Philip Sidney

Astrophil and Stella

Sonnets 28 to 54

The text of each poem with a line by line paraphrase, and occasional explanatory notes

Copyright © 2003 A. S. Kline, All Rights Reserved
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Contents


28

You that with allegory’s curious frame,

Of others’ children changelings use to make,

With me those pains for God’s sake do not take:

I list not dig so deep for brazen fame.

When I say “Stella,” I do mean the same

Princess of Beauty, for whose only sake

The reins of Love I love, though never slake,

And joy therein, though nations count it shame.

I beg no subject to use eloquence,

Nor in hid ways do guide Philosophy:

Look at my hands for no such quintessence;

But know that I in pure simplicity

Breathe out the flames which burn within my heart

Love only reading unto me this art.

You who are used to making changelings of other’s children

(Poems) by employing allegory’s curious structure,

Do not take those pains with me for God’s sake.

I do not wish to dig so deep for brazen fame.

When I say, ‘Stella’, I actually mean that same

Princess of beauty, for whose sake alone

I love the reins of love, though they are never slackened,

And joy in them, though nations count it shameful.

I do not ask for a subject in order to be eloquent,

Nor seek to lead philosophy amongst hidden ways:

Look for no such quintessence at my hands,

But know that I, in pure simplicity,

Breathe out the flames that burn in my heart,

Love alone teaching me this art.


29

Like some weak lords, neighbor’d by mighty kings,

To keep themselves and their chief cities free,

Do easily yield, that all their coasts may be

Ready to store their camps of needful things:

So Stella’s heart finding what power Love brings,

To keep itself in life and liberty,

Doth willing grant, that in the frontiers he

Use all to help his other conquerings:

And thus her heart escapes, but thus her eyes

Serve him with shot, her lips his heralds are;

Her breasts his tents, legs his triumphal car;

Her flesh his food, her skin his armour brave,

And I, but for because my prospect lies

Upon that coast, am giv’n up for a slave.

As some weak lords, the neighbours of mighty kings,

In order to guarantee themselves and their major cities freedom,

Quickly agree that all their coastlines should be

Prepared to store what is necessary for the kings’ camps,

So Stella’s heart, finding what power Love possesses,

In order to keep itself (her heart) in life and liberty,

Willingly grants that on her frontiers he (Love)

May use all to help his other conquests:

And so her heart escapes, but in this way her eyes

Serve him with their bullets (rays), her lips are his heralds,

Her breasts are his tents, her legs his triumphal chariot,

Her flesh is his food, her skin is his brave armour:

And I, because my intent is fixed on that coast,

Am given up to slavery.


30

Whether the Turkish new moon minded be

To fill his horns this year on Christian coast;

How Poles’ right king means, with leave of host,

To warm with ill-made fire cold Muscovy;

If French can yet three parts in one agree;

What now the Dutch in their full diets boast;

How Holland hearts, now so good towns be lost,

Trust in the shade of pleasing Orange tree;

How Ulster likes of that same golden bit

Wherewith my father once made it half tame;

If in the Scotch court be no welt’ring yet:

These questions busy wits to me do frame.

I, cumber’d with good manners, answer do,

But know not how, for still I think of you.

Whether the Turks (under the crescent flag) think

To attack the Christian coast this year (Spain in 1582):

How Poland’s rightful king (Stephen Bathory) intends

Without leave to invade Russia (1580 to 1582):

If the three French factions (Catholics, Huguenots, Politiques) can agree:

What the Germans (Deutsch) can boast at the Diet of Augsburg (1582):

How Holland having lost towns to Spain (Breda, Tournay, Oudenarde,

Lier, Ninove 1581-82) put their faith in William of Orange:

How Ulster likes that same golden bit (the land tax?) whereby

My father (Sir Henry Sidney, Lord Deputy Governor 1576-8) half tamed it:

If the Scottish Court is still weltering in intrigues (Raid of Ruthven, August):

These questions are asked of me by busy wits:

I, constrained by good manners, am obliged to answer and do,

But am not aware how, because I am always thinking of you.


31

With how sad steps, oh Moon, thou climb’st the skies,

How silently, and with how wan a face.

What, may it be, that even in heav’nly place

That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?

Sure, if that long with Love acquainted eyes

Can judge of Love, thou feel’st a lover’s case;

I read it in thy looks; thy languish’d grace

To me that feel the like, thy state descries.

Then ev’n of fellowship, oh Moon, tell me

Is constant love deem’d there but want of wit?

Are beauties there as proud as here thy be?

Do they above love to be lov’d, and yet

Those lovers scorn whom that Love doth possess?

Do they call virtue there ungratefulness?

With what sad steps O Moon you climb the skies,

How silently and with how pale a face:

What, can it be that even in a heavenly place

That busy archer (Cupid) tries out his sharp arrows?

Surely, if eyes that are long acquainted with love

Can make judgments about it, you feel for lovers:

I read it in your looks: your languished grace

Reveals your state to me who feel similarly.

Therefore out of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,

Is constancy in love deemed up there also to be lack of wit?

Are beauties there as proud as they are here?

Do those above love to be loved, and yet

Scorn the lovers who are possessed by that love?

Do they call their ungratefulness (unwillingness to please) virtue also?


32

Morpheus the lively son of deadly sleep,

Witness of life to them that living die,

A prophet oft, and oft an history,

A poet eke, as humours fly or creep,

Since thou in me so sure a power dost keep,

That never I with clos’d-up sense do lie,

But by thy work my Stella I descry,

Teaching blind eyes both how to smile and weep;

Vouchsafe of all acquaintance this to tell:

Whence hast thou ivory, rubies, pearl and gold,

To show her skin, lips, teeth, and head so well?

“Fool,” answers he, “no Indies such treasures hold,

But from thy heart, while my sire charmeth thee,

Sweet Stella’s image I do steal to me.”

Morpheus, the lively son of deadly sleep (Somnus, in Greek myth),

Who brings apparently living images to the living who die (of grief),

Who is often a prophet of things to come, and a historian of things past,

A poet also, according to how the bodily humours soar or are depressed:

Since you have such certain power in me

That I never lie down with closed-up senses

Without seeing my Stella, through your efforts

That teach my blind eyes how to smile and to weep,

Deign to tell me because of all this familiarity with me:

Where do you obtain ivory, rubies, pearl and gold

To depict her skin, lips, teeth and hair so well?

He answers, ‘Fool, it is not the Indies that hold these treasures,

Rather I steal sweet Stella’s image from your heart

And make it mine, while my father (Sleep) charms you.’

Note: See the myth of Ceyx and Alcyone: Ovid’s Metamorphoses XI 735, used by Chaucer in the Book of the Duchess, for the role of Morpheus.


33

I might, unhappy word, oh me, I might,

And then would not, or could not see my bliss;

Till now, wrapt in a most infernal night,

I find how heav’nly day, wretch, I did miss.

Heart, rend thyself, thou dost thyself but right;

No lovely Paris made thy Helen his:

No force, no fraud, robb’d thee of thy delight,

Nor Fortune of thy fortune author is:

But to myself my self did give the blow,

While too much wit (forsooth) so troubled me,

That I respects for both our sakes must show:

And yet could not by rising morn foresee

How fair a day was near, oh punish’d eyes,

That I had been more foolish or more wise.

I might, an unhappy word, O me, I might have,

And then would not, or could not see my bliss;

Until now, wrapped in a most infernal night,

I realise how I, a wretch, missed heavenly day.

Heart rend yourself: it would only be right to do so;

No lovely Paris made your Helen his,

No force, or fraud robbed you of your delight,

Nor is Fate the author of your fate;

But I myself dealt the blow to myself,

While in truth so much thought troubled me regarding it (the abortive

Betrothal in 1576 to Stella, Penelope Devereux: she was then 12 years old)

That I was forced to be cautious, for both our sakes:

And yet I could not by rising morn (her childish looks) foresee

How fair a day (her mature beauty) was near: O punished eyes

If only I had been more foolish or more wise (thought less or loved more).


34

Come, let me write. “And to what end?” To ease

A burthen’d heart. “How can words ease, which are

The glasses of thy daily vexing care?”

Oft cruel fights well pictur’d forth do please.

“Art not asham’d to publish thy disease?”

Nay, that may breed my fame, it is so rare.

“But will not wise men think thy words fond ware?”

Then be they close, and so none shall displease.

“What idler thing than speak and not be heard?”

What harder thing than smart, and not to speak?

Peace, foolish wit, with wit my wit is marr’d.

Thus write I while I doubt to write, and wreak

My harms on ink’s poor loss; perhaps some find

Stella’s great powers, that so confuse my mind.

Come, let me write, ‘And for what purpose?’ to ease

A burdened heart. ‘How can words bring ease, which are the mirrors

Reflecting your daily vexing cares?’

Often cruel battles please when painted.

‘Are you not ashamed to make public knowledge of your trouble?’

No: that may increase my fame: it is so unusual.

‘But will wise men not think your words to be foolish trifles?’

Then let them be kept private and so they will displease nobody.

‘What is more useless than to speak and not be heard?’

What is harder than to be in pain, and not speak about it?

Peace foolish thoughts: my thought is marred by thought.

So I write when I am doubtful of the point of writing, and impose

My troubles on a waste of ink; perhaps some of my writings reflect

Stella’s great powers: and that is what so confuses my mind.


35

What may words say, or what may words not say,

Where truth itself must speak like flattery?

Within what bounds can one his liking stay,

Where Nature doth with infinite agree?

What Nestor’s counsel can my flames allay,

Since Reason’s self doth blow the coal in me?

And ah what hope, that hope should once see day,

Where Cupid is sworn page to Chastity?

Honour is honour’d, that thou dost possess

Him as thy slave, and now long needy Fame

Doth even grow rich, naming my Stella’s name.

Wit learns in thee perfection to express,

Not thou by praise, but praise in thee is rais’d:

It is a praise to praise, when thou art prais’d.

What may words say, or what may they not say,

When truth itself must sound like flattery?

Within what bounds can a man restrain his attraction

To someone, who unites the natural with the infinite?

What wise counsel (like Nestor’s in Homer) can lessen my flames,

Since reason itself fans the fire in me?

And ah, what hope is there that hope will ever be realised

When Cupid is a page sworn to the service of one so chaste?

Honour is honoured that you possess him

As your slave, and now Fame that has long been impoverished

Grows rich (Stella being Lord Rich’s wife), naming my Stella’s name.

Wit learns to express perfection in you,

You are not enhanced by praise, but praise is enhanced by you:

It is like praising praise itself, when you are praised.


36

Stella, whence doth this new assault arise,

A conquer’d, yielden, ransack’d heart to win?

Whereto long since through my long batter’d eyes,

Whole armies of thy beauties entered in.

And there long since, Love thy lieutenant lies,

My forces raz’d, thy banners rais’d within:

Of conquest, do not these effects suffice,

But wilt now war upon thine own begin?

With so sweet voice, and by sweet Nature so

In sweetest strength, so sweetly skill’d withal,

In all sweet stratagems sweet Art can show,

That not my soul, which at thy foot did fall

Long since, forc’d by thy beams, but stone nor tree

By Sense’s privilege, can ‘scape from thee.

Stella from where does this new assault arise,

To win a heart already conquered, yielded, ransacked?

Where, long since, through my long-assaulted eyes,

Whole armies of your beauty entered:

And where, long since, Love, your lieutenant, occupied it,

My forces having been razed, your banners raised within it.

Do these effects of conquest not satisfy you?

And will you now begin a new war on what is already yours?

Provided by sweet nature with such a sweet voice,

And, in such sweet strength, with such sweet skills

In all the stratagems that sweet art can display,

Then not only my soul, which fell at your feet,

Long since overpowered by your eye-beams, but also stones and trees

Cannot use the privilege of the senses to escape being drawn to you.

Note: Orpheus’s singing stirred the stones and trees, see Ovid, Metamorphoses X:11


37

My mouth doth water, and my breast doth swell,

My tongue doth itch, my thoughts in labour be:

Listen then, lordings, with good ear to me,

For of my life I must a riddle tell.

Toward Aurora’s court a nymph doth dwell,

Rich in all beauties which man’s eye can see:

Beauties so far from reach of words, that we

Abase her praise, saying she doth excel:

Rich in the treasure of deserv’d renown,

Rich in the riches of a royal heart,

Rich in those gifts which give th’eternal crown;

Who though most rich in these and every part,

Which make the patents of true worldly bliss,

Hath no misfortune, but that Rich she is.

My mouth waters to utter, my breast swells for speech,

My tongue itches for it, and my thoughts are labouring to speak,

Listen then, lords, carefully to me,

Because I must relate an event in my life as a riddle.

A nymph (Penelope Rich) lives towards the Dawn (in Essex, in the East)

Rich in all the beauties a man’s eye can see,

Beauties so far above words that we reduce the praise

By even using words to say how superior she is:

Rich in the treasure of a well-deserved fame,

Rich in the riches of a royal heart,

Rich in those (spiritual) gifts that grant an eternal crown:

Who though she is rich in these things and everything

Which constitutes true earthly bliss,

Has only one misfortune, that she is (married to Lord) Rich.

Note: Lord Rich’s house was Leigh’s in Essex in Eastern England.


38

This night while sleep begins with heavy wings

To hatch mine eyes, and that unbitted thought

Doth fall to stray, and my chief powers are brought

To leave the scepter of all subject things,

The first that straight my fancy’s error brings

Unto my mind, is Stella’s image, wrought

By Love’s own self, but with so curious draught,

That she, methinks, not only shines but sings.

I start, look, hark, but what in clos’d-up sense

Was held, in open’d sense it flies away,

Leaving me nought but wailing eloquence:

I, seeing better sights in sight’s decay,

Call’d it anew, and wooed sleep again:

But him her host that unkind guest had slain.

Tonight, as sleep, with his heavy wings, begins

To close my eyes, and my unbridled thought

Begins to wander, and my mental powers are led

To abandon control over things subject to them,

The first thing that my imagination’s wandering brings

To mind is Stella’s image: created

By Love himself, but with such careful draughtsmanship,

That she seems not only to shine with light, but also to sing.

I am startled, I look, and listen, but what is captured in sleep

Flies away when my senses are awake,

Leaving me nothing but wailing speech:

Since I see better sights when my waking sight is dimmed,

I invoked Stella’s image again, and tried to sleep again:

But Stella’s image like a cruel guest had killed sleep, its host.


39

Come sleep, oh sleep, the certain knot of peace,

The baiting place of wit, the balm of woe,

The poor man’s wealth, the prisoner’s release,

Th’indifferent judge between the high and low;

With shield of proof shield me from out the prease

Of those fierce darts, Despair at me doth throw:

Oh make in me those civil wars to cease;

I will good tribute pay if thou do so:

Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed,

A chamber deaf to noise and blind to light;

A rosy garland, and a weary head;

And if these things, as being thine by right,

Move not thy heavy Grace, thou shalt in me

Livelier than elsewhere Stella’s image see.

Come sleep, O sleep, the reliable bond of peace,

The resting place of wit, the balm of sorrow,

The poor man’s wealth, the prisoner’s release,

The impartial judge between the high and low:

With a strong shield, shield me from the crowd

Of fierce spears that despair throws at me:

O, make me cease fighting in these civil wars:

I will pay a good tribute of gifts if you do so.

Accept, from me, smooth pillows, a sweetest bed,

A bedroom proofed against noise, and closed to light,

A rose-garland of secrecy, and a weary head:

And if these things, which belong to you as of right anyway,

Do not win your heavy thanks, you may also see

Stella’s image in my mind, more alive than elsewhere.


40

As good to write as for to lie and groan,

Oh Stella dear, how much thy power hath wrought,

That hast my mind, none of the basest, brought

My still-kept course, while others sleep, to moan.

Alas, if from the height of Virtue’s throne,

Thou canst vouchsafe the influence of a thought

Upon a wretch, that long thy grace hath sought;

Weigh then how I by thee am overthrown:

And then, think thus, although thy beauty be

Made manifest by such a victory,

Yet noblest conquerors do wrecks avoid.

Since then thou hast so far subdued me,

That in my heart I offer still to thee,

Oh do not let thy Temple be destroyed.

Better to write than lie here and groan.

O Stella dear, how much your power has achieved,

That has brought my mind, which is not a base one,

To bemoan the course it has adhered to.

Alas, if you can deign, from the height of your virtue’s throne

To think about a wretch who has long desired your grace,

Reflect on how I am overthrown by you:

And then think as follows: although your beauty

Is made apparent by such a victory, yet

The noblest conquerors avoid complete ruin of their conquests.

Since then you have defeated me to this extent

That I still make offerings to you in my heart’s temple,

Don’t let that temple itself be destroyed.


41

Having this day my horse, my hand, my lance

Guided so well, that I obtain’d the prize,

Both by the judgment of the English eyes,

And of some sent from that sweet enemy France;

Horsemen my skill in horsemanship advance,

Town-folks my strength; a daintier judge applies

His praise to sleight, which from good use doth rise;

Some lucky wits impute it but to chance;

Others, because of both sides I do take

My blood from them who did excel in this,

Think Nature me a man of arms did make.

How far they shot awry! The true cause is,

Stella look’d on, and from her heav’nly face

Sent forth the beams, which made so fair my race.

Having guided my horse, my hand, my lance, so well

Today, that I obtained the prize,

Both as judged by English eyes

And some sent from that sweet enemy France:

Horsemen proclaim my skill in horsemanship:

Townsmen my strength: a more discerning judge

Praises my dexterity achieved by constant practice:

Some who are lucky ascribe it to mere chance:

Others because I am descended on both sides

From those who excel in these pursuits,

Think it was Nature that made me good at tilting:

How mistaken they were! The true reason is

That Stella was watching, and from her heavenly face

Sent out the rays that made my competing successful.

Note: In May 1581 he participated in the tournament at court in front of Elizabeth and the French delegation (in England to negotiate a match with the Duke of Alençon).


42

Oh eyes, which do the spheres of beauty move,

Whose beams be joys, whose joys all virtues be,

Who while they make Love conquer, conquer Love,

The schools where Venus hath learn’d chastity;

Oh eyes, whose humble looks most glorious prove

Only lov’d tyrants, just in cruelty,

Do not, oh do not from poor me remove,

Keep still my zenith, ever shine on me.

For though I never see them, but straightways

My life forgets to nourish languish’d sprites;

Yet still on me, oh eyes, dart down your rays:

And if from majesty of sacred lights,

Oppressing mortal sense, my death proceed,

Wracks triumphs be, which Love (high set) doth breed.

O, eyes that move the spheres of beauty,

Whose rays are joys, whose joys are all the virtues:

Who while they force love to conquer, in turn conquer love,

The schools where Venus has learned to be chaste:

O eyes where humble looks prove to be most glorious,

To be beloved tyrants, just in their cruelty:

Do not, O do not, take yourselves away from me:

Keep above me in the zenith, and always shine on me.

Since though I never see them without my life

Immediately forgetting to nourish its own weary spirits,

Yet still dart your rays down on me, O eyes:

And if my death is caused by the majestic power

Of your sacred lights, oppressing mortal sense,

Disasters that noble love creates are triumphs.

Note: The last line, see Petrarch Canzoniere 140, line 14.


43

Fair eyes, sweet lips, dear heart, that foolish I

Could hope by Cupid’s help on you to prey;

Since to himself he doth your gifts apply,

As his main force, choice sport, and easeful stay.

For when he will see who dare him gainsay,

Then with those eyes he looks, lo by and by

Each soul doth at Love’s feet his weapons lay,

Glad if for her he give them leave to die.

When he will play, then in her lips he is,

Where blushing red, that Love’s self them doth love,

With either lip he doth the other kiss:

But when he will for quiet’s sake remove

From all the world, her heart is then his room

Where well he knows, no man to him can come.

Fair eyes, sweet lips, dear heart, how foolish

For me to hope to prey on you with Cupid’s help:

Since he makes use of your gifts himself,

As his main power, best sport, and restful ease.

Because, when he looks who will deny him?

So when Love looks with these eyes, by and by

Each soul lays its weapons at Love’s feet,

Glad if Love gives that soul permission to die for her.

When he sports, then he is in her lips,

Where they blush red, because Love himself loves them,

While with either lip he kisses the other lip:

But when Love wishes to remove himself from everyone,

For the sake of peace, her heart is then his room,

Where he knows full well that no man can reach him.


44

My words I know do well set forth my mind,

My mind bemoans his sense of inward smart;

Such smart may pity claim of any heart,

Her heart, sweet heart, is of no tiger’s kind:

And yet she hears, yet I no pity find;

But more I cry, less grace she doth impart,

Alas, what cause is there so overthwart,

That nobleness itself makes thus unkind?

I much do guess, yet find no truth save this:

That when the breath of my complaints doth touch

Those dainty doors unto the court of bliss,

The heav’nly nature of that place is such,

That once come there, the sobs of mine annoys

Are metamorphos’d straight to tunes of joys.

I know my words truly communicate my thoughts:

My mind grieves at its sense of inner pain:

Such pain has the right to claim pity from any heart:

Her heart, a sweet heart, is not that of a tigress:

And yet she hears me but I find no pity in her:

Rather the more I complain, the less kind she is.

Alas, what reason for this could there be that’s so perverse

It makes nobility of mind, itself, unkind to another?

I try hard to guess, but only find this possible truth:

That when the breath of my complaint touches

Those dainty doors (her ears) to the courts of bliss (her mind)

The heavenly nature of her mind is such

That once arrived there the sobbing of my grievances

Is straight away transformed to joyful tunes.


45

Stella oft sees the very face of woe

Painted in my beclouded stormy face:

But cannot skill to pity my disgrace,

Not though thereof the cause herself she know:

Yet hearing late a fable, which did show

Of lovers never known, a grievous case,

Pity thereof gat in her breast such place

That, from that sea deriv’d, tears’ spring did flow.

Alas, if fancy drawn by imag’d things,

Though false, yet with free scope more grace doth breed

Than servant’s wrack, where new doubts honour brings;

Then think, my dear, that you in me do read

Of lovers’ ruin some sad tragedy:

I am not I, pity the tale of me.

Stella often sees the face of unhappiness itself

Painted on my clouded and stormy face:

But is unable to pity my state of disgrace,

Even though she knows the cause of it herself:

Yet when she heard a story, lately, that depicted

A sorry example of lovers who never met together,

Pity was so powerful in her breast,

That a stream of tears, derived from it, flowed out.

Alas, if imagination, stirred by imaginary but false things,

Nevertheless creates more kindness than the torment

Of a real lover, where honour causes doubts to arise,

Then, my dear, imagine that you are reading

Some sad tragedy concerning a lover’s ruin, in me:

I am not I, then: you can pity the story of me, instead.


46

I curs’d thee oft, I pity now thy case,

Blind-hitting boy, since she that thee and me

Rules with a beck, so tyrannizeth thee,

That thou must want or food, or dwelling place,

For she protest to banish thee her face.

Her face? Oh Love, a rogue thou then should’st be!

If Love learn not alone to love and see,

Without desire to feed of further grace.

Alas poor wag, that now a scholar art

To such a schoolmistress, whose lessons new

Thou needs must miss, and so thou needs must smart.

Yet dear, let me his pardon get of you,

So long (though he from book miche to desire)

Till without fuel you can make hot fire.

I often cursed you, now I pity your state,

Boy (Cupid), who aims and hits blindly, because she, who rules

You and me with a nod of her head, so tyrannises you now

That you must be in need of food, or a place to live.

Since she affirms she’ll banish you from her presence:

Her presence? O Love you would be despicable, then,

If you, Love, could not, uniquely, learn to love and see

Without the desire to be nourished by any other kindness.

Alas, poor child, who are now a pupil

To such a school-mistress, whose next lessons

You must miss, and so must be punished for it.

Yet, dear, let me obtain his pardon for this, from you,

(Though he plays truant from books to desire) for as long as

It takes you to make a hot fire without fuel.


47

What, have I thus betray’d my liberty?

Can those black beams such burning marks engrave

In my free side? Or am I born a slave,

Whose neck becomes such yoke of tyranny?

Or want I sense to feel my misery?

Or sprite, disdain of such disdain to have,

Who for long faith, though daily help I crave,

May get no alms but scorn of beggary?

Virtue awake, beauty but beauty is;

I may, I must, I can, I will, I do

Leave following that, which it is gain to miss.

Let her go! Soft, but here she comes. Go to,

Unkind, I love you not. Oh me, that eye

Doth make my heart give to my tongue the lie.

What: have I given my freedom away like this?

Can those eye-beams from her dark eyes engrave such brands

On my free side? Or was I born a slave

Whose neck is suited to such a tyrannical yoke?

Or do I lack the sensations to feel my misery?

Or do I lack spirit, to be so scorned by her scorn?

I, who, though I ask for help from her every day, receive

No alms from her, for all my long loyalty, but scorn for my begging instead.

Virtue, rouse yourself: beauty is only beauty:

I may, I must, I can, I will, I do

Cease to follow that which it is beneficial to lose.

Let her go. Peace, here she comes. ‘Away with you,

Unkind one, I do not love you’: O me, that eye of hers

Makes my heart deny the words on my tongue.


48

Soul’s joy, bend not those morning stars from me,

Where Virtue is made strong by Beauty’s might,

Where Love is chasteness, Pain doth learn delight,

And Humbleness grows one with Majesty.

Whatever may ensue, oh, let me be

Co-partner of the riches of that sight:

Let not mine eyes be hell-driv’n from that light:

Oh look, oh shine, oh let me die and see.

For though I oft myself of them bemoan,

That through my heart their beamy darts be gone,

Whose cureless wounds ev’n now most freshly bleed:

Yet since my death-wound is already got,

Dear killer, spare not thy sweet cruel shot:

A kind of grace it is to kill with speed.

Soul’s joy, don’t direct those morning stars (your eyes) away from me,

Which strengthen virtue by the power of their beauty,

In which love is chaste, through which pain learns to feel delight,

And humility becomes identical with majesty.

Whatever may happen, O, let me be

A sharer in the riches of that sight:

Don’t let my eyes be driven from that light towards Hell:

O look, O shine, O let me die and still see them.

Though I often grieve for myself because of them,

Because their shining arrows have pierced my heart,

Whose incurable wounds bleed freshly even now:

Yet since I have already received my death-wound,

Dear killer, don’t spare your sweet and cruel dart:

It is a sort of kindness to kill quickly.


49

I on my horse, and Love on me doth try

Our horsemanships, while by strange work I prove

A horseman to my horse, a horse to Love;

And now man’s wrongs in me, poor beast, descry.

The reins wherewith my rider doth me tie,

Are humbled thoughts, which bit of reverence move,

Curb’d in with fear, but with gilt boss above

Of hope, which makes it seem fair to the eye.

The wand is will; thou, fancy, saddle art,

Girt fast by memory, and while I spur

My horse, he spurs with sharp desire my heart:

He sits me fast, however I do stir:

And now hath made me to his hand so right,

That in the manage myself takes delight.

I try my horsemanship on my horse, and Love tries his on me,

While, by curious effort, I show myself as a horseman

To my horse, and show myself as a horse to Love:

And now, poor beast, see man’s wrong actions in me.

The reins my rider (Love) ties me with

Are humbled thoughts, moved by the horse’s bit of Reverence,

Curbed by Fear, but with the gilt boss (metal knob on the bit)

Of Hope, that makes it (the curb) seem acceptable to the eye.

The riding crop is Will, and you, Imagination, are the saddle,

Fastened on by Memory: and while I spur

My horse, Love spurs my heart with sharp Desire:

He sits tight, however I move:

And now has made me respond so sensitively to his hand

That I myself take delight in my own training.


50

Stella, the fullness of my thoughts of thee

Cannot be stay’d within my panting breast,

But they do swell and struggle forth of me,

Till that in words thy figure be express’d.

And yet as soon as they so formed be,

According to my Lord Love’s own behest:

With sad eyes I their weak proportion see,

To portrait that which in this world is best.

So that I cannot choose but write my mind,

And cannot choose but put out what I write,

While these poor babes their death in birth do find:

And now my pen these lines had dashed quite,

But that they stopp’d his fury from the same,

Because their forefront bare sweet Stella’s name.

Stella, the extent of my thoughts about you

Cannot be contained in my panting breast,

Rather the thoughts swell and struggle from me,

Until your image is expressed in words.

And yet as soon as my words are formed

According to my lord’s, Love’s, own request

I see, with sad eyes, that their delineations are too weak

To portray that (you) which is the best in this world.

So that I cannot choose but write what is in my mind,

And cannot choose but to publish what I write,

While these poor babes (the poems) find death at birth:

And now my pen would have scratched out these lines

Except that they themselves prevented its fury from doing so,

Because their first line began with sweet Stella’s name.


51

Pardon mine ears, both I and they do pray,

So may your tongue still fluently proceed,

To them that do such entertainment need,

So may you still have somewhat new to say.

On silly me do not the burden lay,

Of all the grave conceits your brain doth breed;

But find some Hercules to bear, instead

Of Atlas tir’d, your wisdom’s heav’nly sway.

For me, while you discourse of courtly tides,

Of cunning fishers in most troubled streams,

Of straying ways, when valiant error guides:

Meanwhile my heart confers with Stella’s beams

And is even irk’d that so sweet comedy,

By such unsuited speech should hinder’d be.

Pardon my ears: both I, and they, pray

That your tongue might still go on talking fluently

To those people who need such entertainment, and

That you might always have something new to say.

Don’t lay the burden of all the serious ideas

Your brain creates on foolish me,

But find some Hercules, instead of this weary Atlas,

To bear the heavenly weight of your wisdom.

As for me, while you speak about the ebb and flow of Court life,

Of cunning fishermen in most troubled waters,

Of wandering sea-paths where brave error is the guide,

My heart, in the meantime, is in communion with Stella’s eyes,

And is even annoyed that such a sweet play (of thought)

Should be disturbed by such inappropriate speech.


52

A strife is grown between Virtue and Love,

While each pretends that Stella must be his:

Her eyes, her lips, her all, saith Love, do this

Since they do wear his badge, most firmly prove.

But Virtue thus that title doth disprove:

That Stella (oh dear name) that Stella is

That virtuous soul, sure heir of heav’nly bliss,

Not this fair outside, which our hearts doth move;

And therefore, though her beauty and her grace

Be Love’s indeed, in Stella’s self he may

By no pretense claim any manner place.

Well, Love, since this demur our suit will stay,

Let Virtue have that Stella’s self; yet thus

That Virtue but that body grant to us.

A (legal) dispute has started between Virtue and Love,

In which each declares that Stella must be his:

Love says that her eyes, lips, all of her prove this,

Firmly, since they all wear his badge (of livery).

But Virtue disproves Love’s claim in this way, saying:

That Stella, (O dear name), that Stella is

Really her own virtuous soul, the certain heir of heavenly bliss,

Not her lovely exterior that stirs our hearts:

And therefore, though her beauty and her grace do indeed

Belong to Love, he cannot pretend to lay any kind of claim to her Self.

Well, Love, since this objection halts our (legal) action,

Let Virtue have Stella’s self (her soul): yet, in doing so,

Let Virtue which is her soul grant her body to us.


53

In martial sports I had my cunning tried,

And yet to break more staves did me address:

While, with the people’s shouts, I must confess,

Youth, luck, and praise, ev’n fill’d my veins with pride;

When Cupid having me his slave descried,

In Mars’s livery, prancing in the press:

“What now, Sir Fool,” said he; I would no less.

“Look here, I say.” I look’d and Stella spied,

Who hard by made a window send forth light.

My heart then quak’d, then dazzled were mine eyes;

One hand forgot to rule, th’other to fight.

Nor trumpet’s sound I heard, nor friendly cries;

My foe came on, and beat the air for me,

Till that her blush taught me my shame to see.

I had tried out my cunning in warlike sports,

But still was intent on breaking more tilting-staffs,

While, due to the crowd’s applause, I confess,

Youth, luck and praise filled my veins with pride:

When Cupid having caught sight of me, his slave,

In Mars’ livery and prancing about in the action,

Said: ‘What now, sir fool, I would like the same attention from you,

Look here, I say,’ I looked and saw Stella

Who made a nearby window send out light.

Then my heart trembled, and my eyes were dazzled,

One hand forgot to control the reins, the other to fight:

I heard neither the trumpet’s signal, nor the friendly cries:

My opponent charged, and beat the air chasing me,

Until her blush taught me to see my own shame.


54

Because I breathe not love to every one,

Nor do not use set colours for to wear,

Nor nourish special locks of vowed hair,

Nor give each speech the full point of a groan,

The courtly nymphs, acquainted with the moan

Of them, who in their lips Love’s standard bear;

“What he?” say they of me. “Now I dare swear,

He cannot love. No, no, let him alone.”

And think so still, so Stella know my mind,

Profess indeed I do not Cupid’s art;

But you, fair maids, at length this true shall find:

That his right badge is worn but in the heart;

Dumb swans, not chatt’ring pies, do lovers prove;

They love indeed, who quake to say they love.

Because I don’t breathe love to everyone,

And am not seen wearing the usual colours of a lover,

And don’t keep special locks of hair given as a pledge,

And don’t end each speech with a groan, like a full-stop,

The nymphs of the court, familiar with the moan of those (lovers)

Who carry Love’s standard on their lips (show their love in speech):

Say of me: ‘What, I dare swear he cannot love:

No, no, leave him be.’

And they can think so, still, as long as Stella knows my mind.

I don’t profess to know Cupid’s art:

But you, fair maids, will find this truth, in the end,

That Love’s true badge is only worn in the heart:

Dumb swans not chattering magpies, prove to be the lovers:

They love truly who tremble to say that they love.


Index by Poem Number