d StellaSir Phillip Sidney’s Sonnet # 47 from Astrophil and Stella
The sonnet is a short concise form of writing and it takes a great mind to master it. By mastering it, I mean to be able to say so much in what seems like so little space. Sir Phillip Sidney comes as close to mastering it as anyone else in his time or any other does.
As the opening line says, this is about a betrayal. Strangely enough, the last line of the sonnet ends with a word that is the very essence of betrayal. The sonnet ends with the word, lie. This would cause one to expect to get an explanation of the betrayal between the first and last lines.
This appears to be a story of both love and betrayal. In the sonnet, it is love that betrays. The narrator opens the sonnet with a question to himself. He wants to know if he has betrayed his own liberty or his freedom. The next three lines of this quatrain use imagery of slavery. The narrator is struggling in knowing if he were born free or if he were born a slave to this love. He raises a question in the closing line of the quatrain, if anyone can handle the confines of love and the boundaries it seems to place on a person.
The first quatrain uses such dark imagery that for Americans today brings up thoughts of the Civil War. The fact is, slavery as Americans today think of it was not around in Sidney’s time. He wrote Astrophil and Stella around three hundred years before the Civil War. Also, the way Sidney lays out the first quatrain is peculiar. A single line that is not indented is placed, followed by a couplet that Sidney indents, which is then followed by the last line that is not indented.
The same format is used in the next quatrain as well. In this quatrain, the imagery is still dark but shifts from slavery to more of personal feelings. The narrator is questioning whether he wants to have sense enough to feel the misery that he is in. In the second, line is questions whether he wants the spirit to show that he despises his love. He has wanted her for a long time and he is in misery without her, he is in this deep misery and the only thing he has is his despise for begging.
The third quatrain is different from the first two in its format. The first line is indented and the other three are not. This would cause one to think that this line is set apart for a reason. The first two words say why, it is an exclamation to wake up. It is meant to stand out much like a mother coming into a child’s room and yelling wake up very early in the morning. Here, the narrator is telling Virtue within himself to awake. He wants to do the right thing. He realizes that although this girl is beautiful, he does not love her and he must let her go. It is not fair to hold on to someone in a relationship or in the words of the first quatrain, keep someone a slave to you, if you do not love them. This is a commentary from over four hundred years ago that is still true in relationships today. Today, people will date or stay together in an unhealthy relationship for stupid reasons or superficial reasons and either one or both of the people do not love the other.
The last couplet, the closing lines of the sonnet, also tell the story of relationships today. In the beginning of the relationship he thought that he may have been in love with her. He lied by telling her that he did love her and now, after all of the struggle, his heart is starting to see the fact that he is indeed not in love with her, that it has just been tricked or has been following his tongue, which has been lying to her.
This whole sonnet, although written hundreds of years ago, could not be anymore true today. A relationship that tears at the very soul of one if not both of the people involved. In life, everyone must go through some type of relationship like this whether it is with another individual or something as simple as a family pet. A person must have loved or been loved by someone else in order to know what love is not. The narrator of this sonnet is saying that he knows what love is not but by saying that, he is saying that he knows what it is. Once a person goes through a close relationship where they discover love for the very first time, they are more prepared to find love in life because they know what feeling it is that they are looking for. The sad thing is it usually takes the breaking of a heart in order for one to know the meaning or feeling of true love but through this they become better prepared for the road ahead of them.
This sonnet holds true to the fact that a lot can be said in so little space. What exactly is said is always determined by the reader and what he or she gets out of it. Fourteen short lines can that can raise so many questions, feelings and emotions can surely be considered a great piece of literature.