What is an interpretation of Sonnet 74, "I never drank of Aganippe well," from Astrophil and Stella by Sir Philip Sidney?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This sonnet is similar to many other sonnets in the Astrophil and Stella sequence of sonnets, as it talks about and discusses the impact of love on the speaker and the way in which his Muse, Stella, has inspired him to capture in such perfect verse his feelings through the power of love. The poem begins by asserting how the speaker is nobody special who has any talent or significant experience that is different from your average layman. He has not visited any place where he might have received the gift of inspiration, and he defiantly states that he is "no pick-purse of another's wit." That is, he has not stolen his words from somebody else.

From where, therefore, does the speaker's skill in writing such effortless verse come from?:

How falls it then, that with so smooth an ease
My thoughts I speak, and what I speak doth flow
In verse, and that my verse best wits doth please?

After suggesting various possibilities, the speaker reveals all. His poetic skill comes from the inspiration of "Stella's kiss." His lips are sweet from that kiss, and it is this inspiration of love that has enabled him to craft such verse, even though he has so little else to recommend him.

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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Sidney's sonnet "74," like many of the sonnets in the Astrophil and Stella sequence, can be divided into two parts, split at 8, the first being an explanation of a problem, and the second part consisting of a solution to the problem.

In this sonnet, the poet affirms that he has never been near the Muses's well, Aganippe, or sat in Tempe's Valley where Apollo pursued Daphne.  What's worse, the poet describes himself as "Poor layman I, for sacred rites unfit," admitting that he doesn't even have the wits to be an effective poet.  He notes that he's heard of such things as poetic inspiration, but, again, he tells us  he has no idea what that is.  And he affirms that he is not one to steal someone else's words.

He asks himself, then, with all of the above being true, how is it that he can "speak my thoughts With such smooth ease" that his verse pleases his lover, whom he describes as "the most intelligent."  He then develops a clever dialogue in which he asks himself a number of questions:  is his skill due to one thing or is it due to another thing?

The answer, of course, is that his verses are acceptable because he's been inspired by Stella's kiss, giving her all the credit for his successful verses.

 

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