Astrophil and Stella Summary and Analysis
32. Morpheus, the god of dreams and the son of the god of sleep, has a close relationship with Astrophel. Morpheus has such a power over him that Astrophel always dreams of Stella. Astrophel asks the god how he can create such a brilliant image of Stella in his head. Where does he find the ivory, rubies, pearl, and gold to create her image so well? Morpheus responds mockingly, declaring that no land can contain such brilliant wealth. The image of Stella that appears in Astrophel's dreams comes directly from the image that is contained in his heart.
Analysis: This sonnet is a part of Sidney's mini-sequence on sleep, made up of Sonnets 32, 38, and 39. Sidney refers to the common Renaissance belief that the heart contains an image of the poet's mistress. Astrophel recognizes that Stella's image in his heart is the source of his poetry and creative strength.
33. Astrophel bemoans his unhappy state, failing to recognize his love for Stella until after she married another man. He cannot blame anyone else for his misfortune because he was the cause of his unhappiness: "to myself myself did give the blow." Astrophel was blinded by his wit and rationality, so much so that he was unable to recognize the beautiful "day" that was rising near him, namely, Stella.
Analysis: This sonnet is thought by contemporary critics to refer to Astrophel/Sidney's regret that he did not marry Stella/Penelope when he had the opportunity. The idea is that he did not marry her because he was not yet in love with her. Now, however, Astrophel can only punish himself for missing his one chance to obtain her.
34. This sonnet is a dialogue between Astrophel and Wit. Astrophel claims that he writes his poetry in order to ease his burdened heart. Wit asks him how reminders of his distress could possibly ease his heart. Astrophel replies that well-painted distresses can be more pleasing than the reality, but he is not ashamed to publish his troubles because his poetry may win him fame. Wit replies that this fame will be nothing more than famous foolishness in the eyes of wise men. Astrophel tries to counter this argument, declaring that wise men do not have to listen to what they view as foolishness, but Wit taunts him, asking that if his poetry will not be heard, what point is there to writing it? The sonnet concludes with an expression of Astrophel's growing doubt.
Analysis: Sidney introduces a prime audience of the poet's work, the witty courtiers. Most love poems do not address the lady and, in many cases, the lady would not have been the most appropriate audience. Sidney writes his poetry with the knowledge that a witty (that is, intelligent) audience is always looking over his shoulder. The point of this kind of poetry is not to flatter but to entertain an intelligent audience who can actually appreciate the work. This is the fact that Wit throws into Astrophel's face. His most important audience is not Stella, but the witty audience who will understand his poetry even more than she could. Thus we can understand why Sidney would count on his audience's knowledge of classical mythology and other poetic traditions.
35. Immediately following Astrophel's expression of doubt in Sonnet 34, this sonnet serves as a response to the poet's difficulty with words in the previous poem. Astrophel's speechlessness is presented as a virtue because it means that his words are not merely flattery. Then the poem shifts in focus to a discussion of the inadequacy of words to praise Stella.
Analysis: The sonnet expresses traditional anxiety about the vocabulary of love. Astrophel wonders if love can ever be verbally expressed in a way that does not transform it into flattery. The poem praises Stella through several paradoxes, incorporating figures which have dominated other sonnets up to this point in the sonnet: Honor, Reason, and Wit. In each case, love for Stella is sufficient to connect each of these virtues with its opposite while maintaining its nature: Honor is "honou'rd" as a slave; Reason "blows the cole"; and Wit learns "perfection." The poem highlights the confusion Astrophel feels upon entering Stella's world.
36. Astrophel depicts Stella as a conquering force who continuously attacks him. Love serves as her lieutenant, and her various beauties serve as her armies, marching into Astrophel's eyes and conquering him from within. Astrophel's armies and defenses have long since fallen to Stella's flag, so he wonders why she continues to attack him and make him fall more in love with her. He is already unable to escape from her power.
Analysis: In describing his love for Stella, Sidney uses the metaphor of a battle, with Stella as the victorious conqueror and himself as her willingly defeated enemy. He has already been conquered by her military strength (her beauty and sweetness), yet she continues to attack him. The military metaphor breaks at this point because no conquering force ever continues to attack a city that has already been conquered. Astrophel wishes Stella would withdraw and leave him alone with his love.
37. Astrophel presents a riddle to the readers, a riddle that designates Stella as Penelope Devereux. A beautiful nymph lives in the east, and she is rich in all qualities. She is rich in beauty, rich in renown, rich in heart, and-above all-rich in virtue. Yet, even though this nymph is rich in all things, the greatest misfortune for Astrophel is that she is a Rich.
Analysis: The puns on the term "rich" refer to Lord Robert Rich, Stella's or Penelope's husband. The east ("Aurora's court") could refer to the Rich family estate, which was in the eastern county of Essex. This sonnet was omitted from the earliest printed edition of the sonnet sequence, perhaps because it was too direct, but it was added in the official folio edition.
38. When sleep comes upon Astrophel, he finally is able to release his rational thoughts and revel in his imagination. He describes the abdication of Reason and its replacement by "Fancie's errour." Love constructs a perfect vision of Stella for Astrophel, a vision that both shines and sings. Yet, he is unable to maintain the vision and wakes up, hearing his own wailing rather than the singing of her image. When he tries to call Sleep again and regain Stella's image, he fails: Stella has "killed" Sleep with her beauty.
Analysis: Sleep offers Astrophel a type of release that he cannot obtain in his waking hours. It shields the lover from despair at Stella's seeming scorn. Most importantly, sleep allows Astrophel to see Stella's image in his mind. The vision of Stella provides one of the few moments when Astrophel is able to see her without being plagued with uncertainty and anxiety. The vision of Stella's beauty is so brilliant that it cannot be maintained, which leads to the broken rhythms of Astrophel's: "I start, look, hearke." Sidney keeps with the tone of the rest of the sonnet sequence by ensuring that visions of Stella are brilliant and fleeting.
39. Sidney personifies sleep and begins to have a conversation with it. He prays that Sleep will come and release him from his current misery. Only when he is asleep is he able to ease his suffering and stem the civil war that is waging between his heart and his head, between his love and his reason. He wonders what price he must pay in order to convince the god of Sleep to come to him, and he promises a "good tribute." Smooth pillows, a comfortable bed, and a dark, quiet room are all that he desires, if only he can persuade Sleep to come. Finally, Sidney comes up with a way to convince Sleep to come to him. When he is asleep, he argues, the image of Stella will appear in his dreams, and Sleep will be able to watch. This is the greatest tribute that he can pay.
Analysis: This is an example of a sonnet in which Sidney's persona talks to an entity other than Stella. In addition to "Sleep," Sidney also directs his speeches to the allegorical "Reason," "Love," "Queen Virtue," "Patience," "Desire," and more. In literature and rhetoric, this act of addressing something that is not a person is referred to as "apostrophe." The irony in this sonnet is very interesting. Sidney begs for Sleep to come and rescue him from his love and suffering for Stella. Yet, at the same time, an image of Stella will automatically come to his head while he is asleep. Whether he is asleep or awake, Stella is always in his mind. He prefers the Stella in his dreams because he does not have to face the reality that she is not his own.
40. Astrophel tells Stella that he has built a temple for her in his heart. He begs her to give a single thought to him and his suffering because he has sought her grace for such a long time. He then brings up the imagery of a battle, declaring that she has conquered his heart. But, as a good conqueror, she should want her new conquest to be destroyed now that she owns it. Astrophel urges Stella to give him some grace and save her temple in his heart from destruction.
Analysis: For the first time in the sonnet sequence, Astrophel appeals directly to Stella in intimate terms. She is no longer a remote figure of desire; she is actually approachable (if still on the throne of virtue). And even though he suffers, he knows that it is better to write poetry to her than to lie down and moan in despair. He hopes that the offering of his poetry will touch her heart.
41. Astrophel describes his success at a tournament in front of the court. His horsemanship and strength allowed him to attain the prize of the event, judged by members of the English court and members of the French court. Onlookers praised his skill as the result of constant practice, while others claimed that it was simply good luck. Yet, Astrophel knows that the real reason for his success was that Stella was watching him.
Analysis: The tournament that Astrophel refers to could be a tournament held at court in May 1581 when members of the French court were visiting England. Because Sidney was against Queen Elizabeth's proposed marriage with the Duc of AlenÃ§on, his victory in the tournament would have been particularly satisfying, impressing Stella as well as the French visitors. Sonnet 53 serves as a foil to Astrophel's tournament success in this sonnet and displays the negative impact of Stella's presence.
42. Astrophel praises the beauty and power of Stella's eyes. Her glances allow Love to conquer those around her while she simultaneously conquers Love himself. Whenever he sees her eyes, Astrophel forgets to nourish his own weary spirits, but he does not care. He wishes, above all, to always have her eyes shining as a zenith above him. And if he dies, it will be a triumph for Love, who caused it.
Analysis: Astrophel has no prospect of release from his love for Stella. Yet, even as the beauty of her eyes eats him away within, he still would rather have her presence close to him, even if it means his death.
43. Astrophel begins the sonnet with resignation, admitting that it is foolish of him to believe that he could have Cupid win Stella's heart. Love enjoys Stella's beautiful qualities himself, using them to make other people fall in love. When he uses her eyes, every man willingly asks permission to die for Stella. When Love uses her lips, he means to play, kissing her lips himself or making them blush red. When Cupid wants to be alone, however, he retreats into Stella's heart, where no man is found.
Analysis: Following the theme of the previous sonnet, Astrophel continues to focus on two features of Stella's face: her lips and her eyes. Cupid uses each of these features for his own amusement and to project love throughout the world. Astrophel renews his anxieties about Stella's untouchable heart, reiterating that the only place where Cupid can be alone is in Stella's heart.
44. Astrophel cannot understand why Stella is not sympathetic to his suffering for her. He argues that his pain yields the right to receive pity from any heart, especially hers. But no matter what he says, Stella refuses to give him pity and, in fact, becomes more annoyed with him the more he complains. Astrophel attempts to explain this conflict in her behavior, and finally he arrives at the conclusion. When his bitter complaints touch the "dainty doors" (her eyes) and reach the "courts of bliss" (her mind), they immediately turn into joyful music.
Analysis: Astrophel employs a complicated metaphor in order to explain Stella's coldness. Because he has presented her throughout the sonnet as kind and compassionate, her lack of pity for his suffering is very disconcerting. The only explanation that he can come up with is that Stella simply cannot hear his complaints. The beauty of her mind is such that it transforms any negative thoughts into beautiful music, so she fails to comprehend what Astrophel is actually saying to her.
45. In the first eight lines, the sonnet describes Stella's behavior. She scorns him and his suffering, but then she is filled with pity upon hearing a fable of two lovers. Even though the fable is fiction and Astrophel's suffering is real, Stella does not see fit to give him any sympathy. In the last six lines, Astrophel implores her pity. He begs her to pretend that he is also a fictitious fable so that at least she can pity the "tale of him."
Analysis: This sonnet expresses the gap between Astrophel as a poet and Astrophel as a lover. Rather than responding to her lover's suffering, Stella responds to tales of love. As a result, the world of love that Astrophel hopes to describe is reduced to nothing more than courtly mannerism and affectation. Astrophel is very critical of Stella's behavior, even though the elegance of the narrative in the poem is meant to obscure his scorn and sense of irony.
46. Astrophel once cursed Cupid, but now he feels pity for him. He and Cupid are both under Stella's control, but Cupid is even worse off. Stella tyrannizes him so much that Cupid must be in need of food and a place to live. She threatens to banish him forever from her presence, which would make Love nothing more than a homeless, despicable vagabond. Cupid is nothing more than a pupil to a stern schoolmistress and is about to be punished for missing his lessons. Astrophel intervenes on Cupid's behalf.
Analysis: Astrophel and Love are no longer at odds with one another; they are comrades suffering from the same torments at Stella's hands. In previous sonnets, Astrophel emphasizes that Love believed that he was in control of Stella, but now he has learned that he is just as much a slave as Astrophel is.
47. Astrophel begins the sonnet with a series of questions about his love for Stella. He asks himself how he could have enslaved himself to a woman who does not have any compassion for his suffering. He determines that he will not love her anymore and convinces himself with the assertion that beauty is only beauty, fleeting and superficial. Even as Astrophel has decided to free himself from the yoke of Love, he sees Stella in the distance and immediately changes his mind.
Analysis: Astrophel's anger and frustration is clear from the vehement questions he asks in the opening lines of the sonnet. He realizes that he does not deserve such treatment, that he is not a slave. The rhythm of the progression "I may, I must, I can, I will, I do" mirrors Astrophel's physical struggle to free himself from his chains of slavery. Yet, once again, Astrophel is unable to escape from his love for her. Even as he says that he does not love her, the sight of Stella makes him recognize that he is lying to himself.
48. Astrophel begs Stella not to direct her eyes ("morning stars") away from his sight. If he does not look at the light of her eyes, he is driven toward the darkness of Hell. Stella's eyes are the cause of his torment and continue to inflict incurable wounds with the darts of her glances. But Astrophel still would rather see her eyes, even as they wound him, than stay in the darkness. Moreover, he is already dying from the wounds of Love, so her continued glances will be a sort of kindness that will kill him more quickly.
Analysis: Astrophel refers to the Renaissance poetic tradition of a lover being killed by his mistress's glances. This also has additional meaning because Astrophel frequently discusses Cupid's presence in Stella's eyes. So, not only do Stella's eyes emit their own darts, but Cupid also shoots his arrows through her eyes. Astrophel asks for a sort of mercy killing at Stella's hands, begging her to continue to look at him because it will make his death easier.
49. Astrophel tries his horsemanship on his horse, and Cupid tries his on Astrophel. As Love's horse, Astrophel is saddled and bridled so that he will behave. The reins that guide his movements are humbled thoughts; his bit is made up of Reverence and Fear. Cupid's riding crop is Will, and Astrophel's own imagination and memory form the saddle. The only spur that Astrophel needs to be inspired to move forward is Desire.
Analysis: Astrophel uses an interesting layering effect with this metaphor; he is the horseman of his horse while Cupid is the horseman of him. Each element of Love's horsemanship mirrors Astrophel's own control over his horse, from the bit and reins to the saddle and spurs. Traditionally (going at least as far back as Plato), the relationship between the passions and Reason has been compared with the relationship between a horse and its rider, either with Reason keeping the passions in check with a firm hand, or with the horseman trying to drive with both the horse of Reason and the horse of Passion, each sometimes going its own way. The fact that Astrophel is being ridden by Love rather than Reason emphasizes the negative effect of his love for Stella.
50. Astrophel struggles with his emotions, and he is unable to keep them inside. His thoughts for Stella break free and form the poems making up the sonnet sequence. Yet, as Astrophel views his poems, he is filled with disappointment because the poems do not do justice to the beauty of Stella in her true form. He would like to scratch out the lines in his fury, but he is unable to do so because their first line begins with Stella's name.
Analysis: Astrophel's poetry is incapable of fully expressing his thoughts about Stella. As a poet, Astrophel fails because he cannot depict Stella as she truly is in his heart and mind. Yet, his love for her is so great that he cannot even destroy the inadequate poems that he writes, simply because they are about her.
Astrophil and Stella Essays and Related Content
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- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
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