What is the tone of Sonnet 55 in the Astrophil and Stella cycle by Sir Philip Sidney?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Sonnet 55 of Sidney's Astrophil and Stella cycle has two tones. The first is a matter-of-fact tone while Astrophil speaks of his partnership with the Muses. The second is a love-struck tone as he speaks of his new partnership with his beloved, Stella. The poetic speaker is Astrophil, the poetic persona of Sir Philip Sidney, the sonneteer of the Astrophil and Stella sonnet cycle (also called a sequence).

The Muses are nine Greek deities who inspire poets and artists to beauty and art (Euterpe, Muse of lyric poetry). Astrophil declares that he has uttered poetic lines through the grace of the Muses who have turned his dark words to "sweet-skill array'd." He says he went "abroad a-foraging" until he found their inspiration. He further declares that now he will no longer seek the inspiration of the Muses (risking their wrath). This is all related in a matter-of-fact tone: it is straight forward and without emotion.

He declares next that instead he will unceasingly call upon Stella's name for inspiration:

But on her name incessantly to cry:

It is with this declaration that the tone changes to one of love-struck emotionality: he has stars in his eyes, so to speak, and they echo in his tone. In the couplet (lines 13 and 14), Astrophil explains the paradox of turning from the Muses to a mortal's name for inspiration by saying that the very sound of her name is more eloquent than anything else he has ever heard. His tone is that of a lofty dreamer's tone.

But now I mean no more your help to try,
Nor other sug’ring of my speech to prove,
But on her name incessantly to cry:
For let me but name her whom I do love
So sweet sounds straight mine ear and heart do hit,
That I well find no eloquence like it. (italics added)

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