Philip Sidney

Astrophil and Stella

Sonnets 1 to 27

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

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright © 2003, All Rights Reserved.
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Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show

That she (dear She) might take some pleasure of my pain:

Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,

Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain;

I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe,

Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain:

Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow

Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burn’d brain.

But words came halting forth, wanting Invention’s stay,

Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows,

And others’ feet still seem’d but strangers in my way.

Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,

Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite--

“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write.”

Loving, and wishing to show my love in verse,

So that Stella might find pleasure in my pain,

So that pleasure might make her read, and reading make her know me,

And knowledge might win pity for me, and pity might obtain grace,

I looked for fitting words to depict the darkest face of sadness,

Studying clever creations in order to entertain her mind,

Often turning others’ pages to see if, from them,

Fresh and fruitful ideas would flow into my brain.

But words came out lamely, lacking the support of Imagination:

Imagination, nature’s child, fled the blows of Study, her stepmother:

And the writings (‘feet’) of others seemed only alien things in the way.

So while pregnant with the desire to speak, helpless with the birth pangs,

Biting at my pen which disobeyed me, beating myself in anger,

My Muse said to me ‘Fool, look in your heart and write.’


Not at first sight, nor with a dribbed shot

Love gave the wound, which while I breathe will bleed;

But known worth did in mine of time proceed,

Till by degrees it had full conquest got:

I saw and liked, I liked but loved not;

I lov’d, but straight did not what Love decreed.

At length to love’s decrees I, forc’d, agreed,

Yet with repining at so partial lot.

Now even that footstep of lost liberty

Is gone, and now like slave-born Muscovite

I call it praise to suffer tyranny;

And now employ the remnant of my wit

To make myself believe that all is well,

While with a feeling skill I paint my hell.

Love gave the wound, which will bleed as long as I breathe,

But not at the first sight of her, nor with a chance shot,

Rather her established worth tunnelled away for a time,

Until, little by little, it achieved a complete conquest.

I saw her and liked her: I liked her but did not love her yet:

Then I loved her but did not immediately obey Love’s demands:

At length under duress I agreed to Love’s commands,

Though complaining about the unfairness of my fate.

Now even that step on the ladder of lost freedom

Is vanished, and like a Muscovite born to love slavery,

I call undergoing tyranny something worthy of praise:

And now I make use of what is left of my intelligence

To convince myself that everything is well,

While with sensitive art I depict my self in hell.

Note: The Muscovites were under the rule of Ivan the Terrible at this time.


Let dainty wits cry on the Sisters nine,

That bravely mask’d, their fancies may be told:

Or, Pindar’s apes, flaunt they in phrases fine,

Enam’ling with pied flowers their thoughts of gold.

Or else let them in statelier glory shine,

Ennobling new found tropes with problems old,

Or with strange similes enrich each line,

Of herbs or beasts which Inde or Afric’ hold.

For me in sooth, no Muse but one I know:

Phrases and problems from my reach do grow,

And strange things cost too dear for my poor sprites.

How then? Even thus: in Stella’s face I read

What love and beauty be, then all my deed

But copying is, what in her Nature writes.

Let affected intellects invoke the nine Muses,

So that their works may be written with theatrical flourishes:

Or imitators of the poet Pindar flaunt themselves in fine phrases,

Over-refining their gilded thoughts with embellishments;

Or let them shine out in a higher style,

Making newly coined metaphors nobler with ancient matters:

Or enrich each line with strange similes,

Or with herbs or beasts which are found in Africa or India.

In fact I only know one Muse (Stella)

And phrases and ancient matters are out of my reach,

And foreign things cost too much for my poor spirits.

What to do then? Why this: I read in Stella’s face

What love and beauty are: then all I need to do

Is to copy what Nature has written in her.

Note: Sydney lists four modes of elaboration: invocation of the Muses, imitation of Pindar (518-c446BC) and the Greeks, rhetorical and logical tropes, and the use of exotic similes.


Virtue, alas, now let me take some rest.

Thou set’st a bate between my will and wit.

If vain love have my simple soul oppress’d,

Leave what thou likest not, deal not thou with it.

Thy scepter use in some old Cato’s breast;

Churches or schools are for thy seat more fit.

I do confess, pardon a fault confess’d,

My mouth too tender is for thy hard bit.

But if that needs thou wilt usurping be,

The little reason that is left in me,

And still th’effect of thy persuasions prove:

I swear, my heart such one shall show to thee

That shrines in flesh so true a deity,

That Virtue, thou thyself shalt be in love.

Virtue let me have some rest.

You cause a conflict between my will and my intellect:

If hopeless love has oppressed my unsophisticated soul,

Leave me alone since you dislike it, and have no dealings with me.

Use your power on some severe old man like Cato the Censer:

Churches or schools are more suited for your occupation.

I confess, and please pardon the fault since I confess it,

That my mouth is too tender to receive your hard bit.

But if you really have to take control of

The little bit of reason that is left to me,

And go on to prove the results of your persuasiveness:

I swear that my heart will show you someone

Who enshrines so true a deity in her flesh

That even you, Virtue, will be in love with her.

Note: Cato the Censor, the elder Cato (234-149BC) a Roman noted for his severity.


It is most true, that eyes are form’d to serve

The inward light; and that the heavenly part

Ought to be king, from whose rules who do swerve,

Rebels to Nature, strive for their own smart.

It is most true, what we call Cupid’s dart,

An image is, which for ourselves we carve:

And, fools, adore in temple of our heart,

Till that good God make Church and churchman starve.

True, that true beauty virtue is indeed,

Whereof this beauty can be but a shade,

Which elements with mortal mixture breed:

True, that on earth we are but pilgrims made,

And should in soul up to our country move:

True, and yet true that I must Stella love.

It is true that our eyes are created to serve

The inner light of the soul, and that the heavenly part

Of us ought to be king, and those who deviate from its rules

Are rebels against Nature, and their efforts harm themselves.

It is true that what we call Cupid’s arrow

Is a symbolic image that we carve out for ourselves,

And foolishly give adoration to in our hearts as if in a temple,

Until that false god puts Church and churchmen out of work.

It is true that Virtue is indeed true beauty,

Of which earthly beauty can only be a shadow

Made from a mortal mixture of the elements:

It is true that we are only created to be pilgrims on earth,

And should, within our souls, travel upwards to our true country:

All this is true, and yet it is also true that I must love Stella.

Note: Plato’s theory is that mortal beauty is a shadow of ideal virtue, the elements combining and then dissolving again in death.


Some lovers speak when they their Muses entertain,

Of hopes begot by fear, of wot not what desires:

Of force of heav’nly beams, infusing hellish pain:

Of living deaths, dear wounds, fair storms, and freezing fires.

Some one his song in Jove, and Jove’s strange tales attires,

Broidered with bulls and swans, powdered with golden rain;

Another humbler wit to shepherd’s pipe retires,

Yet hiding royal blood full oft in rural vein.

To some a sweetest plaint a sweetest style affords,

While tears pour out his ink, and sighs breathe out his words:

His paper pale despair, and pain his pen doth move.

I can speak what I feel, and feel as much as they,

But think that all the map of my state I display,

When trembling voice brings forth that I do Stella love.

Some lovers, when inspired by their Muses,

Speak about hopes created by fear, and of who-knows-what desires,

Of the power of heavenly rays infusing hellish pain,

Of living deaths, dear wounds, fair storms, and freezing fires:

One of them dresses his poems with Jupiter and Jupiter’s strange tales,

Embroidering them with bulls and swans, sprinkling golden rain:

Another humbler poet writes about pastoral shepherd’s flutes,

But often hiding royal attitudes in the rural similes and metaphors:

To some poets a sweet sadness allows their sweetest style,

While they use tears for ink, and breathe out their words in sighs,

And pale despair is their paper, and pain moves their pen.

I can speak what I feel, and feel as much as they do,

But I think that I show everything I can of my state of mind

When my trembling voice utters its love for Stella.

Note: Petrarch used the oxymoron heavily e.g. freezing fires. The other references are perhaps to Ronsard and the Pléiades, the Virgilian school of pastoral poetry, and Dante’s dolce stil nuovo, the sweet new style of Dante, Cavalcante, and others. For Jupiter, and Europa, Leda and Danae whom he raped while disguised as a bull, swan, and shower of gold respectively see Ovid, Metamorphoses VI:103-114.


When Nature made her chief work, Stella’s eyes,

In colour black why wrapp’d she beams so bright?

Would she in beamy black, like painter wise,

Frame daintiest lustre, mix’d of shades and light?

Or did she else that sober hue devise,

In object best to knit and strength our sight,

Lest if no veil those brave gleams did disguise,

They sun-like should more dazzle than delight?

Or would she her miraculous power show,

That whereas black seems Beauty’s contrary,

She even in black doth make all beauties flow?

Both so and thus, she minding Love should be

Placed ever there, gave him this mourning weed,

To honour all their deaths, who for her bleed.

Why did Nature wrap Stella’s eyes, those bright rays

That are Nature’s main work, in black colouring?

Did Nature wish, like a skilled painter using chiarascuro technique,

To create the finest lustre by mixing shadows and light?

Or did Nature create that sombre shade of colour

In order to knit together and strengthen our powers of vision,

In case Stella’s sun-like eyes should dazzle more than they delight

By being free of any protective veil?

Or did Nature wish to show her miraculous powers

By making all beauties appear with a black colouring

Even though black is not regarded as being beautiful?

No, it is as follows: Nature remembering that Love should always be

Placed in Stella’s eyes, gave Love’s clothes this mournful colour,

To honour the deaths of all those who bleed to death for her sake.

Note: Stella, Penelope Devereux, had dark eyes and fair hair.


Love, born in Greece, of late fled from his native place,

Forc’d by a tedious proof, that Turkish harden’d heart

Is no fit mark to pierce with his fine pointed dart,

And pleas’d with our soft peace, stayed here his flying race.

But finding these north climes do coldly him embrace,

Not used to frozen clips, he strave to find some part

Where with most ease and warmth he might employ his art:

At length he perch’d himself in Stella’s joyful face,

Whose fair skin, beamy eyes, like morning sun on snow,

Deceiv’d the quaking boy, who thought from so pure light

Effects of lively heat must needs in nature grow.

But she most fair, most cold, made him thence take his flight

To my close heart, where while some firebrands he did lay,

He burnt un’wares his wings, and cannot fly away.

Love (Eros-Cupid) who was born in ancient Greece, has lately fled

From his native country, forced to do so by tedious evidence

That hard Turkish hearts are no fit target for his arrows:

And pleased with England’s soft peace he stopped here.

But finding these northern regions grip him coldly,

And not used to frozen embraces, he tried to find some place

Where he could carry out his role with most warmth and ease.

After a while he settled on Stella’s joyful face,

Her fair skin and bright eyes, like morning sun on snow,

Deceiving the shivering boy, who thought that from such a pure light

The effects of lively heat must necessarily follow.

But Stella, most beautiful, but most cold, made him flee that place

To my secret heart, where he burnt his wings without realising it,

As he laid some logs for a fire: and now he cannot fly away.

Note: Greece was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, noted for cruelty. Cyprus, Aphrodite’s island, was taken by the Turks in 1573.


Queen Virtue’s court, which some call Stella’s face,

Prepar’d by Nature’s choicest furniture,

Hath his front built of alabaster pure;

Gold in the covering of that stately place.

The door by which sometimes comes forth her Grace

Red porphyr is, which lock of pearl makes sure,

Whose porches rich (which name of cheeks endure)

Marble mix’d red and white do interlace.

The windows now through which this heav’nly guest

Looks o’er the world, and can find nothing such,

Which dare claim from those lights the name of best,

Of touch they are that without touch doth touch,

Which Cupid’s self from Beauty’s mine did draw:

Of touch they are, and poor I am their straw.

Some call Stella’s face the Court of Queen Virtue,

And being made with Nature’s main materials

Its frontage (her face and forehead) is built of pure alabaster:

Gold (her hair) is the covering of that stately place:

The door (her mouth) out of which her grace sometimes comes

Is red porphyry, which pearl locks (her teeth) make secure,

Whose rich porches (which are called her cheeks)

Are interlaced with red and white marble:

The windows (her eyes) through which this heavenly guest

Looks at the world, and can find nothing that can lay claim

To being the best when compared with them, are made of touchstone

(Jasper, used to prove gold alloys) that without touching the heart,

do touch its emotions, and which Cupid himself brought from his mines:

They are of touchwood/paper and I am the poor straw they set light to.


Reason, in faith thou art well serv’d, that still

Wouldst brabbling be with sense and love in me:

I rather wish’d thee climb the Muses’ hill,

Or reach the fruit of Nature’s choicest tree,

Or seek heav’n’s course, or heav’n’s inside to see:

Why shouldst thou toil our thorny soil to till?

Leave sense, and those which sense’s objects be:

Deal thou with powers of thoughts, leave love to will.

But thou wouldst needs fight both with love and sense,

With sword of wit, giving wounds of dispraise,

Till downright blows did foil thy cunning fence:

For soon as they strake thee with Stella’s rays,

Reason thou kneel’dst, and offeredst straight to prove

By reason good, good reason her to love.

Reason you are truly making a mistake if you still

Wish to quibble within me about love and sensation.

I would rather desire you to climb Parnassus, the Muse’s hill,

Or reach for the fruit of the most excellent tree in Nature,

Or search out the intent of Heaven, or try to see its inner form.

Why should you labour to cultivate my thorny soil?

Leave sensation, and the objects of the senses:

Deal with the power of thought, leave love to the power of the will.

But you seemed to wish to fight against love and sensation,

Giving wounds of disparagement with the sword of wit,

Until real blows foiled your cunning defences:

Since as soon as you were struck by the rays from Stella’s eyes,

You knelt down, Reason, and straight away offered to prove

That loving her was reasonable by using good rational argument.


In truth, oh Love, with what a boyish kind

Thou doest proceed in thy most serious ways:

That when the heav’n to thee his best displays,

Yet of that best thou leav’st the best behind.

For like a child that some fair book doth find,

With gilded leaves or coloured vellum plays,

Or at the most on some fine picture stays,

But never heeds the fruit of writer’s mind:

So when thou saw’st in Nature’s cabinet

Stella, thou straight look’st babies in her eyes,

In her cheek’s pit thou didst thy pitfold set:

And in her breast bo-peep or couching lies,

Playing and shining in each outward part:

But, fool, seek’st not to get into her heart.

O Love, truly, in what a boyish manner

You carry out your most serious tasks,

So that when Heaven shows you his best offering

You nevertheless leave that best behind.

Since you are like a child who finds a lovely book,

That plays with the gilded pages or the coloured parchment,

Or at best stays looking at some fine picture inside it,

But pays no attention to the result of the writer’s work:

So when you saw Stella in Nature’s display cabinet

You straight away played childish games in her eyes,

Set your traps for birds in her cheeks’ hollows,

And made her breast play at hiding and revealing,

Playing and shining in each outer part of her:

But like a fool you did not try to reach her heart.


Cupid, because thou shin’st in Stella’s eyes,

That from her locks, thy day-nets, none ‘scapes free,

That those lips swell, so full of thee they be,

That her sweet breath makes oft thy flames to rise,

That in her breast thy pap well sugared lies,

That her Grace gracious makes thy wrongs, that she

What words so ere she speak persuades for thee,

That her clear voice lifts thy fame to the skies:

Thou countest Stella thine, like those whose powers

Having got up a breach by fighting well,

Cry, “Victory, this fair day all is ours.”

Oh no, her heart is such a citadel,

So fortified with wit, stored with disdain,

That to win it, is all the skill and pain.

Cupid, because you shine in Stella’s eyes,

And no one escapes the effect of her long hair, your net for birds,

And her lips are swollen, being so full of you (Love)

That her sweet breathing often makes your flames rise,

And your pap, well-sugared, resides in her breasts,

And her grace makes your wrongs gracious, in that she

Takes your part with whatever words she utters,

And her clear voice raises your fame to the skies:

Because of all that you think Stella belongs to you, like those men

Who having created a breach in the enemy line by fighting well

Prematurely call out that the victory is theirs.

On no, her heart is such a fortress

Defended by wit, filled with disdain,

That all the true skill and trouble is in winning her heart itself.


Phoebus was judge between Jove, Mars, and Love,

Of those three gods, whose arms the fairest were:

Jove’s golden shield did eagle sables bear,

Whose talons held young Ganymede above:

But in vert field Mars bare a golden spear,

Which through a bleeding heart his point did shove:

Each had his crest; Mars carried Venus’ glove,

Jove in his helm the thunderbolt did rear.

Cupid them smiles, for on his crest there lies

Stella’s fair hair, her face he makes his shield,

Where roses gules are borne in silver field.

Phoebus drew wide the curtains of the skies

To blaze these last, and sware devoutly then,

The first, thus match’d, were scantly gentlemen.

Phoebus the sun-god was the judge between Jupiter, Mars and Love,

As to whose was the best coat of arms, among the three of them:

Jupiter’s golden shield carried the device of a black eagle,

Its talons holding young Ganymede (whom he abducted) aloft:

But Mars carried the device of a golden spear on a green background,

Whose point was shown piercing a bleeding heart:

Each had his helmet decoration: Mars carried Venus’s glove,

Jupiter had a thunderbolt depicted on his helmet.

Cupid smiled then, because his crest was Stella’s fair hair,

And he depicted her face on his shield,

Where red roses are shown on a silver field (like the Devereux arms).

Phoebus the sun-god drew the curtains of the skies, the clouds,

To describe these arms in heraldic terms, and then swore devoutly

That compared with these the first two were hardly those of gentlemen.

Note: Mythologically Jupiter in the form of an eagle abducted Ganymede, and Mars had a notorious affair with Venus (Ovid, Metamorphoses X:155-161 and IV:167-189). The Devereus coat of arms was argent, a fesse, gules in chief three torteaux, three red discs on a silver background.


Alas, have I not pain enough, my friend,

Upon whose breast a fiercer gripe doth tire,

Than did on him who first stole down the fire,

While Love on me doth all his quiver spend,

But with your rhubarb words you must contend,

To grieve me worse, in saying that desire

Doth plunge my well-form’d soul even in the mire

Of sinful thoughts, which do in ruin end?

If that be sin which doth the manners frame,

Well stayed with truth in word and faith of deed,

Ready of wit and fearing nought but shame:

If that be sin which in fix’d hearts doth breed

A loathing of all loose unchastity,

Then love is sin, and let me sinful be.

Alas, do I not have enough pain, my friend,

(I, at whose breast a fiercer vulture tears

Than at Prometheus’s, who first stole fire,

While love spends all the arrows of his quiver on me),

Without you striving to grieve me more

With your purgative rhubarb words, by saying that desire

Plunges my well-formed soul now in the mire

Of sinful thoughts, which end in ruin?

If that is sin which develops good manners,

Well balanced with truth in words and faith in deeds,

Ready-witted and fearing nothing but shame:

If that is sin which in true fixed hearts breeds

A loathing of all loose un-chastity:

Then love is sin, and let me be sinful.


You that do search for every purling spring,

Which from the ribs of old Parnassus flows,

And every flower, not sweet perhaps, which grows

Near thereabouts, into your poesy wring;

You that do dictionary’s method bring

Into your rimes, running in rattling rows;

You that poor Petrarch’s long-deceased woes,

With new-born sighs and denizen’d wit do sing,

You take wrong ways: those far-fet helps be such

As do bewray a want of inward touch:

And sure at length stol’n goods do come to light.

But if (both for your love and skill) your name

You seek to nurse at fullest breasts of Fame,

Stella behold, and then begin to endite.

You who search for every rippling stream

Which flows from the ribs of old Mount Parnassus,

And gather every flower, not the sweetest one perhaps,

Which grows near there, into your poetry:

You who bring dictionary compilation methods

Into your rhymes, alliterating by ‘running them in rattling rows’:

You who sing long dead Petrarch’s woes

With new sighs and naturalised (once-foreign) wit:

You take wrong ways, those far-fetched aids are such

As expose a want of inner touch:

And surely at last stolen goods do come to light.

But if you seek (both for your love and skill)

To nurse your name at the fullest breasts of Fame,

Gaze on Stella, and then begin descriptively to write.

Note: The sonnets of Petrarch’s Canzoniere were heavily imitated all over Europe.


In nature apt to like when I did see

Beauties, which were of many carats fine,

My boiling sprites did thither soon incline,

And, Love, I thought that I was full of thee:

But finding not those restless flames in me,

Which others said did make their souls to pine,

I thought those babes of some pin’s hurt did whine,

By my love judging what love’s pain might be.

But while I thus with this young lion played,

Mine eyes (shall I say curst or blest?) beheld

Stella; now she is nam’d, need more be said?

In her sight I a lesson new have spell’d,

I now have learn’d Love right, and learn’d even so,

As who by being poisoned doth poison know.

Tending, by nature, to like those beauties, whom I saw,

Who were of many carats in value,

My fiery spirits soon inclined towards them,

And, Love, I thought that I was full of you:

But finding that there was not the restless flame in me

That others said made their souls pine,

I thought they were babies whining at the scratch of a pin,

Judging by my own pain what Love’s pain might be.

But while I was playing like this with the lion cub,

My eyes (shall I say cursed or blessed?) beheld

Stella: now she is named, need any more be said?

In her sight I have spelled out a new lesson:

I now have learned love correctly, and learned like

One who knows poison by being poisoned.

Note: The story of the lion cub that destroyed the flocks of its protector was used by Aeschylus regarding Helen of Troy.


His mother dear Cupid offended late,

Because that Mars grown slacker in her love,

With pricking shot he did not throughly more

To keep the pace of their first loving state.

The boy refus’d for fear of Mars’s hate,

Who threaten’d stripes, if he his wrath did prove:

But she in chafe him from her lap did shove,

Brake bow, brake shafts, while Cupid weeping sate:

Till that his grandame Nature pitying it

Of Stella’s brows make him two better bows,

And in her eyes of arrows infinite.

Oh how for joy he leaps, oh how he crows,

And straight therewith like wags new got to play,

Falls to shrewd turns, and I was in his way.

Cupid’s mother, Venus, lately offended him,

Because he did not thoroughly wound Mars,

Whose love of her had grown slack, with his pricking arrows,

In order to keep up the intensity of their first loving state.

The boy refused for fear of Mars’s hatred,

Who threatened him with blows if he provoked his anger:

But she in vexation shoved him from her lap,

Broke his bow, broke his arrows, while Cupid sat weeping,

Till his Grandmother Nature pitying it,

Made him two better bows from Stella’s eyebrows,

And in her eyes made infinite arrows.

O how he leaps for joy, how he crows,

And straight away sets about cunning use of them,

Like a mischievous scamp at play, and I was in his way.


With what sharp checks I in myself am shent,

When into Reason’s audit I do go:

And by just counts myself a bankrupt know

Of all the goods, which heav’n to me hath lent:

Unable quite to pay even Nature’s rent,

Which unto it by birthright I do owe:

And, which is worse, no good excuse can show,

But that my wealth I have most idly spent.

My youth doth waste, my knowledge brings forth toys,

My wit doth strive those passions to defend,

Which for reward spoil it with vain annoys.

I see my course to lose myself doth bend:

I see and yet no greater sorrow take,

Than that I lose no more for Stella’s sake.

With what sharp rebukes I am shamed in myself

When I enter into Reason’s audit,

And by careful counting know myself to be bankrupt

Of all those goods, which heaven has lent me,

Unable even to be quit by paying Nature’s rent,

(By dying) which I owe her by birthright;

And, what is worse, not able to show a good excuse

Except that I have spent my wealth most idly.

My youth wastes away, my knowledge produces toys,

My wit strives to defend those passions

The reward of which is to spoil my wit with vain anxieties.

I see that my course points towards my losing myself:

I see, and yet take from that no greater sorrow

Than that I do not lose even more for Stella’s sake.


On Cupid’s bow how are my heartstrings bent,

That see my wrack, and yet embrace the same?

When most I glory, then I feel most shame:

I willing run, yet while I run, repent.

My best wits still their own disgrace invent:

My very ink turns straight to Stella’s name;

And yet my words, as them my pen doth frame,

Avise themselves that they are vainly spent.

For though she pass all things, yet what is all

That unto me, who fare like him that both

Looks to the skies and in a ditch doth fall?

Oh let me prop my mind, yet in his growth,

And not in Nature, for best fruits unfit:

“Scholar,” saith Love, “bend hitherward your wit.”

How my heartstrings are strung on Cupid’s bow,

I, who see my ruin, and yet embrace it!

When I most glory, then I feel most shame:

I run to her willingly, yet, while I run, repent:

My best thoughts still invent their own disgrace:

My very ink turns straight towards Stella’s name,

And yet my words, as my pen frames them,

Are aware that they are spent in vain:

For though she surpasses all things, yet what is all

That to me, who fare like him (Thales, the philosopher)

Who both looks at the sky, and falls into the ditch?

O let me support my mind, yet in its growth,

And not by nature unfit to produce the best fruits:

‘Scholar,’ says Love, ‘turn your wit towards me.’

Note: The story of the philosopher falling into a ditch, while gazing at the stars, is commonly told of Thales (Plato: Theatetus, 174a)


Fly, fly, my friends, I have my death wound; fly!

See there that boy, that murd’ring boy I say,

Who like a thief, hid in dark bush doth lie,

Till bloody bullet get him wrongful prey.

So tyrant he no fitter place could spy,

Nor so fair level in so secret stay,

As that sweet black which veils the heav’nly eye:

There himself with his shot he close doth lay.

Poor passenger, pass now thereby I did,

And stayed pleas’d with the prospect of the place,

While that black hue from me the bad guest hid:

But straight I saw motions of lightning grace,

And then descried the glist’ring of his dart:

But ere I could fly hence, it pierc’d my heart.

Fly, fly, my friends, I have my death-wound, fly;

See that boy there, that murdering boy, I say,

Who like a thief lies hidden in a dark bush,

Till a bloody bullet wins him a wrongful victim:

He is so tyrannical he could see no better place,

Nor aim so successfully, in a concealment as secret

As that sweet black which veils the heavenly eye:

There he lies closely hidden with his shot.

I, a poor passer-by, did pass by there just now,

And stayed, pleased with the look of the place,

While that black colour hid the bad guest from me;

But I straightaway saw motions of lightning grace,

And then made out the gleaming of his arrow:

But before I could flee from there, it pierced my heart.


Your words, my friend, (right healthful caustics) blame

My young mind marr’d, whom Love doth windlass so,

That mine own writings like bad servants show

My wits, quick in vain thoughts, in virtue lame;

That Plato I read for nought, but if he tame

Such doltish gyres; that to my birth I owe

Nobler desires, lest else that friendly foe,

Great Expectation, were a train of shame.

For since mad March great promise made of me,

If now the May of my years much decline,

What can be hoped my harvest time will be?

Sure you say well, “Your wisdom’s golden mine,

Dig deep with learning’s spade.” Now tell me this,

Hath this world aught so fair as Stella is?

Your words my friend (truly health-giving corrosives) blame

My young spoilt mind, I, whom Love ensnares so

That my own writings show my thoughts to be bad servants,

Quick at vain thoughts, lame in virtuous ones:

That I read Plato uselessly unless he tames

My coltish moods: that I owe towards my high birth

Nobler desires, or else that friendly foe,

Great Expectation, will wear a train of shame.

For since mad March showed me to have great promise,

If now the May of my years declines greatly from it,

What can it be hoped that my harvest time will show?

Truly you say well: ‘Dig deep your wisdom’s golden mine

With learning’s spade,’ now tell me this,

Has this world anything as lovely as Stella is?

Note: Plato likened Reason to a charioteer of the passions.


In highest way of heav’n the Sun did ride,

Progressing then from fair twins’ golden place:

Having no scarf of clouds before his face,

But shining forth of heat in his chief pride;

When some fair ladies by hard promise tied,

On horseback met him in his furious race,

Yet each prepar’d with fan’s well-shading grace

From that foe’s wounds their tender skins to hide.

Stella alone with face unarmed march’d.

Either to do like him which open shone,

Or careless of the wealth because her own:

Yet were the hid and meaner beauties parch’d,

Her daintiest bare went free; the cause was this,

The Sun, which others burn’d, did her but kiss.

In the highest part of heaven the sun did ride,

Progressing from Gemini’s, the fair twin’s, golden place:

Having no scarf of clouds in front of his face,

But shining out hotly in his full pride:

When some fair ladies, tied by a firm promise,

Met him on horseback in his furious race,

Yet each one prepared, with the well-shading grace of a fan,

To hide their tender skins from that enemy’s wounds.

Only Stella went with unarmed face,

Either to be like him, shining openly,

Or careless of that wealth because it was her own:

Yet the lesser beauties, who were hidden, were parched,

While her daintiest bare face went unharmed: the cause was that

The sun, which burned the others, only kissed her.


The curious wits seeing dull pensiveness

Bewray itself in my long settled eyes,

Whence those same fumes of melancholy rise,

With idle pains, and missing aim, do guess.

Some that know how my spring I did address,

Deem that my Muse some fruit of knowledge plies:

Others, because the Prince my service tries,

Think that I think state errors to redress.

But harder judges judge ambition’s rage,

Scourge of itself, still climbing slipp’ry place,

Holds my young brain captiv’d in golden cage.

Oh Fools, or over-wise, alas the race

Of all my thoughts hath neither stop nor start,

But only Stella’s eyes and Stella’s heart.

Curious wits, seeing dull pensiveness

Reveal itself in my eyes, long fixed in thought,

From which the fumes of melancholy rise,

Guess about me, with idle efforts and false aim.

Some, who know what efforts I made in my youth,

Think that my Muse is producing some fruit of knowledge:

Others, because the Queen tries out my services,

Speculate that I think about redressing errors of State:

But more severe judges judge that it is a rage of ambition,

Its own scourge, still climbing for slippery status,

That holds my young brain captive in a golden cage.

O fools, or excessively wise, alas, the course

Of all my thoughts has neither end nor beginning

Except in Stella’s eyes and Stella’s heart.


Rich fools there be, whose base and filthy heart

Lies hatching still the goods wherein they flow:

And damning their own selves to Tantal’s smart,

Wealth breeding want, more blest more wretched grow.

Yet to those fools heav’n such wit doth impart

As what their hands do hold, their heads do know,

And knowing love, and loving, lay apart,

As sacred things, far from all danger’s show.

But that rich fool who by blind Fortune’s lot

The richest gem of love and life enjoys,

And can with foul abuse such beauties blot;

Let him, depriv’d of sweet but unfelt joys,

(Exil’d for aye from those high treasures, which

He knows not) grow in only folly rich.

There are rich fools, misers, whose base and filthy hearts

Lie there concealing under hatches the goods they flow with:

Who, condemning themselves to the torments of Tantalus,

Wealth breeding poverty, grow more wretched with more riches.

Yet heaven gives those fools such shrewdness

That at least their heads know what their hands hold,

And knowing, love it, and loving set it apart

As sacred, far away from all risk of danger.

But that rich fool (Lord Rich) who by blind fortune’s chance

Enjoys the richest gem of love and life (Stella: Penelope Devereux),

And who can blot such beauty with foul abuse:

Let him, deprived of her sweet but unappreciated joys,

(Exiled for ever from those high treasures which he

Does not understand) grow rich only in folly.

Note: Penelope Devereux, Essex’s sister, and Sidney’s Stella, married Lord Rich.


The wisest scholar of the wight most wise

By Phoebus’ doom, with sugar’d sentence says,

That Virtue, if it once met with our eyes,

Strange flames of love it in our souls would raise;

But for that man with pain his truth descries,

Whiles he each thing in sense’s balance weighs,

And so nor will, nor can behold those skies

Which inward sun to heroic mind displays,

Virtue of late with virtuous care to stir

Love of herself, took Stella’s shape, that she

To mortal eyes might sweetly shine in her.

It is most true, for since I her did see,

Virtue’s great beauty in that face I prove,

And find th’effect, for I do burn in love.

The wisest pupil (Plato) of the wisest man (Socrates),

Proclaimed such by the Delphic Oracle, says, in sugared sentence,

That virtue, if it were once seen by our eyes,

Would cause strange flames of love in our souls.

But because Man perceives this truth with pain

If he weighs everything in the senses’ balance,

and so will not and cannot behold those skies

That reveal the inner sun to the heroic mind,

So Virtue, lately, taking virtuous care to promote

Love of itself, takes Stella’s shape, so that it

Might, in her, shine sweetly to mortal eyes.

It is certainly true, for, since I saw her,

Virtue’s great beauty I affirm is in that face,

And I discover its effect, since I burn with love.

Note: Plato said that if we could see virtue’s true form we would love it (Apology, 21) but see also Cicero (De Officiis, 1,15).


Though dusty wits dare scorn astrology,

And fools can think those lamps of purest light

Whose numbers, ways, greatness, eternity,

Promising wonders, wonder do invite,

To have for no cause birthright in the sky,

But for to spangle the black weeds of night:

Or for some brawl, which in that chamber high,

They should still dance to please a gazer’s sight;

For me, I do Nature un-idle know,

And know great causes, great effects procure:

And know those bodies high reign on the low.

And if these rules did fail, proof makes me sure,

Who oft fore-judge my after-following race,

By only those two stars in Stella’s face.

Though earthbound wits dare to scorn astrology,

And fools may think that those lamps of purest light (the stars),

(Whose numbers, ways, greatness, eternity,

Promise wonderful things, so inviting wonder)

Have birthright in the sky for no purpose

Except to spangle the black dress of night;

Or for some dance, which in that high chamber,

They should still go on treading to please a gazer’s sight:

As for me I know that Nature is not idle,

And know that great causes result in great effects,

And know that those higher bodies reign over lower ones.

And if these laws were to fail, this proof satisfies me,

That I often prophesy my future course,

From just those two stars in Stella’s face.


Because I oft in dark abstracted guise

Seem most alone in greatest company,

With dearth of words, or answers quite awry,

To them that would make speech of speech arise,

They deem, and of their doom the rumour flies,

That poison foul of bubbling pride doth lie

So in my swelling breast that only I

Fawn on myself, and others do despise:

Yet pride I think doth not my soul possess,

Which looks too oft in his unflatt’ring glass:

But one worse fault, ambition, I confess,

That makes me oft my best friends overpass,

Unseen, unheard, while thought to highest place

Bends all his powers, even unto Stella’s grace.

Because I often, in a dark abstracted mood,

Seem most alone among the greatest company,

With a dearth of words to say, or answers that are awry,

Those, who wish to make speech follow from speech,

Judge, and rumour flies abroad from their judgment,

That the foul poison of bubbling pride so lies

In my swelling breast that I only

Fawn on myself, and despise others:

Yet I do not think pride possesses my soul,

Which looks too often in its unflattering mirror:

But one worse fault, ambition, I confess to,

That makes me often overlook my best friends,

Unseen, unheard, while thought bends all its powers

To the highest place, that is to Stella’s grace.

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