Poetry Series V: Astrophil and Stella Sonnet 1

So this is week five of my poetry series, and I’ve decided to give you all a break from the incessant Shakespeare by talking about the start of a different sonnet series, namely, Astrophil and Stella. This sonnet series was written by Sir Philip Sydney, and takes on a distinctly different tone than the Shakespearean Sonnets do. This first one is particularly interesting because it serves as an introduction to the entire series and what Sydney was attempting to do with his writing.

This analysis is much briefer than normal, because I focused more on its translation to prose than the deeper meaning of the sonnet.

Sonnet 1

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,— 
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe; 
Studying inventions fine her wits to entertain, 
Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow 
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburn’d brain. 
But words came halting forth, wanting invention’s stay; 
Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows; 
And others’ feet still seem’d but strangers in my way. 
Thus great with child to speak and helpless in my throes, 
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite, 
“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart, and write.”

Translation

I am writing this poem so that my love will take enough pleasure in my pain to read it. If she does this, she will understand me and I’ll fall into her good graces.. But I cannot come up with the words to write a poem, and the words that I do write are halting. I’m in need of more inspiration, and cannot seem to find it anywhere I look.  Other people are not helpful, they just get in my way. I struggled with not being able to write, so my muse told me I was a fool and should write from my heart instead of searching for external inspiration.

Analysis

My translation highlights the basic meaning of the poem, basically the fact that this man is struggling to write an adequate poem. In the original, he used beautiful descriptive words to describe this which are lost in the translation. This makes the original seem more like something you would write for a lover than the translation does. I would revise my translation to try to make it sound more beautiful and slightly less whiny. I felt like it was very difficult to translate “Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows” because it has very little concrete meaning that is not already encompassed by the rest of the poem, but yet the capitalization and its inclusion in the sonnet make it feel very important in the original reading.

let's talk

What’s your favorite part of this sonnet? do you prefer these or Shakespeare’s sonnet? do you agree with my prose translation? What would you like to see more of in the poetry series? What would you like to see less of?

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