Astrophil and Stella

by Sir Philip Sidney

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What poetic devices are used in the 6th sonnet of Astrophil and Stella?

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Sonnet 6 of Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella features poetic devices like iambic hexameter, a deliberately variant rhyme scheme, playful diction including oxymorons, interesting imagery including poetic conceits, and mythological allusions.

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Sonnet 6 of Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella displays some interesting poetic features in the realms of meter, rhyme, diction, imagery, and mythology.

The sonnet is composed of fourteen lines of iambic hexameter. An iamb or iambic foot contains two syllables, one unstressed and one stressed. Hexameter means...

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that each line contains six feet, in this case iambs. Let's look at an example:

Of hopes begot by fear, of wot not what desires (line 2).

The stressed syllables are in bold. We can see the iambic pattern, unstressed followed by stressed syllables, repeated six times.

While Sidney's meter is quite regular, his rhyme scheme is rather odd for a sonnet. If we assign each rhyme it own letter, the fourteen lines give us the pattern ABABBABA CCDEED. The A rhyme appears in lines 1, 3, 6, and 8 with entertain, pain, rain, and vein. The B rhyme ends lines 2, 4, 5, and 7 with desires, fires, attires, and retires. The C, D, and E rhymes appear twice each, in lines 9 and 10 with affords and words; in lines 11 and 14 with move and love; and in lines 12 and 13 with they and display. This is not a standard sonnet rhyme pattern, yet the poet's choice here actually reflects the message of his poem. He is writing about how he cannot express his love for Stella in a normal fashion. He must be different from other poets, and so he is, even in his choice of a rhyme scheme.

Sidney also seeks to be different, and rather playful, in his poetic diction, his choice of words. Look at line 4: Ofliving deaths, dear wounds, fair storms and freezing fires. These four adjective-noun combinations are prime examples of the oxymoron, the combination of contradictory words or images. We would not normally associate living with deaths, dear with wounds, fair with storms, or freezing with fires, yet Sidney does. He wants his readers to think about how these seemingly opposite ideas actually fit together to express an interesting image.

Speaking of imagery, Sidney provides plenty of that in Sonnet 6 as well, especially poetic conceits, metaphors that compare dissimilar things. In fact, the entire sonnet makes fun of the standard conceits that poets use to praise their lovers. In line 3, Sidney speaks of “force of heavenly beams” and “hellish pain.” In lines 7 and 8, the poet refers to the pastoral images often used in sonnets, suggesting perhaps that these are somewhat silly and even false, for the “rural vein,” the pastoral images and words, is really filled with “royal blood,” or upper-class city dwellers. In lines 10 and 11, he pokes a bit at the sad poet who gushes sweetly to his love,

While tears pour out his ink, and sighs breath out his words,
His paper pale dispair, and pain his pen doth move.

Notice the images: ink like tears, words breathed out like sighs, paper pale as despair, and a pen moved by pain. Yet the poet says that these do not apply to him. His “map” for expressing his love for Stella is again quite different.

Finally, Sidney makes use of mythological allusions in this sonnet. He mentions Muses in the first line, those spirits who inspire poets in their art. In lines 5 and 6, he refers to poets who speak of the god Jove's rather unorthodox means of making love to human women, taking the form of bulls, swans, or golden rain. Most readers in Sidney's day would have been familiar with these myths, so the mere allusion to them would have recalled the full story. Yet the poet claims that these old tales, too, fall short to express his love for Stella, even as he employs a wide range of delightful poetic devices to create his own sonnet.

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What are the poetic devices used in the 6th sonnet of Astrophil and Stella?

In this sonnet, Sidney's poetic devices include anaphora, antithesis, alliteration, and allusion, along with metaphor.

Anaphora occurs when repeated lines of poetry begin with the same word or words. This creates a sense of litany. Sidney uses anaphora when he repeats "of" as the first word of three lines in a row:

Of hopes

Of force

Of living deaths

In antithesis, a poet juxtaposes or puts together opposites. Sidney does this to emphasize how the joys and agonies of love can be intertwined. For example he speaks of love as both heavenly and hellish: "heav’nly beams, infusing hellish pain". He also uses a series of antitheses to express the conflicting emotional tumults love causes: "dear [cherished] wounds, fair storms, and freezing fires."

Sidney adds emphasis to the antithesis of love as both heavenly and hellish by using the alliterative "h" sound at the beginning of both words to bring emphasis to those terms. He uses alliteration too as he repeats "p" sounds in:

His paper pale despair, and pain his pen ...

Sidney employs metaphor when he compares his trembling voice declaring his love of Stella to a "map."

Finally, allusion, which is reference to other literary works, is interwoven throughout the sonnet. For example, he writes of poets who pen verses about love that are:

Broidered with bulls and swans, powdered with golden rain;

All of these are allusions to Zeus's so-called love affairs: Zeus abducts Europa in the form of a bull; he disguises himself as a swan to rape Leda, and he appears to Danae as a golden rain.

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Which literary techniques appear in some of the poems from Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella sonnet sequence?

Astrophil and Stella is a sonnet sequence by Sir Philip Sidney that contains over one hundred sonnets. It is thought that the figure of Astrophil, the speaker, represents Sidney himself and that Stella is a stand-in for Penelope Devereaux, a woman with whom Sidney had a relationship but who ended up marrying another man. We see traditional sonnet form and complex emotions (related to unrequited love) that we would expect in this poems. Sidney also uses apostrophe and figurative language in many of his works. I will isolate just a few of the sonnets as examples: Sonnets 1, 30, and 39.

Sonnet 1 serves as an introduction to the sonnet sequence and encapsulates Astrophil's feelings for Stella. The structure of the poem describes a process, wherein Astrophil will pour out his soul to Stella, that she "might take some pleasure of my pain" (line 2). Here we see the complex feelings often described in sonnets: there is pleasure because the speaker loves the subject and thinks she is beautiful, but he cannot be with her, so it is also painful to love her. Here, he reverses that a bit by saying that if he is in pain, he at least hopes that she will get some pleasure from reading about it. This could also be considered an example of irony. It could also be considered ironic that the speaker's goal is Stella's "pity" (4), rather than her love.

Astrophil goes on to discuss all of the methods he has tried to produce poetry that might please Stella. He uses metaphor when he says that he spent time "turning others' leaves, to see if thence would flow / Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburn'd brain" (7-8). The "leaves" refer to other poets' works, which he has looked to for inspiration. He wants his brain to be watered, or inspired, by the "fruitful showers" of other poets, which might lead him to new, "fresh" ideas. Ultimately, in Sonnet 1, Astrophil realizes that he must be true to himself. He quotes the figurative "Muse" in the final line, who tells him to listen to his own heart and look inside himself for inspiration.

Sonnets 30 and 39 are more similar to each other in their style and techniques than the introductory sonnet is to them. Both sonnets begin with apostrophe, a poetic address to an entity that is either nonhuman or not present to respond to the speaker. Sonnet 30 sees Astophil addressing the moon in the line, "With how sad steps, O moon, thou climb’st the skies!" (1). He is reflecting on the moon's figurative "sad" tone and addressing the moon directly.

Apostrophe also lends itself to personification, as the speaker is treating the given entity as a person to whom he can speak. Here, the moon is given a "wan . . . face" (2) in addition to it's "sad steps." Sonnet 30 sees the speaker asking the moon a series of questions about love on the moon, wondering whether lovers there are as luckless and downtrodden as he. The conversational questions establish a rapport between the speaker and the moon, as he imagines their commonalities. The questioning gives the speaker a tone of helplessness and desparation, enhanced by the fact that he is addressing his queries to the moon rather than some human friend.

In Sonnet 39, the speaker addresses sleep, an abstract concept, through apostrophe.  His address to sleep is an entreaty: "Come Sleep!" (1). He is begging sleep to visit him. He then goes on to describe sleep through a series of metaphors that compare sleep to "peace" (1), "balm," (2), and "release" (3). He sees sleep as an "indifferent judge" (4) who visits every man, regardless of how miserable he may (as Astrophil, indeed, is). He further personifies sleep by imagining it as a physical protector, carrying a "shield" (5) that protects him from figurative "darts" (6) being painfully hoisted at him. Imagery is then used to describe a peaceful sleep chamber in lines 9-11. We learn at the end of the poem that the speaker is desparate to sleep because it provides him an escape from his thoughts of Stella. 

All three poems are sonnets of 14 lines with a rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter. All of the poems contain a poetic turn or shift, as required by sonnet structure. Figurative language is also present in all of the poems. 

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Which literary techniques appear in some of the poems from Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella sonnet sequence?

Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella is a collection or sequence of sonnets and other poems that tell the story of Astrophil’s foolish obsession with the beautiful Stella. 108 sonnets appear in the sequence (not to mention various “songs”). Over the course of the sequence, Sidney employs just about every common literary technique used in English (and even some that are not so common). Examples include the following:

  • In sonnet 1, Astrophil describes himself as

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show

That she (dear She) might take some pleasure of my pain:

Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,

Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain . . . .

Note here the use of repetition for emphasis, as in “she (dear She)” and also in the repeated nouns (such as “pleasure). Note also the use of an emphatic list (“pleasure,” “reading,” “knowledge,” and “pity”). Assonance and alliteration appear together in such phrases as “she, (dear She),” while assonance appears by itself in such phrases as “grace obtain” and alliteration appears by itself in such phrases as “might make.” Heavily accented first syllables appear at the very beginnings of lines 1, 2, and 4.

Examples of other techniques that appear in later poems include the following:

  • Political or historical allusion appears, for instance, in the reference to a “slave-born Muscovite” (2.10).
  • Classical allusion appears, for instance, in the reference to the muses as the “Sisters nine” (3.1). See also almost the whole of poem 13.
  • Geographical allusion appears, for instance, in the reference to “Inde or Afric” (3.7).
  • Personification appears, for instance, in the reference to “Nature” (3.14).
  • Metaphor appears, for instance, when Astrophil compares himself to a horse and tells a personified Virtue that “My mouth too tender is for they hard bit” (4.8).
  • Petrarchan paradoxes appear, for instance, in the reference to “living deaths, dear wounds, fair storms, and freezing fires” (6.3).
  • Pastoral language appears, for instance, in the reference to a “shepherd’s pipe” (6.7).
  • Similes appear in such phrases as “sun-like,” which is used to describe Stella’s beautiful eyes (7.8).
  • Imagery of colors appears in such phrases, for instance, as “Marble mix’d red and white do interlace” (9.8).
  • Anaphora, or beginning lines with the same word, appears, for instance, in 12.2-6.
  • Enjambment, or failing to use punctuation at the end of a line, appears, for instance, in 12.6-7.
  • Balanced syntax appears, for instance, in the statement, “When most I glory, then I feel most shame” (19.3).

This list could very easily be extended, but by now the point is clear: Sidney was a master of poetic and rhetorical devices, and he not only employed almost all of them but almost always employed them with great skill.

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What are the literary devices found in the first sonnet of Philip Sydney's Astrophil and Stella?

The first, and most well-known, sonnet of Philip Sydney's sonnet sequence, Astrophil and Stella, uses many different literary devices. The most obvious is meter. The poem is written in iambic hexameter. It is also uses the device of rhyme, specifically the form of an English sonnet, rhymed  abab abab cdcdee, with the interesting pattern of assonance between the a and d and b and c rhymes.

It uses anadiplosis (cause her read, reading might), and gradatio (Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know, Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain). It uses polyptoton (loving … love; know … knowledge; read … reading). It also uses alliteration in several places  (fresh and fruitful; burned brain).

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