What is the explanation for sonnets 1 & 2 of Sidney's "Astrophel and Stella?"
In Sonnet 1, Sidney begins by remarking that he wishes to make known to Stella (Penelope) how much "pain" he suffers because of his love for her and thus hopes that she will "pity" him. He wished to gain her sympathy by using his poetic powers to the maximum extent possible "to paint the blackest face of woe" of his sufferings. To do this he tried to use the words and phrases of other poets who had experienced similar feelings and emotions, only to realise the ineffectiveness of such an approach. He compares his situation to that of a pregnant mother struggling at the point of childbirth, "helpless in my throes." Just then his poetic muse rebukes him and instructs him not seek the assistance of the writings of others but to look in to his own heart and express his own true feelings sincerely.
In Sonnet 2, Sidney explains in painstaking detail how he gradually fell in love with Stella and how much pain and suffering he is enduring because of it. He tells us that he did not fall in love with Stella "at first sight" but was grasdually charmed into doing so, "till by degrees it had full conquest got." Having fallen in love, he now regrets that he has lost all his personal freedom. He laments that all that he can now do is to write songs in "praise" of his wretched situation. He concludes by stating that even as he writes about his misery, he has to convince himself "that all is well."
Sonnet 1 is somewhat a sonnet on how to write a sonnet to Stella. 1st quatrain: He loves her, but he cannot find the words to tell her. He is "fain" (desirous) in his poem to show his love, and the "dear" (stella) might read his poems, discover he loves her, and feel pity for him and, therefore, he might obtain her grace" (favor). 2nd quatrain: He seeks the words to tell her and turns to "others' leaves" (He gets ideas from others.). He hopes some fresh ideas will flow from his "sunburned brain." The "sunburned brain" is symbolic in that it has been burned by the "sun" of Stella's beauty and by the brilliance of other poets' words.
Next is the turn--focus changes in 3rd quatrain: But! ideas left him--words were halting; his invention was lacking support; others' "feet" (their metrical feet--their words/poetry were "strangers"--not helping him. He is "great with child"--wanting to give birth, so to speak, to poetry for her. He is inthe throes of creation=labor pains.
Couplet: Figuratively, he is beating himself up for not being able to find ideas, etc. And then his Muse calls him a Fool and tells him to simply write from his heart!