Dr. D. B. Gavani
Astrophil and Stella – Philip Sidney
The names Astrophil and Stella mean Star-lover and Star, suggesting the impossibility of their union because of the distance between them
The sequence, which like all Renaissance sequences is not a realistic autobiography, is about a man, Astrophil who is attracted to and in pursuit of a married woman, called Stella. On stealing a first kiss from Stella whilst she is asleep the male protagonist worries about her reaction lest she should find out, but later on chides himself for not taking advantage of the situation. He then goes on to recount how he is filled with hopes one minute and despair the next, whilst trying in vain to pursue her. In constantly being refused, he feels angered and offends her but does not wait too long before trying to seduce her yet again. After a few more refusals he is moved to desperation, evoking his misery in the last few sonnets.
In the opening sonnet Sidney explains how he painfully resorted to every aid to compose his sequence, 'oft turning others' leaves' but that his impotence grew to a climax whereby it dawned on him to 'look in thy heart and write.' In writing about how to compose a love sonnet he did just that and what formed itself on the page before him was pure spontaneous feeling. However it is apparent that the hero is a combination of both the besotted lover and the self-critical poet. His emotional conflicts increase as he grows aware of his sexual needs despite his knowing that he is ultimately a product of Protestant training and needs to restrain his longings. It is a perpetual war of desire against reason and nature against nurture. Moreover he knows that no matter how much he craves for Stella it is a lost battle already and this is where the endless laments emerge. This incessant interplay of opposing forces that is of paradoxes is also considered an essential part of the sonnet structure.
The impossibility of their union reflected in the title is reinforced in the sequence. Astrophil is adept at colouring a dark and sombre picture of his love life as, whilst his starlit stage has indeed become dark and dangerous, Stella's eyes which he calls, 'nature's chiefest work' are also black, 'sweet black which vailes the heav'nly eye.' The recurring metaphor of blackness is a result of his increasing preoccupations and he broods over the fact that his once starlit world seems none other than his own living hell. The Christian opposition of heaven and hell is evident from the verse in sonnet 2, 'No doome should make one's heav'n become his hell.' Whilst the word 'doome' suggests the speaker's Christian damnation, it is nothing more than Stella's rebuttal.
Astrophil's obsession with conquering Stella is further amplified when he invokes Morpheus, the son of Somnus, god of sleep who appears to dreamers in human shape and who will therefore bring Stella with him. He cannot bank on meeting Stella in the waking world, so he succumbs to and relies on the world of sleep even though he is well aware of its artifice.
Sidney's sequence also reverberates with one of Homer's epics. It has been suggested that the 108 sonnets represent the 108 suitors in Homer's Penelope, who played a game of trying to hit a stone called the Penelope stone as a way of deciding who would win and court her. Just as the wooers banked on their fate pathetically and were aware of disappointment, so is Astrophil embarking on the same painful and disappointing journey.
Astrophil presents Stella as his sun, which lights his world and warms his spirits yet as is always the case he finds a downside to this, saying that, moreover, 'it burnes', concluding in the couplet that 'that my sunne go downe with meeker beames to bed.' It is evident that he wants these burning beams to become meeker, really referring to Stella's meekness or rather submission to him in bed. The frequent use of sexual allusions is used in the sequence to portray the problematic nature of Astrophil's paradoxical obsession as he craves for her love but for her sex too.
In the first sonnet of Astrophel and Stella, Astrophel begins the sonnet with why he is writing the sonnet. He says that “fain in verse my love to show” so his motivation for writing this sonnet is to appeal to a woman. Astrophel uses strong diction such as “pleasure” and “pain”. Using these two strong opposing words, it emphasizes his point that she will get pleasure if he is in pain. His use of strong diction also demonstrates that he is emotionally appealing to the reader or using pathos. He wants the reader to feel pity for him because his lover will not listen to him unless he is in pain. However he hopes that his pain will cause her to want to read the sonnet when he says “knowledge might pity win.” There is a shift in his feelings from being frustrated and hurt to hopeful. But then he switches back to being discouraged because he does not know what he should write. He describes his words as “halting forth.” He does not know how to express the pain he is in. At the end of the sonnet he says he will write from his heart, “look in thy heart and write.” This phrase sets up the rest of series of sonnets because it is the reason he is writing the sonnets. He decides the only way to write the sonnet is not to worry about what he is writing but to just write from his heart. The phrase also presents his final decision. Throughout the sonnet, Astrophel debates whether he should just write from his heart or to be careful about what he writes. He does not want his writing to be criticized so he is afraid to write his true feelings.
The author opens this first sonnet by explaining his motivation for composing the sonnet sequence. He believes that if his love were to read the sonnets, she would eventually return his affection. He argues that her pleasure in his pain would cause her to read his sonnets, and her reading of the sonnets would allow her to know the extent of his affection, which might make her pity the author's situation-and this pity may transform into grace and love.
One Day I Wrote Her Name – Edmund Spenser
This lyric poem touches on a classical theme: the relation between time and immortality. Edmund Spenser employs figurative language to evoke not only imagery but also an emotional response from the reader.
The poem shows us a vivid picture: the couple is along the seaside, the man is trying to write the lady’s name on the sand, but waves come and wash it away. Then he writes again, but all in vain. The lady persuades him to give up and says that as time passes, she will also die just as the name wiped out by tide. But the man holds a different point of view: He believes his verses will make her immortal.
Spenser metaphorically compares tide rising and falling to the process of life. Also, in the sentence “But came the tyde, and made my paynes his pray”, the poet personifies the seawater to a beast and compares the “name” to “his pray”, which implies that time and tide wait for no man, and that everyone is doomed to die. The lady in this poem feels insecure about time fleeting, while the man insists on “our love shall live, and later life renew”.
Does anything in the world last? After I read the poem, I ask myself this question spontaneously. Almost everything has been changing, for instance, personality、thought、emotion、values，and so on and so forth. So sometimes I even feel that making a promise just like joking, because no one can be certain of never changing.
However, writing is different. Many people get used to keeping a dairy, because no matter how many years have passed, the feelings reflecting at the moment recorded on the notebook will never fade away. Just as the poet who not merely writes his lovers name on the sand but also in his poem. Even though the name on the sand is wiped away by the tide, the name in the poem is still there, which become an eternity.
In this poem Edmund Spenser uses the poetic elements of quatrains, couplets, and a sestet at the end. In the poem the quatrains transition into couplets. The first stanza is a quatrain. The rhyme scheme is ABAB. The speaker uses imagery to convey his feelings for his wife. The speaker is on a beach writing the name of his lover on the sand. It was washed away by the tide. Then he attempted to write it again, but the tide washed it away. He feels that the ocean is taunting him and making him suffer. The water is personified as someone who inflicts pain on the speaker. His wife steps in to tell the speaker that he needs to stop what he is doing and is vain for his efforts. The second stanza is a quatrain with the rhyme scheme of ABAB. His wife says that it is that of mortals to attempt to immortalize that which isn’t in existence any longer. His wife compares herself to the vain attempt of immortality and says that she will “wash away” just like her name was washed away by the tide. The last stanza is a sestet. The rhyme scheme is ABABCC. The speaker doesn’t believe that to be true. He feels that others things should die but she should be able to live forever. Even if death occurs and she does die, she will live forever in infamy. The fame will live on forever in place of her demise. He thinks that what he feels about her and that her values shall live for eternity. Even if his wife dies he feels that she is up in heaven where she belongs. Everyone in the world will eventually have to die. The love between the speaker and his lover shall flourish and begin anew when he comes and meets her in heaven. In this poem it exemplifies the hero journey stage of “The Return.” In the poem the main character has to return to a place where he feels closest to his wife. The beach is a symbol of where the speaker feels most comfortable and at peace. The speaker can let his feelings out and truly express himself.
Shall I Compare Thee – William Shakespeare
The speaker opens the poem with a question addressed to the beloved: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The next eleven lines are devoted to such a comparison. In line 2, the speaker stipulates what mainly differentiates the young man from the summer’s day: he is “more lovely and more temperate.” Summer’s days tend toward extremes: they are shaken by “rough winds”; in them, the sun (“the eye of heaven”) often shines “too hot,” or too dim. And summer is fleeting: its date is too short, and it leads to the withering of autumn, as “every fair from fair sometime declines.” The final quatrain of the sonnet tells how the beloved differs from the summer in that respect: his beauty will last forever (“Thy eternal summer shall not fade...”) and never die. In the couplet, the speaker explains how the beloved’s beauty will accomplish this feat, and not perish because it is preserved in the poem, which will last forever; it will live “as long as men can breathe or eyes can see.”
This sonnet is certainly the most famous in the sequence of Shakespeare’s sonnets; it may be the most famous lyric poem in English. Among Shakespeare’s works, only lines such as “To be or not to be” and “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” are better-known. This is not to say that it is at all the best or most interesting or most beautiful of the sonnets; but the simplicity and loveliness of its praise of the beloved has guaranteed its place.
On the surface, the poem is simply a statement of praise about the beauty of the beloved; summer tends to unpleasant extremes of windiness and heat, but the beloved is always mild and temperate. Summer is incidentally personified as the “eye of heaven” with its “gold complexion”; the imagery throughout is simple and unaffected, with the “darling buds of May” giving way to the “eternal summer”, which the speaker promises the beloved. The language, too, is comparatively unadorned for the sonnets; it is not heavy with alliteration or assonance, and nearly every line is its own self-contained clause—almost every line ends with some punctuation, which effects a pause.
This sonnet is the first poem in the sonnets not to explicitly encourage the young man to have children. The “procreation” sequence of the first 17 sonnets ended with the speaker’s realization that the young man might not need children to preserve his beauty; he could also live, the speaker writes at the end of Sonnet 17, “in my rhyme.” Sonnet 18, then, is the first “rhyme”—the speaker’s first attempt to preserve the young man’s beauty for all time. An important theme of the sonnet (as it is an important theme throughout much of the sequence) is the power of the speaker’s poem to defy time and last forever, carrying the beauty of the beloved down to future generations. The beloved’s “eternal summer” shall not fade precisely because it is embodied in the sonnet: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,” the speaker writes in the couplet, “So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”
When in Disgrace in Men’s Eyes – William Shakespeare
Sonnet 29 shows the poet at his most insecure and troubled. He feels unlucky, shamed, and fiercely jealous of those around him. What causes the poet's anguish will remain a mystery; as will the answer to whether the sonnets are autobiographical.
However, an examination of Shakespeare’s life around the time he wrote Sonnet 29 reveals two traumatic events that may have shaped the theme of the sonnet. In 1592 the London theatres closed due to a severe outbreak of plague. Although it is possible that Shakespeare toured the outlying areas of London, it is almost certain that he left the theatre entirely during this time to work on his sonnets and narrative poems. The closing of the playhouses made it hard for Shakespeare and other actors of the day to earn a living. With plague and poverty looming it is expected that he would feel "in disgrace with fortune" (1).
Moreover, in 1592 there came a scathing attack on Shakespeare by dramatist Robert Greene, who, in a deathbed diary (A Groats-worth of Wit), warned three of his fellow university-educated playwrights: "There is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you; and, beeing an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his owne conceit the only Shakescene in a countrey."
One can only imagine what grief this assault – this deathbed assault – must have caused Shakespeare. Greene was nothing if not thorough: first, using a line from Shakespeare’s own 3 Henry VI (1.4.138), he describes Shakespeare as a pompous, scheming, vicious ingrate, riding the coattails of better writers (no doubt Shakespeare performed in a play Greene had himself written; then he adds that Shakespeare was a conceited ("only Shakescene") and insignificant jack of all trades (a "Johannes factotum").
Greene lets even more insults fly as he continues: "O that I might intreat your rare wits to be imploied in more profitable courses: & let those Apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions, for it is pity men of such rare wits should be subject to the pleasures of such rude groomes." 1
It seems very possible such events are connected to the poet’s distressed declaration in line 8: "With what I most enjoy contented least."
All is not lost, however, for the sonnet ends with a positive affirmation that the poet can combat his anguish with the "sweet love" (13) of his dear friend.
The emotional state of the speaker in Sonnet 29 is one of depression: in the first line, he assumes himself to be "in disgrace with fortune," meaning he has been having bad luck. He also feels in disgrace with "men's eyes," implying that the general public looks on him unfavorably. This could be real or imagined, but it is enforced in line 2, when he bemoans his "outcast state." Here, "state" refers to a state of being, and in this case, he is cast out from society.
Lines 3-4 make allusion to Job of the Old Testament in the Bible, who was cast out onto a dung heap and called to a God who didn't listen. The poet finds himself in the same situation: Heaven personified is God, and in this case he is "deaf," making the poet's cries "bootless," or useless. The idea of cursing one's fate also hearkens to Job, who cursed himself after falling out of God's favor.
The speaker finds himself envying what others have, and in lines 5-9 he sees almost everyone as having something he lacks. He wishes to be like "one more rich in hope," perhaps meaning hopeful or literally wealthy; "featured like him," refers to someone who is handsome, with beautiful features; and another is "with friends possessed," or popular, unlike the poet (as has been established in the first two lines). In line 7, he envies the artistic talent of one man, and the opportunities afforded someone else.
The simile of a lark is developed in lines 10-12, when the speaker describes the effect that a thought of his love has on his "state," or emotional well-being. The fact that the lark rises from the "sullen earth" at "break of day" implies that the day is much happier than the night; day break is compared to the dawning of a thought of the beloved. As the lark "sings hymns at heaven's gate," so the poet's soul is invigorated with the thought of the fair lord, and seems to sing to the sky with rejuvenated hope.
The final couplet of Sonnet 29 declares that this joyfulness brought about by a thought of the fair lord is enough to convince the speaker that he is better off than royalty. Here, "state" is a pun: it carries the meaning of emotional well-being, as it did earlier in the poem, and suggests that the love of the fair lord makes the speaker so happy that all the wealth of a king would not be better. But it also refers to a nation, or a kingdom.
To Celia – Ben Jonson
To Celia is a love poem with a simple four line rhyme scheme (abcbabcb), written in first person. The overall tone of the poem is dreamy, optimistic, persistent, and gullibly innocent. The rhythm is smooth, and pensive, and seems to fall into an iambic pentameter. The poem gives the reader an intimate sense of this man’s love, and obsession for the woman of his desire, Celia. I interpreted this poem as having a theme of lost love. I imagined that Celia is his ex-lover, he still is in love with her, and wants her to come back to him.
In the first stanza, the strong feelings he has for her are expressed metaphorically by comparing his love to drinking wine, and Jove’s Nectar, an elixir for immortality. He is intoxicated by her, and can’t live without her. In the first line “Drink to me, only with thine eyes And I will pledge with mine”, he is asking Celia to look at him with her eyes, and tell him she still loves him, he will in turn promise himself to her. “Or leave a kiss but in the cup And I\'ll not look for wine” meaning If that is too much to ask, at least show him in some way that she still cares for him, and that will as least satisfy him. “The thirst that from the soul doth rise Doth ask a drink divine”, the desire and love he has for her is burning deep inside of him, and he needs her. “But might I of Jove\'s nectar sup I would not change for thine”, meaning he cannot live without her. If he were given the gift of immortality, he would not take it just to be with her.
A wreath is a symbol of eternity, in the second stanza, he expresses eternal love for her by metaphorically comparing it to the rosy wreath. I believe the wreath also may represent an apology. In the first line of the second stanza, “I sent thee late a rosy wreath Not so much honoring thee”, I believe he is talking about the mistakes he made. He used the word late, implying that he was too late showing her his eternal love for her, and is now not able to have her, honoring being another word for having. “As giving it a hope that there It could not withered be”, he is telling her he loves her hoping their love is not lost. “But thou thereon didst only breath And sent\'st it back to me”, she doesn’t want to listen to him anymore, takes a deep breath or sigh, and does not accept his apology. “Since, when it grows and smells, I swear, Not of itself but thee”, No matter what happens, I will always love you, and a piece of you will always be with me.
Some techniques used in this poem are Alliteration, the use of metaphors, personification, irony, hyperbole, and possibly allegory. Alliteration can be identified in this poem by the words that are stressed such as (highlighted in green above) in the first stanza, stresses are placed on Drink, cup, kiss, and divine. Metaphors were used to describe his love for Celia, such as drinking the wine, the elixir of eternal life, and the rosy wreath. Personification is used in personifying Celia’s eyes, as if they could speak, and the thirst takes on a human quality of rising, and asking for a drink. I thought irony was present when Celia sent the wreath back, or denied his apology. The man disregarded this action, and continued with his protest of love for her. I think hyperbole was used a lot in this poem. For example the entire poem seems to be a hyperbole. It is extremely exaggerated, and in particular, the lines “But might I of Jove\'s nectar sup I would not change for thine”, and “Since, when it grows and smells, I swear, Not of itself but thee.” The images are unrealistic, and cannot be taken literally. I thought allegory can be identified in this poem, because if you read through the poem once, you may just interpret a man courting a woman, and the woman literally returning his gift to him, not acknowledging him. However I felt that these two people were at once very close. They loved each other, and the man did something that caused them to break up. He still is madly in love with her, and would do anything to get her back. He apologizes to her, but it is not enough. The literal meaning is obvious, but the symbolic meaning of the poets word choices lead to my interpretation. I believe three main important concepts that influence the entire poems message would be word choice, tone, and symbols.
Word choice is important in this poem, because the words used give the reader a detailed understanding of what the poet is trying to say. The words also create the imagery of the poem, and set up the meaning of the symbols used throughout. For example the whole first stanza is surrounded by words that are related to drinking wine, such as drink, cup, wine, thirst, and nectar. The words make it easy for the reader to determine that he is comparing the love he has for Celia to drinking wine, and the nectar of Jove’s. Her love is intoxicating, and worth more than anything to him. In the second stanza, the word choice I noticed was more important. The words late, rosy wreath, honouring, withered, breath, grows, smell, and swear, to me all had in depth meaning. For example late lead me to believe he had made a mistake. Rosy wreath suggested eternal love, and an apology. Honouring took on the meaning of having. Withered reminded me of dyeing, and lost love. Breath implied her presence, and disapproval. Grows, tells the reader that his love for her has only gotten stronger. Smell implies a sense of lingering, as if her essence is still all around him. Swear implies a promise to oneself, and he promises to always love her.
The tone of the poem I described as dreamy, optimistic, persistent, and gullibly innocent. I think this tone is important in getting the poets mood across to the reader. The rhythm of the poem contributes to the tone because it is smooth and pensive. The poem is read in a smooth whimsical way, and slightly imploring. I thought it was dreamy because of the flowery language used, and the whimsical way it read through. Optimistic because he is hopeful that Celia still loves him, persistent, because he goes into length describing his love, and gullibly innocent, because even though it is clear Celia wants nothing to do with him anymore, he still holds onto the love he has for her.
The symbols I thought were interesting, and really led me to discovering an underlying meaning to this poem. Examples of the symbol used in this poem are the eyes, Jove’s Nectar, the rosy wreath, and Celia’s breath. When the poet opens with mentioning thine eyes, it symbolizes that they are close, and he knows what she is feeling without her speaking. The eyes create intimacy in the poem. Jove’s Nectar symbolizes immortality, and his love. His love will never die for her. The rosy wreath symbolizes eternity, on how he will love her forever, and also I believe the wreath serves as a symbol for the apology he is giving her. Celia’s breath symbolizes her release from him. She does not take him in, but exhales. This symbolizes her rejecting him. I think these symbols were very influential in the way I interpreted this poem.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed this poem, and digging into its underlying meaning. At first I found the language very hard to follow, and read it so many times I now have it memorized. I researched other people’s thoughts online, and realized that I had taken a different perspective on the poem compared to other reviews. I always find it interesting to see how differently people think, and how the meanings of these poems take life in the individual depending on their own experiences.
My Sweetest Lesbia – Thomas Campion
Thomas Campion belongs to that fascinating tradition of medically-trained poets, the analysis of which deserves a book rather than a blog. He was born in London in 1567, left Cambridge without a degree, briefly studied law, but ultimately graduated from the University of Caen with an MD. After practising medicine in London he later returned to the continent as a gentleman-soldier. He is believed to have died of the plague in London in 1620.
The Romance languages he heard and read must surely have contributed to the training of his poetic "ear". He was not simply a melodist but an experimenter; part of the poetic movement which was then seeking to adapt quantitative measure to the English line. All the same, he is rightly considered to be the most flawless lyricist of the Elizabethan poets. No lutenist or madrigal choir is needed: his "airs" sing from the page. He was himself a composer and he collaborated with other composers. In his Preface to the Reader from P Rossiter's 1601 Book of Ayres, he declared "What epigrams are in poetry, the same are airs in music, then in their chief perfection when they were short." Within the relative brevity, and alongside the mellifluous cadence, Campion does more than make music: he shows us nuanced, often painful, always convincing human emotions. His poetry is the lute on which "passion" plays. As he says in "Corinna", "For when of pleasure she does sing, / My thoughts enjoy a sudden spring; / But if she doth of sorrow speak, / Even from my heart the strings do break."
This week's poem, "My Sweetest Lesbia", is sometimes described as a translation. Its inspiration is the Latin poet Catullus's poem, Carmen V, which begins "Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus". Campion opens, more or less, with Catullus's first six lines. But his goal is to turn the poem into a song – a strophic song with a refrain. He soon departs from the Latin. Catullus's erotic crescendo ("Give me a thousand kisses, then another hundred / then another thousand, then a second hundred … ") completely disappears. Instead, Campion takes from the Latin poem the antithetical ideas of brief light and never-ending night, and weaves them into a refrain, delicately varied at each appearance.
Delicacy is the key to this poem. Campion's lines are not typically uniform, and the beauty of his rhythm often lies in the variation of line-length. However, within this poem's uniform lines, his syntax creates similarly graceful, if lighter, pauses. The iambic pentameter treads on tiptoe. Delicacy for Campion is not wafty poetic fragility, but a habit of mind – shown in the wit and tact which move him delightfully to turn Catullus's "senum" ("old men") into "the sager sort". But admittedly the poem's tone is on the sombre side: if Carmen V was a Song of Innocence, this is a Song of Experience.
I don't suppose "My Sweetest Lesbia" has even been included in an anti-war anthology, but it embodies a pacifist statement: it pits the hedonist's sensible and simple argument against "fools" who "waste their little light / And seek with pain the ever-during night". Campion, we remember, knew battlefields first-hand, and, as a doctor, he may well have closed the eyes of the dead.
The conclusion is hardly straightforward. Is the speaker asking Lesbia to close his eyes and then kiss him? Is it her memory of him that will "crown" his love? The "little light" seems full of possible metaphor, too. That Arcadian image of the celebrating lovers and their "sweet pastimes" at the tomb-side seems to take a graceful turn from artifice into generous humanity. The speaker is giving life and love permission to continue without him – and possibly to continue for Lesbia.
It is Campion's wonderful art to be seriously playful. Catullus is playful, too, but more intense; the Elizabethan keeps lusty defiance in check. "My Sweetest Lesbia" is only partly a carpe diem poem. It moves us because it celebrates love without begging or bragging, and because of the pathos of its minor key; its unconsoled, recurring awareness of that "ever-during night".