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Astrophel and Stella (Sonnets I-III)

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Lady In A Royal Dress
Lady In A Royal Dress


Loving in truth, and faine in verse my love to show,

That she, dare 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 obtained,

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.

But words came halting forth, wanting Inventions 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".


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 loved , but straight did not what Love decreed.

At length to love's decrees I, forced , 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.


Let the dainty wits cry on the Sisters nine,

That bravely masked , their fancies may be told:

Or, Pindar's apes, flaunt they in phrases fine,

Enam'ling with pied flowers their thoughts of gold.

Or else let them in statelier glory shine,

Ennobling new found tropes with problems old,

Or with strange similes enrich each line,

Of herbs or beasts with Inde or Afric' hold.

For me in sooth, no Muse but one I know:

Phrases and problems from my reach do grow,

And strange things cost too dear for my poor sprites.

How then? Even thus: in Stella's face I read

What love and beauty be, then all my deed

But copying is, what in her Nature writes.

Astrophel and Stella. (n.d.).


Overall, Sir Philip Sidney openly admits to loving Penelope Devereux and expresses his love through poetry, which conveys the pain he feels, knowing that he cannot be with her. The purpose of his sonnet is not to declare mutual love, but instead, to make a final plea for Penelope to acknowledge his love for her. His goal is to evoke pity and grace from her, as that is all he desires. Though his love is true, writing about it is a painful rather than joyful experience, as he is aware that his feelings are not reciprocal. However, if his love finds pleasure in reading about his pain, he is willing to endure it in order to capture her attention.

The poet is struggling to find the right words to convey the immense sorrow he feels. He uses the phrase 'the blackest face of woe' to emphasize the depth of his pain, which stems from unrequited love. His attempts to express his love have left his mind empty and devoid of inspiration. He hopes to impress his lady by using his intellect and desires to elicit empathy from her. To achieve this, he has turned to other poets' works, hoping to find suitable language to describe his emotions. He hopes that through his writing, she will come to understand the true nature of his love and perhaps take pity on him. This struggle between emotions and logic is a recurring theme throughout the sonnet sequence and is representative of the medieval concept of courtly love, where the lovesick admirer yearns for the unattainable object of their desire.

The poet is expressing his struggle to express an overwhelming emotion that is causing him pain. Despite biting his pen, a feeling shared by other writers, he finds no relief. Eventually, the muse of love poems, Erato, intervenes and advises him to look within himself and write what he sees. The rhyme scheme of Astrophil and Stella consists of a unique six-foot line with a ABAB ABAB CDCD EE pattern, which the poet alters frequently throughout the poem. Erato is one of nine muses in Greek mythology, and her advice to writers has become a widely quoted mantra.


Sir Philip Sydney
Sir Philip Sydney

Sir Philip Sydney's famous series of sonnets, called Astrophil and Stella, consists of 108 sonnets and 11 songs. Even though it's not entirely certain what motivated these sonnets, it's widely assumed that they're mostly autobiographical and influenced by his involvement with Penelope Devereux, or Stella, as represented in the series. Sydney's poems are introspective and self-analyzing, in contrast to the guarded nature he was known for throughout his life.

Sir Philip Sidney, the eldest child of Sir Henry Sidney and Mary Dudley, was born in 1554 in Penshurst, Kent. Despite being the grandson of the Duke of Northumberland and next in line to become the earls of Leicester and Warwick, he was not a nobleman himself.

He had a Spanish godfather and his maternal grandmother present during his birth, however, his grandmother's husband and son had been executed in 1553. Despite his noble lineage, he had a relatively low profile at the English court and did not receive much recognition from Elizabeth until he was appointed as governor of Flushing in 1585.

Sidney was known for his quick temper and occasional rash behavior. Although he was considered the perfect English gentleman-soldier, he saw little military action before his untimely death from a thigh wound sustained during a minor skirmish in the Netherlands. Interestingly, while Sidney is known for his literary works, he did not consider himself primarily a writer and did not dedicate much of his life to writing.


The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2011, February 25). Astrophel and Stella | work by Sidney. Encyclopedia Britannica.

British Library. (n.d.). The British Library.

Poetry Foundation. (n.d.). Astrophil and Stella 1: Loving in truth, and fain. . . | Poetry Foundation.

Poetry Foundation. (n.d.-b). Sir Philip Sidney | Poetry Foundation.

The Songs in “Astrophil and Stella” on JSTOR. (n.d.).

London School of Journalism. (n.d.). 2023, the London School of Journalism.


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