Which literary techniques appear in some of the poems from Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella sonnet sequence?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella is a collection or sequence of sonnets and other poems that tell the story of Astrophil’s foolish obsession with the beautiful Stella. 108 sonnets appear in the sequence (not to mention various “songs”). Over the course of the sequence, Sidney employs just about every common literary technique used in English (and even some that are not so common). Examples include the following:

  • In sonnet 1, Astrophil describes himself as

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 . . . .

Note here the use of repetition for emphasis, as in “she (dear She)” and also in the repeated nouns (such as “pleasure). Note also the use of an emphatic list (“pleasure,” “reading,” “knowledge,” and “pity”). Assonance and alliteration appear together in such phrases as “she, (dear She),” while assonance appears by itself in such phrases as “grace obtain” and alliteration appears by itself in such phrases as “might make.” Heavily accented first syllables appear at the very beginnings of lines 1, 2, and 4.

Examples of other techniques that appear in later poems include the following:

  • Political or historical allusion appears, for instance, in the reference to a “slave-born Muscovite” (2.10).
  • Classical allusion appears, for instance, in the reference to the muses as the “Sisters nine” (3.1). See also almost the whole of poem 13.
  • Geographical allusion appears, for instance, in the reference to “Inde or Afric” (3.7).
  • Personification appears, for instance, in the reference to “Nature” (3.14).
  • Metaphor appears, for instance, when Astrophil compares himself to a horse and tells a personified Virtue that “My mouth too tender is for they hard bit” (4.8).
  • Petrarchan paradoxes appear, for instance, in the reference to “living deaths, dear wounds, fair storms, and freezing fires” (6.3).
  • Pastoral language appears, for instance, in the reference to a “shepherd’s pipe” (6.7).
  • Similes appear in such phrases as “sun-like,” which is used to describe Stella’s beautiful eyes (7.8).
  • Imagery of colors appears in such phrases, for instance, as “Marble mix’d red and white do interlace” (9.8).
  • Anaphora, or beginning lines with the same word, appears, for instance, in 12.2-6.
  • Enjambment, or failing to use punctuation at the end of a line, appears, for instance, in 12.6-7.
  • Balanced syntax appears, for instance, in the statement, “When most I glory, then I feel most shame” (19.3).

This list could very easily be extended, but by now the point is clear: Sidney was a master of poetic and rhetorical devices, and he not only employed almost all of them but almost always employed them with great skill.