Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Ring out your bells” is a poem about the subject of love. However, it is the hidden driving force of desire behind the various forms of love that Sidney explores through the filter of his own experiences and feelings. Sidney’s personal world included the political arena in Queen Elizabeth I’s court. There, he and others sought the monarch’s royal favor, which could give them government employment, financial rewards, or honors testifying to their worldly worth and virtue. Additionally, these courtiers courted noble patrons who could help arrange aristocratic marriages for them or help support their political, military, or literary endeavors. Sidney had direct experience with frustrated desires in his attempts to solicit more than temporary governmental or military appointments from Queen Elizabeth.

The flattering compliments of Petrarchan love sonnets aimed at courting a lady’s favors arise from the same ambitious urges of desire as the hyperboles (conscious exaggerations) used to court a queen or a noble. There is little difference between practices. Furthermore, when the Platonic lover suffers and rages about his mistress’s scorn and rejection of his worth and faithfulness, his misery underlines the desire behind his egoistic self-love. Feelings of worth, honor, and personal identity grow from the self-validation gained from recognition or reward for deeds accomplished. Human courtiers such as Sidney felt equally discouraged and frustrated...

(The entire section is 462 words.)