeling good about her pain (“How long will you delight in my sad pain?”) and whether he/she will love in the same way (“Will never Love your favour more express?”). She is in a state of torture, as she questions whether to continue living in that deep agony: “Shall I still live, and ever feel disdain?”.

 

Second Stanza

Alas, now stay, and let my grief obtain

Some end; feed not my heart with sharp distress.

Let me once see my cruel fortunes gain

At least release, and long-felt woes redress.

The second stanza portrays the lyrical voice asking for consolation. The lyrical voice asks this second person, the “you” that represents her love, to stay so that her “grief obtains/Some end”. She asks for closure and not the unforeseen “sharp distress”. “sharp distress” suggests deep and unexpected suffering. The lyrical voice wants to see how things happen and her “cruel fortunes gain”. She is aware of how things will end, but asks the “Love” to watch this while it happens so that she sees her “long-felt woes redress”. In this stanza, the tone shifts and the lyrical voice conveys a depressed tone, rather than one of anger.

 

Third Stanza

Let not the blame of cruelty disgrace

The honoured title of your godhead Love;

Give not just cause for me to say a place

Is found for rage alone on me to move.

The third stanza depicts the lyrical voice in a threatening tone. The lyrical voice suggests that, because her love has been unfaithful, love must be blamed (“Let not the blame of cruelty disgrace/The honoured title of your godhead Love”). Love is personified, and she threatens love, as she associates it with “cruelty disgrace” and makes it responsible for her anger (“Give not just cause for me to say a place/Is found for rage alone one me to move”).

Related poetry:   Song: Love, a child, is ever crying by Lady Mary Wroth

 

Final Couplet

O quickly end, and do not long debate

My needful aid, lest help do come too late.

The final couplet expresses a petition for help. The lyrical voice asks for immediate help: “O quickly end, and do not long debate/My needful aid”. The final line implies that, if the help doesn’t appear quickly, she will finish with her despair, and her life, herself (“lest help do come too late”). Notice that, usually, the sonnet form is used for expressions of love and longing. But, in this case, this contrasts with the depressed and painful tone of the lyrical voice, which portrays the acute suffering of someone who was betrayed by her love.

 

About Mary Wroth

Lady Mary Wroth was born in 1587 and died in 1653. She was an English Renaissance poet. Lady Mary Wroth was part of a distinguished literary family and she was one of the first female poets to receive enduring reputation.  Her uncle was Sir Philip Sidney, a leading Elizabethan poet, and she was deeply influenced by him. Moreover, her father, Sir Robert Sidney, was also a poet. But, her most important literary influence was Mary Sidney, her aunt and godmother. Lady Mary Wroth’s best known work is The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, a prose romance, and Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, a sonnet sequence. She also wrote Love’s Victory, a pastoral drama.

Lady Mary Wroth transgressed traditional poetic boundaries by writing secular poetry and romances. She was the first woman to write a sonnet sequence and an original work of prose fiction. Wroth’s writing was celebrated by poets of her time, such as Ben Jonson, George Chapman, and Josuah Sylvester. Her first major publication, The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, was largely criticized and generated a lot of controversy in 1621. Despite this, Lady Mary Wroth continued to write a second part of her romance, a five-act pastoral drama named Love’s Victory.

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