Astrophil and Stella

Astrophil and Stella Summary and Analysis of Sonnets 51-75

51. In Astrophel's opinion, Stella's conversation should be reserved for those people who need to be entertained. He asks her to find someone else to amuse with her tales of court intrigues. Comparing himself to Atlas, who holds the weight of the skies, Astrophel cannot bear to hear such flippant conversation from her. His heart is in communion with Stella's eyes and, in comparison with that connection, any superficial conversation is unnecessary.

Analysis: This sonnet is both an expression of Astrophel's transcendent connection with Stella and a criticism of courtly mannerisms. Stella attempts to amuse people with her witty conversation and court gossip, but Astrophel does not have any need for this entertainment. He considers himself to be connected to Stella on a much deeper level, and her attempts to speak to him as a gossipy courtier are highly offensive to him.

52. A legal dispute has arisen between Virtue and Love, with each claiming that Stella belongs to him. Love argues that Stella's lips and eyes prove his ownership because they wear his badge of livery. Virtue counters by arguing that Stella is wholly virtuous in her soul. Although Love may lay claim to her exterior beauty, Virtue owns her inner beauty, which is what actually stirs people's hearts. Astrophel then intervenes in the dispute, declaring that Virtue can have Stella's inner soul as long as he and Love can have her body.

Analysis: This sonnet contains clear evidence of Astrophel's physical desire for Stella. The explicit sexuality in the lines undercuts Astrophel's expression of virtue and chastity in previous sonnets in the sequence. Astrophel is willing to sacrifice Stella's inner beauty to the call of Virtue, presuming it is possible, as long as he can still desire and possible possess her physical body.

53. Astrophel fights in a tournament in front of the court, and the cheers of the onlookers fill him with pride. Angry at seeing Astrophel in the armor of Mars, the god of war, Cupid is determined to remind Astrophel that Love is his master. He orders Astrophel to look at Stella. When Astrophel looks at her, her light dazzles him. He is so distracted that he does not hear the trumpet of the tournament or his opponent begin to charge. Only after he is defeated and he sees Stella's blush does Astrophel realize that he has been shamed by Love.

Analysis: Stella has the opposite effect on Astrophel in this tournament, compared with her effect in Sonnet 43. In this case, Cupid takes revenge on Astrophel for behaving as a slave to War rather than Love, and for taking part in the warlike tournament. Instead of inspiring him as in Sonnet 43, Stella's light serves solely to distract Astrophel from the task at hand. By shaming Astrophel in front of Stella and making her look on him with disdain, however, Love undermines himself.

54. Astrophel faces criticism by the "courtly Nymphs" who dominate the world of love. They claim that he cannot truly love Stella because he does not adhere to the artificial demonstrations of love: he does not breathe love to everyone or cherish a lock of his lover's hair or groan with suffering. Astrophel replies that his love for Stella is proven more by his silence, and the truth of his love is clear to those who look in his heart. In the end, the people who are the most hesitant to admit that they love are the ones who love the most.

Analysis: In order to define his own love, Astrophel provides examples of how courtly love has become nothing more than affectation. The traditional language of love is nothing more than a kind of elegant chatter in high society; it does not mean anything real. This criticism can be read as proof of Sidney's dissatisfaction with standard conventions of love poetry, specifically the Petrarchan style. In the end, it is the poet's awkwardness and hesitation that proves his love, rather than his elegant Petrarchan love poetry (although the sonnets betray Sidney's real poetic versatility).

55. Astrophel directs this sonnet to the nine Muses. He often invoked the Muses for help in writing his poetry, hoping that their skill might win him some grace from Stella. He would not use certain sad words or phrases until the Muses inspired him. Only then would he construct them in the most eloquent way to express his suffering. He has decided, however, that he is no longer going to look to the Muses for help with his poetry. The only solution, Astrophel argues, is to cry Stella's name. Her name is all the eloquence he needs.

Analysis: Sidney also incorporates this theme in Sonnets 3 and 6. The Muses may be the source of inspiration for other poets and artists, as they were for Astrophel at an earlier time, but they are no longer sufficient for Astrophel's needs. Again, he does not need any Muse but Stella to inspire him.

56. Astrophel criticizes the school of Patience for being too difficult to learn without a book. He attempted to be patient and to try to learn virtue through Stella's absence. But even now, all that he desires is a glimpse of Stella. He scorns Patience for trying to make him into a cold, stolid character, free from any passion. Astrophel ends the sonnet by making a bargain with Patience. If Patience will bring Stella to him and give her the patience to hear his confession of love, Astrophel will promise to be patient in bearing his love for her.

Analysis: Astrophel personifies Patience as a figure who attempts (but fails) to teach him patience. Astrophel scorns Patience because being patient involves not seeing Stella, which is something that is unacceptable to him. In the end, he refuses to be patient until Stella shows him some patience in return, namely, patience and acceptance for his love.

57. Astrophel wrote a poem for Stella that contained all of his most pitiful complaints and anguish for love of her. He hoped that the poem would catch Stella unawares so that she would not have time to guard herself from feeling pity. When Astrophel gave Stella the poem, she not only read it but also sang it aloud as a song. The beauty of her song affected Astrophel so much that he no longer suffered. His pains of love transformed into joy at the sweetness of her voice.

Analysis: The sonnet starts out as a sort of revenge narrative. Astrophel is determined to pain Stella with his anguish, and he wants to use the most powerful words of Woe to pierce her skin. But as soon as Stella receives the poem and then sings it, Astrophel's desire for vengeance dissipates. Her reaction to his poetry temporarily removes his suffering, and Astrophel suffers from short-term amnesia regarding his pains.

58. Astrophel introduces the debate over whether rhetoric is effective because of the words themselves or because of the way that the words are delivered. He employs an example from his personal life to prove his opinion. He wrote all of his woes and suffering into "piercing phrases" of poetry and then gave the poem to Stella. When Stella read the poem aloud, the sadness of the words was overshadowed by the delight Astrophel felt during Stella's delivery.

Analysis: In this case, Astrophel demonstrates his belief that the delivery of a poem is far more powerful than the words themselves. Through her delivery, Stella is able to transform a bitter, sad poem into a source of incredible delight for Astrophel. He asserts that it is only her "sweet breath" which causes this transformation. It seems that rhetoric also is effective when it has the right audience!

59. Half-mockingly, Astrophel asks Stella why she prefers her dog to him. He possesses all of the same qualities that the dog has and, in fact, would go further with each quality. While the dog loves, Astrophel burns with love. Though the dog may wait well, Astrophel will wait forever, never moving again. The dog may fetch a glove for her, but Astrophel will fetch his very soul to give to her. Yet, despite Astrophel's superiority, Stella still prefers the dog and allows him to sit in her lap and kiss her lips. Astrophel declares that if he were allowed to kiss her lips even once, he would abandon his wit.

Analysis: The sonnet is made up of a series of possible causes, each rejected in turn because Astrophel believes he possesses the virtue to a superior degree than Stella's pet dog. In the end, however, the only real difference between Astrophel and Stella's dog is wit. The entire sonnet is itself a logical demonstration of Astrophel's wit. Even as he assures Stella that he would gladly give up his wit for her, he reminds her (and the readers) that his wit is responsible for the humor and persuasive power of the poem; the offer is double-edged.

60. Astrophel explains why he is beginning to despair. Whenever Cupid leads him to see his love, Stella shows disdain and scorn for him. Still, whenever Astrophel disappears from Stella's view, Stella speaks of him with pity and compassion. Astrophel is unable to cope with this constant shift between Stella's love and Stella's hate.

Analysis: This sonnet is made up of a series of contradictions and ironies. When Astrophel is present, Stella scorns him; when he is absent, she pities his case. Yet, he is never able to combine the two situations and enjoy Stella's compassion in person. The last line sums up the irony of his circumstances: he can never enjoy the bliss of love without being reminded of the curse of love.

61. Astrophel assails Stella with his different confessions of love, first with sighs, then with tears, then with halting words, and finally with silence. Stella is not overwhelmed, and she maintains a clear opposition to Astrophel's love. Because Stella hates Astrophel's passionate love, Astrophel determines to rid himself of it. He asks Cupid for help to make him not love Stella until he has her permission to love.

Analysis: In an ironic twist, Astrophel must rid himself of his love for Stella in order to be worthy of her. She will appreciate only a chaste, controlled love, which Astrophel does not possess. Despite all of his entreaties, she remains firm in this declaration, and Astrophel concludes that the only solution is to remove the love for her in his heart.

62. Filled with violent passion for Stella, Astrophel calls Stella unkind. She rebuffs his advances, declaring that he should look for virtuous true love in her and nothing more. Even though she loves him, she will accept only a love that is noble and befitting her birth and social station. Stella urges Astrophel to calm the tempests of his heart and accept a virtuous love. Yet, he cannot rid himself of his passionate love, so he declares that he would rather she did not love him if a chaste, virtuous love is the only kind she will offer.

Analysis: The sonnet questions the definition of love. Astrophel is forced to define love as desire because, for him, his love for Stella has become increasingly violent and passionate. Stella's vocabulary of love is socially more appropriate and belongs to the unimpassioned public world. She refers to his love as the "tempests" of a stereotypical lover. Astrophel finally acknowledges his "Love" for what it is: a fall from grace and a fall from virtue.

63. Astrophel opens the sonnet with an address to Grammar. He urges Grammar to use its powers and wise precepts to help him win Stella. Above all else, Astrophel desires Stella, but she continues to reject his advances. After another one of his attempts, Stella says twice: "no, no," which finally allows Astrophel to use Grammar to his advantage. According to Latin grammar rules, a double negative translates into an affirmative. Thus, Astrophel claims, Stella's negative exclamation is actually an invitation.

Analysis: Astrophel attempts to use grammar rules and wordplay to convince Stella to acquiesce to his desires. Or, perhaps, he is attempting to justify his lustful behavior. If Stella continues to deny him, he will never be able to gain his desire. If he does, despite her wishes, it would count as a rape. Yet, if Stella gives Astrophel an affirmative response (even if it is through a misapplied grammatical rule), then a sexual encounter would not be a rape. Astrophel is using all the tricks and tools at his disposal.

64. In a series of violent oaths, Astrophel describes everything that has to be given up for Stella: achievement, social position, approval among wise men, scholarly intelligence, fame, and more. But he does not regret these lost things-neither Aristotle's intelligence nor Caesar's fame. Above all, Stella makes up for everything that he loses. She is both his intelligence and his virtue.

Analysis: This sonnet is made up of a pattern of repeated vows and exclamations. The insistence and violence of the first thirteen lines accumulate strength for the forceful declaration in the last line. Astrophel insists that Stella possesses more than physical beauty. Her earthly beauty is only a shadow of the virtue and true knowledge that a man can attain through the love of her.

65. Astrophel criticizes Love's behavior. When Love first came to England and was naked and isolated in the world, Astrophel allowed him to lodge in his heart. Astrophel gave Love his eyes to see the world, as well as his light, his heart, and even his life. Love refuses to pay Astrophel back in kind and does not respond to Astrophel's cries of love for Stella. At the same time, Astrophel admits that he and Love have developed a sort of kinship, in which Love carries the arrow and Astrophel carries the arrowhead.

Analysis: Astrophel feels as if he has been cheated by Love. He provided Cupid with a home and his favor, but Love has failed to respond to his suffering for Stella. In a sense, Astrophel has constructed a contract with Love (similar to the deal that he attempts to make with Patience in Sonnet 56), yet Love has failed to uphold his end of the bargain. The last line of the sonnet has a phallic connotation but also makes a reference to Sidney's family: the Sidney coat of arms has an arrowhead at its center.

66. Astrophel wonders if it is possible that Stella might return his love. He is not sure if he is simply imagining that what he desires is coming to pass. While Astrophel was gazing in a different direction, Stella looked at him. When he turned around and their eyes met, she instantly turned away with a blush. This brief moment of connection and Stella's blush are sufficient to give Astrophel his first real hope since the sequence began.

Analysis: Astrophel has suffered with his love for Stella for so long that he is confused about reality. He does not know if Stella's glance actually means something or if his imagination is running wild with hope. This sonnet provides the first evidence that Stella might feel some affection for him. Astrophel is not sure whether he should fear or rejoice.

67. Astrophel addresses Hope with a series of questions, attempting to determine if Stella's glance was a sign of love or not. He asks if Stella has suddenly taken an interest in him. He asks if Stella will seize this opportunity for love before it is too late. Then, he asks Hope if there are any other elements of Stella's glance that he missed: was she blushing more than he realized? Did she sigh for him in secret? Astrophel concludes that, no matter what the answer is, he would accept this false hope rather than a more painful truth.

Analysis: Astrophel is anxious to know the truth behind Stella's loving glance of Sonnet 66. Even as he hopes that she may love him, he wants to know the truth and asks Hope numerous questions. By the end of the sonnet, however, he realizes that he does not actually want to know the truth. The little hope that he has developed from Stella's look has given him such pleasure that he prefers it, even if it is false.

68. Astrophel asks Stella how she expects to quench the fire of his desire for her. He maintains that she is the sole reason for his passion. Her attempts to extinguish his passionate love are ineffective because her presence continues to provoke Astrophel's desire. Astrophel acknowledges that Stella's reasons are virtuous and that he should try to maintain a chaste love. Yet, all he can think is how pleasurable it would be to enjoy such a virtuous woman.

Analysis: This sonnet describes the growing conflict between Astrophel's desire for Stella and Stella's insistence on a pure, chaste love. Astrophel is unable to separate his love from his desire. Even when Stella urges him to be virtuous and think of her in a virtuous way, Astrophel cannot help but immediately think of her sexually.

69. Astrophel is filled with unspeakable joy, a joy too great to express in the words of his poetry. He urges Envy to blind itself so that it cannot see his happiness, and he calls to his friends so that he can tell them the good news. Stella has finally admitted her love for Astrophel, and she gave him the monarchy of her heart. But this love has been given with a clear condition: their love must be platonic.

Analysis: Astrophel is thrilled that Stella returns his love and that he can finally call her his own. He barely notices the condition for her love at this point; he simply tacks it on to the last line of the sonnet. Yet, Stella's insistence on a platonic relationship between the two will have disastrous consequences. Because Astrophel's love for Stella has such a strong physical element, Stella's condition will manifest itself as yet another form of torture.

70. Astrophel's Muse has been the inspiration for all of his sad and tormented sonnets. Now that Astrophel is joyful, he anticipates that the Muse will want to inspire some joyful poetry. Sadness can only be defined in terms of happiness and, like any other thing, the Muse has the capacity to smile and laugh in Astrophel's poetry, just as she once wept and moaned. Astrophel calls to his Muse to begin to write his happiness in a poem but then stops suddenly. He realizes that the best expression of his joy would be to write nothing at all.

Analysis: Poking fun at himself, Astrophel acknowledges that all of his sonnets up to this point were filled with despair and sadness. Now that he is finally happy, he is ready to write joyful poetry and break up the monotony for his poetic Muse. Ironically, Astrophel ultimately decides not to write any poetry to express his bliss. Perhaps his happiness is too great to be translated in words. Or, perhaps, Astrophel can only be inspired to write poetry when he is unhappy.

71. The first thirteen lines of the sonnet are public praise for Stella, beginning with the metaphor of a book. The observer who "reads" Stella will understand the beauty and virtue of the world. Moreover, the vices of the observer will be scattered by Stella's beauty. Just as the light shining in Stella's eyes scares away night birds, her beauty and the power of reason can force away vices. Not only does her beauty attract people, but also it persuades people to become virtuous. In the last line, Astrophel suddenly shifts to a personal view of Stella and his own guilt. Despite her beauty and virtue, he still urgently desires Stella and regrets his position.

Analysis: For the first thirteen lines, the poem appears to be simply a series of praises of Stella. Also, "reading" Stella once again takes love and intellectualizes it. Then, in the last line, the poem changes tone completely, forcing the reader to re-evaluate Astrophel's meaning and reconsider each of the lines that have come before. Two distinct types of love are set against one another: one is dignified and confident; the other is spontaneous and passionate. There are thirteen lines reflecting the first kind of love, but just one line of the other kind of love is enough to undercut the rest of the poem. (This is a common trick among sonnets, using the last line to undercut the rest.) Sidney shows the power of desire. No matter how much Astrophel wants to adhere to a pure and unimpassioned love for Stella, he is overwhelmed with desire.

72. Astrophel directs the sonnet to Desire, the emotion that has augmented his love for Stella since the beginning of the sequence. He declares that, even though both love and desire fan the flames of his heart, he has determined that he must give up Desire. Love flourishes through chastity and virtue, and he now must accept virtue in all its forms. He will embrace Service and Honor as Stella's gifts to him. Astrophel recognizes that he must give up Desire, but ultimately he does not know how to do so.

Analysis: This sonnet evaluates the same conflict as in Sonnet 71, but its tone is markedly different. Astrophel recognizes Desire as a loyal companion and his oldest friend. Sidney addresses Desire as a person (it is apostrophe), demonstrating a great deal of reluctance in banishing Desire. At the end, Astrophel is confused by his inability to go through with the banishment. For the first time, Astrophel's relationship with Desire is recognized as a force to be reckoned with.

73. Astrophel blames Love for the kiss he stole from Stella during Song 2. Astrophel explains that Love is simply a young, mischievous boy who was unable to resist the temptation of Stella's lips; that is, Astrophel himself is not to blame for what happened. Stella does not respond well to Astrophel's explanation and remains incredibly angry about Astrophel's behavior. Yet, even in her anger, Stella's face is so beautiful that Astrophel longs to kiss her again.

Analysis: Faced with Stella's displeasure, Astrophel refuses to take responsibility for his actions. He insists that Cupid has complete control over him and that, in fact, it was Love who kissed Stella, not Astrophel who did so. The sonnet is presented as a sort of trial, with Astrophel explaining his case in front of the two scarlet judges, Stella's lips. At the end of the sonnet, it is clear that the kiss was Astrophel's own action, not Cupid's, because he immediately wants to her kiss again.

74. Astrophel denies any contact with the Muses that might inspire him to write poetry. He describes himself as nothing more than a "poor layman" who has no claim to the poetic creativity of the Muses and lacks the motivation to plagiarize from another poet. Then how is Astrophel still able to write successful poetry? At the end of the sonnet, Astrophel finally explains that his sole inspiration is Stella's kiss.

Analysis: In this sonnet, Astrophel steps out of character to construct a witty reference to the stolen kiss. This sonnet is widely considered to be the comic masterpiece of the sonnet sequence because of Astrophel's tongue-in-cheek response and lack of remorse for the kiss. (Compare Alexander Pope's later "The Rape of the Lock.")

75. Of all of the kings who have reigned in England, Astrophel presents King Edward IV as the most worthy of his praise. He explains that this praise is not due to King Edward's intelligence or because he won the throne after the War of the Roses. This praise is not even due to the fact that King Edward successfully invaded France. King Edward IV is worthy of praise because he sacrificed his crown for love.

Analysis: Astrophel refers to Edward IV's refusal to marry a French princess for the sake of diplomacy. Instead, Edward married Elizabeth Grey in 1461, which led to a rebellion nine years later and Edward's exile. Contemporary historians criticized Edward for allowing his emotions to cloud his political judgment and threaten the wellbeing of the commonwealth. For Astrophel, however, Edward's choice was noble and romantic, following Love.