What is Sir Philip Sidney trying to say in Sonnet 71 of the "Astrophil and Stella" series?
Who will in fairest book of nature know
How virtue may best lodg'd in beauty be,
Let him but learn of love to read in thee,
Stella, those fair lines which true goodness show.
There shall he find all vices' overthrow,
Not by rude force, but sweetest sovereignty
Of reason, from whose light those night-birds fly;
That inward sun in thine eyes shineth so.
And, not content to be perfection's heir
Thyself, dost strive all minds that way to move,
Who mark in thee what is in thee most fair.
So while thy beauty draws thy heart to love,
As fast thy virtue bends that love to good:
But "Ah," Desire still cries, "Give me some food!"
The names Astrophil and Stella mean "Star-lover" and "Star," respectively. Scholars believe that Sidney wrote this series of poems for Penelope Devereux, with whom he may have had an affair.
In most of Sonnet 71, the lover Astrophil praises his lady's beauty and her virtues. But the last line lets us know that beauty and virtue are not enough for him. His desire cries out for food. This is a euphemism for sex. It is all good and well that she is so pretty and so good, but his sexual desire needs to be fed!