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astrophel sonnet

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Published on January 15, 2008

Author: Teobaldo

Source: authorstream.com

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Astrophel and Stella Sonnet #1:  Astrophel and Stella Sonnet #1 A close-reading, a modern rendering, and some historical/literary context Mark Morton Slide2:  First, let’s start by reading the sonnet itself. Slide3:  Louing in trueth, and fayne in verse my loue to show, That she, deare Shee, might take som pleasure of my paine, Pleasure might cause her reade, reading might make her know, Knowledge might pittie winne, and pity grace obtaine, I sought fit wordes to paint the blackest face of woe; Studying inuentions fine, her wits to entertaine, Oft turning others leaues, to see if thence would flow Some fresh and fruitfull showers vpon my sun-burnd brain. But words came halting forth, wanting Inuentions stay; Inuention, Natures childe, fledde step-dame Studies blowes; And others feet still seemde but strangers in my way. Thus, great with childe to speak, and helplesse in my throwes, Biting my trewand pen, beating myselfe for spite, Fool, said my Muse to me, looke in thy heart, and write. Slide4:  Lets’ begin by rendering the sonnet into present-day English: Louing in trueth, and fayne in verse my loue to show, That she, deare Shee, might take som pleasure of my paine,… I’m a true lover, and I’m glad to express my love in poetry, so that she, my sweetheart, might get some pleasure from my pain… Slide5:  Pleasure might cause her reade, reading might make her know, Knowledge might pittie winne, and pity grace obtaine,… Because pleasure might convince her to read my poetry, and reading my poetry would make her know about my emotional pain, and knowing about my emotional pain might make her pity me, and pity might help me get into her good books… Slide6:  I sought fit wordes to paint the blackest face of woe;… Because of all that (the pain, reading, knowing, pitying, etc), I tried to find the best words to express the darkest image of love anguish… Slide7:  Studying inuentions fine, her wits to entertaine, Oft turning others leaues, to see if thence would flow Some fresh and fruitfull showers vpon my sun-burnd brain. I studied excellent ideas, in order to entertain her mind, and I turned the pages of books by other poets, to see if some fresh and fertile notions would flow from there to my brain, which has been sunburned by her radiance. Slide8:  But words came halting forth, wanting Inuentions stay; Inuention, Natures childe, fledde step-dame Studies blowes; But words only came forth haltingly, because they lacked the support of genuine ideas; and ideas, which are the offspring of in-born talent, fled from the impatient demands of hard work, which is like a mere step-mother to in-born talent. Slide9:  And others feet still seemde but strangers in my way. And worse yet, the metrical feet or rhythms of the other poets who I studied just seemed to be like strangers getting in my way. Slide10:  Thus, great with childe to speak, and helplesse in my throwes, Biting my trewand pen, beating myselfe for spite,… As a result of these obstacles, I was full of feelings that needed to be let out, rather like a woman giving birth, but I was helpless in my labour, I was biting my disobedient pen and beating myself out of frustration… Slide11:  Fool, said my Muse to me, looke in thy heart, and write. When suddenly my muse (both my inner muse and my sweetheart) said to me, “You nitwit! Look in your heart, and write what you find there!” Slide12:  I’m a true lover, and I’m glad to express my love in poetry, so that she, my sweetheart, might at least get some pleasure from my pain. Why? Because pleasure might convince her to read my poetry, and reading my poetry might make her know about my emotional pain, and knowing about my emotional pain might make her pity me, and pity might help me get into her good books – and so because of all that (the pain, reading, knowing, pitying, etc), I’ve tried to find the best words to express the darkest image of love anguish. I’ve studied excellent ideas, in order to entertain her mind, and I turned the pages of books by other poets, to see if some fresh and fertile notions would flow from there into my own brain, which has been sunburned by my sweetheart’s radiance. But words only came forth haltingly, because they lacked the support of genuine ideas; and ideas, which are the offspring of in-born talent, fled from the impatient demands of hard work, which is like a mere step-mother to ideas. And worse yet, the metrical feet or rhythms of the other poets who I studied just seemed to be like strangers getting in my way. As a result of these obstacles, I was full of feelings that needed to be let out, rather like a woman giving birth, but I was helpless in my labour, and I was biting my disobedient pen and beating myself out of frustration, when suddenly my muse (both my inner muse and my sweetheart) said to me, “You nitwit! Look in your heart, and write what you find there!” Slide13:  Now back to the original! Louing in trueth, and fayne in verse my loue to show, That she, deare Shee, might take som pleasure of my paine, Pleasure might cause her reade, reading might make her know, Knowledge might pittie winne, and pity grace obtaine, I sought fit wordes to paint the blackest face of woe; Studying inuentions fine, her wits to entertaine, Oft turning others leaues, to see if thence would flow Some fresh and fruitfull showers vpon my sun-burnd brain. But words came halting forth, wanting Inuentions stay; Inuention, Natures childe, fledde step-dame Studies blowes; And others feet still seemde but strangers in my way. Thus, great with childe to speak, and helplesse in my throwes, Biting my trewand pen, beating myselfe for spite, Fool, said my Muse to me, looke in thy heart, and write. Slide14:  Now some other incidental points: In the line “Louing in trueth, and fayne in verse my loue to show…,” there’s a pun on “fayne.” The primary sense is “fain,” that is, “gladly” or “willingly.” (In The Tempest, as the ship is threatened by the storm, Gonzalo says, “I would fain die a dry death.”) But “fayne” also implies “feign,” meaning “to pretend” or “to deceive.” (This sense still exists in the fencing and boxing term, “feint,” meaning to pretend to make one kind of blow, while really preparing for another. Slide15:  So when the speakers says, “Loving in truth, and fain in verse…” he’s alluding to the fact that when someone is in love, or at least when they are writing about love, there is both truth and falsehood; or, to put it a better way, in love there is authenticity and sincerity on the one hand, but there is also artifice and posture and convention on the other hand. There is both “true-ing” and “feigning.” Slide16:  The phrase “she, deare Shee” is historically specific. What I mean is that there was a fad, in the late sixteenth century, to use “she” as if it were a noun rather than a pronoun. In other words, “she” was sometimes used as a synonym for “Beloved.” Shakespeare does the same thing in one of his sonnets: And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare As any he or she belied with false compare. Slide17:  Note how one of the motifs in the poem is the idea of progression, or perhaps of failed progression. That is, the notion is that one thing will lead to another, and then that to another, and so on. This is used twice in the sonnet: Pleasure might cause her reade, reading might make her know, Knowledge might pittie winne, and pity grace obtaine,… … But words came halting forth, wanting Inuentions stay; Inuention, Natures childe, fledde step-dame Studies blowes; The reference to these failed or unhappy progressions might very well be connected to the idea of the “neo-platonic ladder” Slide18:  Neo-Platonism was a philosophy that was popular in the sixteenth century (and before). It’s difficult to summarize this philosophy, because it was so pervasive and expounded by so many Medieval and Early Modern thinkers, but in essence it was the attempt to fuse the ideas of Plato with Christianity. The “neo-platonic ladder” was the idea that humans could improve themselves by contemplating the material world, and then moving upward step by step to a contemplation of the divine world. Slide19:  The basic idea of the neo-platonic ladder comes from Plato’s dialogue called The Symposium. In that dialogue, a character named Diotima puts forth the basic stages of a kind of moral ladder: 1. A young man discovers the physical beauty of another man's body, and the "fruit of his love to be beautiful conversation.“ 2. This young man then moves from loving one beautiful body to understanding "the same beauty which exists in all bodies.“ 3. Next, "he will find that the beauty that exists in souls (is) more valuable than that in the body.“ 4. After this, he comes to a what I will call a multiplicity of knowledge. He understands many things and "brings forth many beautiful and magnificent theories and thoughts in a fruitful philosophy.“ 5. And lastly, this man moves from this multiplicity of knowledge to a "certain single knowledge," which is the beholding of Beauty itself. At this point, one is able to "see the Beautiful itself, pure, clear, unmixed- not infected with human flesh and color and a lot of other mortal nonsense.“ http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/italians/resources/Amiciprize/1997/ Slide20:  In this sonnet, though, the allusion to the neo-platonic ladder seems somewhat ironic, because the goal of the speaker’s climb is the love of his sweetheart, not divine love. Slide21:  There are other ironic elements in the sonnet, too. The sonnet is, in many ways, an anti-Petrarchan sonnet. But before I explain how it’s anti-Petrarchan, let’s first discuss what “Petrarchan” is. Slide22:  Petrarchan is a kind of poetry – or perhaps more accurately, a kind of attitude found in some poetry – that dates back to Francesco Petrarch, a fourteenth-century Italian poet. http://petrarch.petersadlon.com/petrarch.html (Petrarchan also refers to a sonnet with a particular rhyme scheme: usually abba abba cdc dcd, but sometimes the last six lines have a slightly different scheme.) http://www.ajdrake.com/e252_fall_04/materials/guides/ren_petrarchan.htm The attitude typically embodied in a Petrarchan poem hinges on the speaker’s emotional state. Slide23:  That emotional state is one in which the speaker pines for the affection of his beloved, but she disdains him. Thus he is left with nothing to do with his emotional and creative energy except write about it. On the next slide, I’ll copy a fairly typical poem by Petrarch (in translation). Slide24:  I find no peace, and have no arms for war, and fear and hope, and burn and yet I freeze, and fly to heaven, lying on earth's floor, and nothing hold, and all the world I seize. My jailer opens not, nor locks the door, nor binds me to hear, nor will loose my ties; Love kills me not, nor breaks the chains I wear, nor wants me living, nor will grant me ease. I have no tongue, and shout; eyeless, I see; I long to perish, and I beg for aid; I love another, and myself I hate. Weeping I laugh, I feed on misery, by death and life so equally dismayed: for you, my lady, am I in this state. Slide25:  Obviously, the speaker in Petrarch’s sonnet attributes his anguished condition on his disdainful beloved. Note, as well, the many paradoxes and oxymoron's in the sonnet, which are another feature of Petrarchan poetry: …burn and yet I freeze… …eyeless, I see… …weeping, I laugh… Slide26:  Petrarch had a huge and direct influence on sixteenth-century poetry, especially in the first half of that century. For example, it was then that the English poet Thomas Wyatt began to translate Petrarch: I find no peace, and all my war is done ; I fear and hope, I burn, and freeze like ice ; I fly aloft, yet can I not arise ; And nought I have, and all the world I seize on, That locks nor loseth, holdeth me in prison, And holds me not, yet can I scape no wise : Nor lets me live, nor die, at my devise, And yet of death it giveth me occasion. Without eye I see ; without tongue I plain : I wish to perish, yet I ask for health ; I love another, and thus I hate myself ; I feed me in sorrow, and laugh in all my pain.     Lo, thus displeaseth me both death and life,     And my delight is causer of this strife. Slide27:  Before long, English poets moved from translating Petrarch to imitating him, as in this 1557 sonnet by Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey: Alas, so all things now do hold their peace, Heaven and earth disturbed in no-thing; The beasts, the air, the birds their song do cease, The nightes chair the stars about do bring. Calm is the sea: the waves work less and less; So am not I, whom love, alas, doth wring, Bringing before my face the great increase Of my desires, whereat I weep and sing In joy and woe as in a doubtful ease; For my sweet thoughts sometime do pleasure bring, But by and by the cause of my disease Gives me a pang that inwardly doth sting. When that I think what grief it is again To live and lack the thing should rid my pain. Slide28:  The fashion for the Petrarchan attitude became so pervasive in sixteenth-century poetry, that it eventually inspired a counter-movement: anti-Petrarchan sonnets. Anti-Petrarchan sonnets either mock or reject the conventions of Petrarchan sonnets. Shakespeare, for example, entirely rejects the notion of idealized (though unreturned) love that is the subject of so many Petrarchan sonnets. You can see this in the next slide, which features a well-known sonnet by Shakespeare. Slide29:  The expense of spirit in a waste of shame Is lust in action; and till action, lust Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame, Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust, Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight, Past reason hunted, and no sooner had Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait On purpose laid to make the taker mad; Mad in pursuit and in possession so; Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme; A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe; Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream. All this the world well knows; yet none knows well To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell. Slide30:  Sometimes, though, Shakespeare doesn’t reject the idealized love, but he does reject the conventions that Petrarchan poets used in describing that love and their beloveds. My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips' red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damasked, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound; I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress when she walks treads on the ground. And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare. Slide31:  What’s interesting about the previous sonnet is the fact that it’s highly ironic as it rejects the conventional tropes that were used by Petrarchan poets in their sonnets – and yet it ultimately doubles-back and re-affirms and re-invigorates the love relationship itself (as does, say, the bleak film Sid and Nancy). Slide32:  I think you can sense the irony – or anti-Petrarchan attitude – in the sonnet by Sidney that began this presentation. But ultimately the speaker in that sonnet is not rejecting or mocking love. The speaker isn’t ironic about love itself, but rather ironic about his own abilities, both as a lover and as a poet (it’s also, to my knowledge, the earliest poem to deal with writer’s block!). In short, the opening sonnet of Sidney’s sonnet sequence is a very self-deprecating poem – which is ironic, considering that it’s one of the most amazing poems ever written. Slide33:  The question I want to discuss now in class, is whether the other poems in Sidney’s sequence manifest a similar anti-Petrarchan attitude.

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