Astrophil and Stella

Astrophil and Stella Summary and Analysis of Sonnets 76-100

76. Astrophel sees Stella coming toward him, and the shining light in her eyes dazzles him. He compares her eyes to the sun, rising with the dawn and growing ever brighter. Stella's eyes become so bright that they seem to be on fire and turn into the blazing noon sun. Astrophel's heart burns with Stella's light, and he cannot cool it with shade or wind. He only hopes that her eyes will burn less brightly at night, when he takes her to bed.

Analysis: Astrophel compares Stella's eyes to the sun. Like the sun, her eyes increase in brightness and fire until the noon hour, at which point Astrophel is completely dazzled in both heart and sight. Continuing with the theme of the sun's progression through the sky, Astrophel concludes that the sun will be at its weakest in the nighttime hours. He hopes that he will be able to take advantage of her beauty at night without being dazzled.

77. Astrophel lists many of Stella's beautiful qualities: her eyes, her face, her presence, her grace, her hand, her lips, her skin, her words, and her voice. He acknowledges that he should feel blessed with only the presence of these attributes. In fact, when Astrophel is in a steady and virtuous state of mind, he does think only of these attributes. Most of the time, however, Astrophel has extreme physical desire for the rest of Stella's attributes, which are too sexual to be mentioned in the poem.

Analysis: The ending of this sonnet is similar to the endings of Sonnets 71 and 72. As in the other two sonnets, here Astrophel expresses his continuing conflict between chaste love and physical desire. His muse is too virginal to list the rest of Stella's qualities, although Astrophel is thinking about them. This sonnet makes clear that Astrophel's appreciation includes a salient sexual element.

78. Astrophel expresses his jealousy for Stella's husband, Lord Rich. Even though he is in love with Stella, he cannot help but be swallowed by the "monster" of Jealousy. The happiness of his love is marred by the fact that she is married to someone else. Astrophel attempts to depict Stella's husband as a devil, but this devil lacks horns.

Analysis: By depicting Lord Rich as a devil, Astrophel attempts to present him as a cuckold, corresponding to the tradition that horns were a sign of cuckoldry. Unfortunately, the devil figure of Lord Rich is lacking horns; he has not actually been cuckolded, and certainly not so by Astrophel. The absence of the horns indicates Astrophel's lack of success in fulfilling his physical desire with Stella.

79. Astrophel revels in the memory of the kiss he stole from Stella. The kiss was so sweet that he cannot hope to express its sweetness in poetry. He refers to the kiss as two coupling doves, as a double key to the heart, and as a battle in which every touch of the lips both wounds and heals. Astrophel continues to praise the kiss until he sees Stella in person. Then, in a witty final line, he immediately stops praising and asks for another kiss.

Analysis: This sonnet demonstrates how Astrophel's desire for Stella remains unfulfilled. Even after he has kissed her, Astrophel is not satisfied. When he is not in her presence, Astrophel is able to praise the kiss as a romantic conclusion, using all of his poetic skill. As soon as he sees her again, he forgets the pleasure of the kiss and only will be satisfied with more.

80. Astrophel directs this sonnet to Stella's sweet lip, the lip that he cannot help but praise. Astrophel incorporates a variety of praises for her mouth. He declares that Stella's lip emits heavenly graces instead of words and that her lip is the new home of the nine Muses. Even though his heart tries to persuade his own mouth to create more poetry, Astrophel is unwilling to give Stella simple flattery because it does not do her justice; he can no longer tell a lie. Astrophel concludes that the kiss taught his mouth to be as virtuous as Stella's own lip.

Analysis: Astrophel refers to the idea that a kiss can help a lover transcend his reality to reach a higher plane. In this case, Stella's lip influences Astrophel's mouth to make it more virtuous. Even though Astrophel wants to keep praising Stella's lip, he realizes that none of his poetry is worthy of her. Instead of lying about his ability and continuing to write, Astrophel tells Stella the truth: her virtue has been transferred to him temporarily through her kiss.

81. Astrophel continues to dwell on his kiss with Stella, praising it as much as he can. In this sonnet, he reveals that Stella wants "higher seated praise." His compliments of her beauty are not the compliments of virtue, she maintains with a blush. Astrophel makes a bargain with her, declaring that if she objects to his kiss-inspired poetry, she should "stop" his mouth with more kisses.

Analysis: Stella attempts to keep the higher ground in this situation, informing Astrophel that his praise for her kiss is inappropriate. Giddy with happiness, Astrophel once again incorporates his bargaining technique. In a witty twist, he promises that he will only stop praising her kisses with his mouth if she literally stops his mouth with more kisses. Unfortunately, Stella will not agree.

82. Astrophel pleads with Stella to kiss him again. He describes her lips as the beautiful cherry tree in the garden that is her body, and he begs her not to banish him from tasting the fruit. He refers to his previous kiss as a hungry bite of a cherry and apologizes for his fault. Finally, Astrophel swears that if she allows him access to her cherry tree, he promises that he will only kiss and never bite.

Analysis: After Stella's refusal to comply with his bargain in Sonnet 81, Astrophel tries a different method. He praises her mouth and physical beauty with references to figures in classical mythology, including Narcissus, who fell in love with his reflection in the water, and Venus, who appeared naked to Paris. Astrophel apologizes for the kiss he stole from Stella, explaining it as the bite of a starving man. Then, he tries to make yet another bargain with a comedic twist, promising that he will never "bite" her again.

83. Astrophel criticizes the sparrow that has crept into Stella's favor with its sweet song. Astrophel allowed the sparrow to spend time with Stella despite his jealousy because he did not think that the sparrow would take advantage of him. But the sparrow has become ambitious, chirping his song into Stella's ear and kissing her. Astrophel warns Philip that if he does not exercise caution in his behavior with Stella, Astrophel will strangle him.

Analysis: This sonnet is similar to Sonnet 59, in which Astrophel complains that Stella makes more of her dog than of him. In this sonnet, however, Astrophel talks to a sparrow (Philip). The sparrow is actively pursuing Stella, not just enjoying her attention as a pet. Astrophel feels threatened by Stella's enjoyment of the sparrow and warns Philip to retreat or suffer a broken neck. The use of a sparrow in this sonnet is a reference to poet John Skelton's mock elegy, "Philip Sparrow."

84. In this sonnet, Astrophel celebrates a journey to Stella's house. He addresses the "Highway," the road leading to Stella's (Penelope's) estate and refers to the sound of horses' feet adding a new rhythm to his poetry. He urges the Highway to lead him quickly to Stella so that their hearts can safely meet. In gratitude for the Highway's fulfillment of its duty, Astrophel wishes the road the greatest joy he can imagine: kissing Stella's feet for hundreds of years.

Analysis: Astrophel is filled with joy at the anticipation of meeting Stella in her home. The rhythm of the poem, with its reference to horses and trampling feet, demonstrates that Astrophel is actually en route to his destination. He has a great deal of gratitude for the road that is leading him to Stella, and he personifies the Highway into an entity that can be recognized and thanked.

85. Astrophel finally reaches Stella's home. Before he enters the house to find Stella, he reminds himself that he must not let his joy overwhelm him. In order to keep himself under control in Stella's presence, he delegates a specific task to each of his body parts. His eyes will look at Stella's physical beauty; his ears will listen to her sweet voice; his breath will inhale her breath; his arms will hold her; and his lips will kiss her.

Analysis: Astrophel's love for Stella is so intense that he is unable to internalize her entire presence at once. He has to divide his interactions with her into separate events for several parts of his body. Only by doing this can Astrophel cope with her presence and ensure that his joy at seeing her will not overwhelm him. This idea also distracts him from his anxiety. It seems unlikely that his lips will fulfill their task of kissing her.

86. Stella suddenly looks upon Astrophel with a different emotion; she bestows upon him a "change of looks." Astrophel does not understand what prompted the transformation, nor does he know what this transformation means for his love. He asks Stella to treat him sympathetically until he knows what fault he has committed. If his fault deserves a severe punishment, Astrophel asks that the punishment come from a source other than her eyes, which are the source of his love.

Analysis: This sonnet can be read as a premonition of Song 8, in which Stella finally and irrevocably breaks off their relationship. Astrophel is not sure what has caused his lover's change of looks, but he instantly recognizes that he is probably at fault. Even if he is deserving of her anger and disdain, he still asks for a single favor: that his punishment will not come from the eyes that he loves so much.

87. Astrophel is forced to leave Stella's side and give up any hope of a relationship with her. As he leaves, he notices that Stella is equally affected by his departure. She weeps, sighs, and speaks sad words to him. Astrophel is overjoyed by these signs of her love for him, even as he experiences sorrow for her sadness. He still must leave her, but he cannot be angry.

Analysis: For the first time in the sequence, Astrophel describes the extent of Stella's love for him. She is devastated by the prospect of losing him, even as she knows that she must reject him to do her duty to her husband. Ironically, Astrophel is still easily manipulated by Stella's influence. Even though he is angry at the rejection, the clear signs of her love for him are enough to dissipate his anger and make him temporarily happy.

88. Astrophel criticizes Absence for attempting to separate him from Stella. Absence cannot do anything to keep Astrophel from Stella because Stella is omnipresent in his mind and heart. As soon as Absence obscures the light of Stella's physical being, Astrophel returns to the image of Stella that sustained him before she fell in love with him. Before this absence, his heart loved her and his eyes saw her. Now, both the visual and the emotional images of Stella are tied together in his heart.

Analysis: Even though Astrophel cannot be in Stella's presence, he can retreat into his memories of her. Astrophel even declares that his love for Stella is stronger because of his absence. Instead of being two separate entities, his heart and his eyes are now connected through the images of Stella in his mind.

89. Astrophel continues to lament Stella's absence in his life. Returning to the common theme in the sonnet sequence of Stella's eyes as the sun, Astrophel bemoans the problem that he is living in darkness. Without Stella, he does not have any day; he is living perpetually in night. Moreover, his days are darker than his nights because he knows that he should have Stella's bright eyes shining on him.

Analysis: Astrophel uses the sun theme in several other sonnets in the sequence. This is the first time that he uses it in its negative form: Stella's absence translates into a day without sun. The metaphor becomes even more extreme when Astrophel maintains that his days are darker than his nights. Night already lacks the sun, so Stella's absence has an even deeper impact.

90. Astrophel does not want Stella to think that he writes poetry for the sake of fame. He wishes that he were not considered a poet, and he does not want to receive any praise for his writing from anyone but Stella. All of his words are meant to describe her beauty, and Love accompanies him in every poem that he writes. The only reason for his success is Stella.

Analysis: Astrophel reiterates the theme in the text that Stella is his only inspiration in poetry. He would not want to be considered a poet, even on his gravestone, if he could avoid it in any way. This sonnet mirrors Sidney's statement in "An Apology for Poetry" that poetry is his "unelected vocation." Despite Astrophel's claim, Sidney knows that he has many readers of his sonnets who can praise or blame him.

91. While Astrophel is separated from Stella, he experiences nothing but sorrow. He is cast into a world without her light. Whenever he sees something that reminds him of her, he can take joy in the small light that it brings him. Blonde hair, white hands, rosy cheeks, red lips, and black eyes all bring Stella into his mind and give him pleasure. Astrophel ends the sonnet by assuring Stella that he only loves these physical attributes in other women because he loves them in her.

Analysis: Astrophel continues to compare Stella's presence to the sun. But this time, he pushes the metaphor further. Even though Stella is gone, he can experience glimpses of her light through objects that remind him of her. His memory serves as a sort of candlelight in the darkness without her. Any reminder of her makes the darkness less grim. Her attributes are transcendent and the model for beauty in others.

92. Astrophel asks one of his friends for news of Stella and is disappointed by his friend's brief response that she is well. He asks why his friend gives him such scanty information about his mistress. Are his words so expensive? Is he imitating the Spartans, known for their clipped conversation? Is he hoping to spare Astrophel any more pain? Astrophel demands that his friend tells him everything about Stella: whether she sat or walked, what she wore, if she smiled, if she sighed, and so forth. The most important question comes at the end, when Astrophel asks if Stella mentioned his name.

Analysis: Astrophel presents this sonnet as a comic piece, but there is a clear sense of Astrophel's underlying desperation. He is completely cut off from Stella, and he has no way of receiving news of her except through his friends. In this sonnet, the friend's brief reply is completely dissatisfying, and he wonders if the friend knows something about Stella that he does not. Above all, Astrophel fears that Stella has forgotten him.

93. Astrophel confesses to having harmed Stella in some way. At the start of the sonnet, he can only give utterances to his despair and wonder if he can ever find ink black enough to write his grief. Astrophel attempts to make excuses for his action, citing his confusion and carelessness, but he quickly casts aside his attempt. He has hurt Stella, and he can never forgive himself for the pain he has caused her.

Analysis: Astrophel does not tell the reader what he has done to hurt Stella. Primary sources from Sidney's biography also fail to illuminate the mystery. By not telling us what he has done to Stella, Astrophel allows the events to be created by our imagination. Was it a fight, a rape, an argument with Lord Rich? Is it that kiss from before? The only thing that is apparent is that Astrophel has done something unforgivable.

94. Astrophel addresses Grief, the only figure who can serve as companion to him in his pain. He begs Grief to find the words to express his anguish in the poem because Astrophel is unable to form the words himself. He also asks Grief to complain and wail for his wretchedness because he is unable to do it. Astrophel concludes that, though Grief is defined by unhappiness, it will become even unhappier through Astrophel's personal grief.

Analysis: This sonnet (along with the next six sonnets) corresponds directly to the unknown action of Sonnet 93. Astrophel cannot forgive himself for his action, so each of these sonnets is somber and melancholy in order to reflect his mood.

95. Astrophel is grateful for his sighs because they are his only loyal companions. After Stella's rejection, Astrophel remembers that Joy was cowardly-and Hope instantly yielded. Delight abandoned him, and even Sorrow failed him, destroying his tears because they formed out of love for Stella. Of all of his former companions, Astrophel's sighs are the only ones that remain.

Analysis: This poem serves as a response to the previous poem. Joy, Delight, and Hope, all of the emotions associated with his love for Stella, immediately withdrew at the first sign of trouble. His sighs are the only constant in his emotional world; they stood by him as he wrote poetry before Stella fell in love with him, and they remain his friends after Stella's rejection.

96. Astrophel's thoughts are preoccupied with the night because of their similarities. First of all, the night is always black, whether through Nature or through chance. Second, the night is barred from the sun, mirroring Astrophel's banishment from Stella. Both the night and Astrophel's thoughts are silent and heavy, full of doubts, and filled with the moisture of dew or tears. Yet, Astrophel admits that the night is still better than his thoughts because the night leads to sleep, while his thoughts never allow any rest.

Analysis: Astrophel takes the metaphor of Stella as the sun and again inverts it so that he is talking about the night and Stella's absence. The dark night and Astrophel's dark thoughts have many things in common. Yet, Astrophel's thoughts are still darker than the night because they do not allow him to sleep. This is in clear contradiction to Astrophel's former view of Stella's image in his mind. Even if Stella's image is still present, Astrophel's thoughts have grown so dark that they are darker than the night.

97. Diana, the goddess of the moon (or in this case, the personification of the moon), desires to cheer up Night. In order to give him joy, she shows herself in the full phase of the moon and orders the stars around her to shine. But Night is in love with the light of the sun and cannot escape from depression. Remaining silent and sad, Night blocks out the light of the stars with clothes of mourning. The sun could bring joy to Night just as Stella could bring joy to Astrophel, but Astrophel knows that it can never be.

Analysis: Astrophel compares himself to a personification of Night. Like Night, Astrophel is somber and depressed, anxious for a joyful sun that will never come. Despite the best efforts of the moon and the stars (and references to classical mythology), nothing can cheer up the Night except for the sun. Yet, as Astrophel knows, the sun can never belong to the night; they must always be divided.

98. Astrophel is unable to sleep at night. While other creatures can rest in their beds, he can only toss and turn in his, thinking of Stella. When the dawn comes, Astrophel is finally able to close his eyes, but only out of spite that the world has its sun while he does not have Stella.

Analysis: This sonnet corresponds to Sonnets 32, 38, and 39, in which Astrophel discusses sleep and the god of dreams. Stella's rejection has completely transformed Astrophel's perception of sleep. Before, he was anxious to fall asleep so that he could see the image of her in his dreams. Now, Astrophel is only able to close his eyes at the sight of the sun because it reminds him too much of her.

99. When night convinces every other person to fall asleep, Astrophel stays awake. He looks at the shapes of the darkness and then retreats to his own mind to see the image of Stella. As the sun rises, Astrophel immediately falls asleep, closing his eyes under a "tomb of lids." He is ashamed to stay awake to see the brightness of the sun when his mind maintains its darkness.

Analysis: As in the previous sonnet, the theme of this sonnet corresponds to Sonnets 32, 38, and 39. Astrophel feels the most comfort in the darkness of the night because it mirrors the shadows in his mind. As soon as he sees the sun, he is reminded of Stella, and he cannot bear to keep his eyes open.

100. Astrophel describes the elements of Stella's grief. Her tears are the rain from Beauty's skies, and her sighs are soft breezes that cool the hell in Astrophel's soul. Stella's complaints are so beautiful that Eloquence itself is envious of her words. Astrophel declares that all of these signs of Stella's sorrow give him joy because they mean that she still loves him.

Analysis: Astrophel expresses Stella's grief in the same romantic terms that he used to describe her beauty throughout the sonnet sequence. In a clear shift from his previous emotions, Astrophel no longer feels sadness when Stella shows sorrow. Instead, he is filled with joy because of the implications of her unhappiness, if it is true that she loves him after all.