Identify the literary terms in Sonnet 1 Astrophil and Stella by Sir Philp Sidney.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Among the literary devices used most prominently by Sidney in Sonnet 1 is personification. He mentions his attempt to find inspiration for his own poetry in the work of others:

Oft turning others' leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburn'd brain.
...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Among the literary devices used most prominently by Sidney in Sonnet 1 is personification. He mentions his attempt to find inspiration for his own poetry in the work of others:

Oft turning others' leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburn'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.
The abstract concepts of invention and study are described as, respectively, a child and a "step-dame." Sidney then creates a metaphor in which he equates his apparent inability to absorb the lessons of others' work with "strangers" getting in his way. Additionally there is a pun in this line, since "feet" refer not only to human feet but possibly 1) poetic feet, the metrical units of stressed and unstressed syllables, and 2) the feat of other poets in having created poetry that Sidney himself feels he might not be able to equal. An even more striking metaphor follows, one in which he likens himself to a woman in labor:
Thus great with child to speak and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite
You might wish to analyze the less obvious devices of the poem as well. In the first excerpt I have quoted above, there is another metaphor which I did not identify specifically but is even more complex (dealing as it does with multiple aspects of a weather event) than the one regarding Sidney's attempt to learn from other poets. Do these metaphors seem to you well chosen and natural, or is there something slightly labored and artificial about them? The term conceit is often used to describe an elaborate, extended simile or metaphor such as we see in the Metaphysical Poets like John Donne several decades after Sidney. Do you think that Sidney foreshadows Donne to an extent in making use of such literary devices himself?
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sidney uses an ABAB rhyme scheme to establish a pleasant, consistent rhythm in this sonnet, ending on a rhyming couplet.

In the first quatrain (first four lines) Sidney uses repetition to place emphasis on certain words: loving/love, she, pleasure, read/reading, pity.

Sidney uses a metaphor, a comparison not using the words like or as, to liken his writing to painting. He also employs a metaphor as he compares himself writing the poem to a pregnant woman in the throes of labor pains.

The poet also uses personification. Personification is assigning human attributes to abstract or inanimate objects. In this sonnet, the poet's process of "Invention," or the work of getting words of writing on a page, is described as a child, escaping the blows of another personification, "step-dame Study."

Through the use of literary devices, Sidney shows, in this opening sonnet, the struggle he is having finding the right words to express his love in a persuasive way.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Alliteration is a feature of this sonnet, and can be found in the second line, in the words "pleasure of my pain." This is a literary term that is used elsewhere in this poem and you might like to look for it yourself, as it is one of the easiest literary terms to identify.

The poem also contains various examples of powerful imagery, such as in the following line:

I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe...

Here, the speaker is talking about trying to write his poem to his beloved to let her know about the impact of his love on him. "To paint" in this quote acts as a metaphor because he is comparing the process of writing and describing his lovestruck manner to painting a picture of what he looks like as he suffers from his passion.

Another metaphor is used just after to compare reading the poetry of others for inspiration to a shower of rain:

Oft turning others' leaves to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burned brain.

Here, the speaker presents his own brain as being "sun-burned" and in need of the "fresh and fruitful showers" (another example of alliteration) that the inspiration of reading the poetry of others could give him.

There are a few literary terms, and I hope you are now able to go back and analyse the rest of the poem yourself and find some more examples. Good luck!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team