Analyze Astrophil and Stella Sonnet 1 by Sir Philip Sidney.

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To analyze the first sonnet in Sidney's sequence Astrophil and Stella, I will break it down into sections and then discuss how the writer uses poetic techniques to create effect or meaning.

The first quatrain of the poem reads as follows: 

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,— (1-4)
Sidney's main idea in this opening quatrain is that Astrophil will write poetry to his love in the hopes that it will win her over; however, he is not overly idealistic about how that will happen. He says that he loves "in truth" and that he does "fain in," or takes pleasure in, showing his love through poetry. He will transmit his true feelings for her and hopes that his beloved "might takes some pleasure of [his] pain." This is an example of paradox: the poet feels both pain and pleasure as a result of his love for Stella. The pain comes from her rejection of him, or it comes from the idea that he cannot be with her. He writes from the pain of his unrequited love. He hopes, though, that the "pleasure" of reading will lead her to understand his feelings, and she will take "pity" on him, so eventually he will "obtain" her "grace." He does not go so far as to expect her love. His expectations are fairly low and humble, and this quatrain as a whole shows us that the poet is desperate for some positive attention from Stella.
 
In the next quatrain, Sidney writes:
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 sunburn'd brain. (5-8)
In this quatrain, Sidney describes his writing process. He first says that he tries to find the "fit words" to capture his feelings. Ironically, these aren't exactly feelings of love but instead "the blackest face of woe." This extreme description indicates how low Astrophil feels after Stella's rejection. He then explains that he tries to learn techniques to "entertain" her, even "turning others' leaves" (a metaphor for reading other poets' works), in the hopes that he can write something that will please her. Sidney uses alliteration in line 8 ("fresh and fruitful"; "showers . . . sunburn'd") as well as metaphor to show that Astrophil seeks new sources of inspiration—the "showers" that would inspire his "sunburn'd brain." 
 
The next few lines continue as follows:
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. (9-11)
In these lines, Sidney uses personification and metaphor to describe how Astrophil's "Study" does not yield the results for which he looks. Instead of the words flowing naturally, they "came halting forth." The unexpected choice of the word "halting" indicates that Astrophil was expecting his strategy to yield results, but actually, he is not inspired by his attempts at research. "Invention" is scared away by "Study," which is portrayed figuratively as an abusive stepmother. Line 11 is similar to the earlier line 7: "others' feet" refers to the poetic meter used by other writers in their "leaves."  Astrophil finds that the work of other poets does not help him produce his own verse; the metaphorical "strangers" represent Astrophil's inability to connect his ideas or feelings with the techniques of other poets. 
 
Sidney completes the sonnet by writing, 
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." (12-14)
Here, Astrophil describes himself as "great with child," which is a figurative way to say that he is pregnant with, or full of, emotion that he desperately needs to express. He is "helpless in his throes"—an image that transmits the pain he is in at not being able to translate his feelings to paper. His muse tells him to "'look in thy heart, and write.'" At the end of the sonnet, Astrophil realizes that he is a "fool," and he "beat[s] [him]self for spite" at not realizing it earlier: he must draw on his own emotions, look within himself, for inspiration. 
 
This sonnet is the first in the sequence; it sets up the premise of the remaining poems, in which Astrophil will speak at length of his desire for Stella and for her to return his love. 
 
 
 
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poetic analysis covers all devices from elements, like structure and rhyme, to techniques, like metonymy and metaphor. In this present format, I can provide a rudimentary analysis that you can expand upon.

The structure of Sonnet 1 keeps the Petrarachan form in that there is one volta at line 9 but follows the English sonnet form, immortalized by Shakespeare, in tht it has 3 quatrains (4 lines) and an ending couplet (2 lines). The rhyme scheme is ababababcdcd ee. The first two quatrains repeat the abab rhyme but the third quatrain turns to a cdcd scheme that reinforces the volta, which is a turn in subject under the central topic of the poem. This line 9 volta turns from talking about what Astrophil sought to do:

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show, 
That she (dear She) might take some pleasure of my pain:
[...]
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe, 
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain:

and turns to how he failed to do it:

But words came halting forth, wanting Invention's stay, 
Invention, Nature's child, fled step-dame Study's blows,

The paradox or problem of the sonnet is resolved in the couplet when Astrophil tells what was revealed to him: "Fool," said my Muse to me, "look in thy heart and write."

The most prominent poetic technique in Sonnet 1 is Sydney's use of metaphor to illuminate the nature of poetry. Poetry is painting, "paint the blackest face ...." Poetry is "inventions fine," fine words in newly created expressions. Poetry is "fresh and fruitful showers" of imagery and imagination. Finally, poetry unwritten, like Astrophil's, is a full-term but undelivered pregnancy and the "throes" of labor pains that precede birth: "Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes, ...."

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Astrophil and Stella

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