What is the rhyme scheme of Sir Philip Sidney's "Sonnet 31"?
In the vast majority of his sonnets, Sir Philip Sidney adheres to the so-called "Petrarchan" sonnet form, named after its Italian originator Petrarch. This type of sonnet originated the fourteen-line iambic structure, and has the rhyme scheme ABBAABBA CDECDE. In this sonnet 31 from his "Astrophil and Stella" sequence, the most notable differing feature between it and the Petrarchan form of the others is that it concludes with a rhyming couplet, not a Petrarchan feature. You may remember that concluding with a rhyming couplet is a feature more commonly associated with the Shakespearean or "English" sonnet. However, Shakespeare's sonnets have a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, with effectively four quatrains and a rhyming couplet which usually brings what has come before to a conclusion.
In this sonnet 31 by Sir Philip Sidney, the poet brings his own twist to the sonnet form, using the entirely different rhyme scheme ABBA ABBA CDCD FF.
Sonnet 31 is probably one of Sir Philip Sidney's most famous poems. It is a wonderful sonnet, rich in apostrophe, with a very unique rhyme scheme in comparison to Shakespearean, Spenserian, or even Petrarchan sonnets.
The poem is as follows:
With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies!
How silently, and with how wan a face!
What, may it be that even in heavenly place
That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?
Sure, if that long with love-acquainted eyes
Can judge of love, thou feel'st a lover's case;
I read it in thy looks; thy languisht grace
To me that feel the like, thy state descries.
Then, even of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,
Is constant love deemed there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
Do they above love to be loved, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call virtue there, ungratefulness?
Someone sees the moon climbing in the sky at night, and he recognizes in its pale face the same love-sickness that he experiences. He thinks that even in the heights of the sky, Cupid's arrows are strong enough to reach the moon. Then, he becomes completely convinced that the moon is lovesick. He recognizes its appearance and attitude because they are the same appearance and attitude that he recognizes in himself. He then asks the moon questions what life and love are like upon its surface.
The rhyme scheme of the poem is:
A-B-B-A, A-B-B-A, C-D-C-D, E-E