Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. I. Chaucer to Donne
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
Sonnets from Astrophel and Stella
By Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586)
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;        5
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;        10
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.
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,        20
And, fools, adore in temple of our heart,
Till that good god make church and churchmen starve:
True, that true beauty virtue is indeed,
Whereof this beauty can be but a shade,
Which, elements with mortal mixture breed:        25
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.
WITH what sharp checks I in myself am shent 1
When into Reason’s audit I do go,        30
And by just ’counts myself a bankrupt know
Of all those goods which heaven 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,        35
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;        40
I see—and yet no greater sorrow take
Than that I lose no more for Stella’s sake.
THE CURIOUS wits, seeing dull pensiveness
Bewray itself in my long-settled eyes,
Whence those same fumes of melancholy rise,        45
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:        50
But harder judges judge ambition’s rage—
Scourge of itself, still climbing slippery place—
Holds my young brain captived in golden cage.
O fools, or over-wise: alas, the race
Of all my thoughts hath neither stop nor start        55
But only Stella’s eyes and Stella’s heart.
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—        60
To have for no cause birthright in the sky
But for to spangle the black weeds of Night;
Or for some brawl, 2 which in that chamber high,
They should still dance to please a gazer’s sight.
For me, I do Nature unidle know,        65
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 foresee my after-following race,
By only those two stars in Stella’s face.        70
WHETHER the Turkish new moon minded be
To fill her horns this year on Christian coast?
How Poland’s king means without leave of host
To warm with ill-made fire cold Muscovy?
If French can yet three parts in one agree?        75
What now the Dutch in their full diets boast?
How Holland hearts, now so good towns be lost,
Trust in the shade of pleasant Orange-tree?
How Ulster likes of that same golden bit
Wherewith my father once made it half tame?        80
If in the Scotch Court be no weltering yet?
These questions busy wits to me do frame:
I, cumbered with good manners, answer do,
But know not how; for still I think of you.
WITH how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb’st the skies!
How silently, and with how wan a face!
What, may it be that even in heavenly 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,        90
I read it in thy looks; thy languisht grace,
To me, that feel the like, thy state descries.
Then, even of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,
Is constant love deem’d there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?        95
Do they above love to be lov’d, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call virtue there ungratefulness?
MORPHEUS, the lively son of deadly Sleep,
Witness of life to them that living die,        100
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,        105
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 Indes such treasures hold;        110
But from thy heart, while my sire charmeth thee,
Sweet Stella’s image I do steal to me.
I MIGHT!—unhappy word—O me, I might,
And then would not, or could not, see my bliss;
Till now wrapt in a most infernal night,        115
I find how heavenly 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;        120
But to myself myself 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: O punisht eyes,        125
That I had been more foolish, or more wise!
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 sceptre of all subject things;        130
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 closed-up sense        135
Was held, in opened sense it flies away,
Leaving me nought but wailing eloquence.
I, seeing better sights in sight’s decay,
Call’d it anew, and wooèd Sleep again;
But him, her host, that unkind guest had slain.        140
COME, Sleep! O 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 press        145
Of those fierce darts Despair at me doth throw:
O 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,        150
A rosy garland and a weary head:
And if these things, as being thine in right,
Move not thy heavy grace, thou shalt in me,
Livelier than elsewhere, Stella’s image see.
SOUL’S joy, bend not those morning stars from me,
Where Virtue is made strong by Beauty’s might;
Where Love is chastness, Pain doth learn delight,
And Humbleness grows one with Majesty.
Whatever may ensue, O let me be
Co-partner of the riches of that sight;        160
Let not mine eyes be hell-driven from that light;
O look, O shine, O 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 even now most freshly bleed,        165
Yet since my death-wound is already got,
Dear killer, spare not thy sweet-cruel shot;
A kind of grace it is to slay with speed.
OFT with true sighs, oft with uncallèd tears,
Now with slow words, now with dumb eloquence,        170
I Stella’s eyes assayed, invade her ears;
But this, at last, is her sweet-breath’d defence:
That who indeed in-felt affection bears,
So captives to his saint both soul and sense,
That, wholly hers, all selfness he forbears,        175
Then his desires he learns, his life’s course thence.
Now, since her chaste mind hates this love in me,
With chastened mind I straight must show that she
Shall quickly me from what she hates remove.
O Doctor Cupid, thou for me reply;        180
Driven else to grant, by angel’s sophistry,
That I love not without I leave to love.
NO more, my dear, no more these counsels try;
O give my passions leave to run their race;
Let Fortune lay on me her worst disgrace;        185
Let folk o’ercharged with brain against me cry;
Let clouds bedim my face, break in mine eye;
Let me no steps but of lost labour trace;
Let all the earth with scorn recount my case,—
But do not will me from my love to fly.        190
I do not envy Aristotle’s wit,
Nor do aspire to Caesar’s bleeding fame;
Nor aught do care though some above me sit;
Nor hope nor wish another course to frame,
But that which once may win thy cruel heart:        195
Thou art my wit, and thou my virtue art.
AND do I see some cause a hope to feed,
Or doth the tedious burden of long woe
In weakened minds quick apprehending breed
Of every image which may comfort show?        200
I cannot brag of word, much less of deed,
Fortune wheels still with me in one sort slow;
My wealth no more, and no whit less my need;
Desire still on stilts of Fear doth go.
And yet amid all fears a hope there is,        205
Stolen to my heart since last fair night, nay day,
Stella’s eyes sent to me the beams of bliss,
Looking on me while I look’d other way:
But when mine eyes back to their heaven did move,
They fled with blush which guilty seemed of love.        210
O JOY too high for my low style to show!
O bliss fit for a nobler state than me!
Envy, put out thine eyes, lest thou do see
What oceans of delight in me do flow!
My friend, that oft saw through all masks my woe,        215
Come, come, and let me pour myself on thee.
Gone is the Winter of my misery!
My Spring appears; O see what here doth grow:
For Stella hath, with words where faith doth shine,
Of her high heart given me the monarchy:        220
I, I, O I, may say that she is mine!
And though she give but thus conditionly,
This realm of bliss while virtuous course I take.
No kings be crown’d but they some covenants make.
I NEVER drank of Aganippe well,
Nor ever did in shade of Tempe sit,
And Muses scorn with vulgar brains to dwell;
Poor layman I, for sacred rites unfit.
Some do I hear of poets’ fury tell,
But, God wot, wot not what they mean by it;        230
And this I swear by blackest brook of hell,
I am no pick-purse of another’s wit.
How falls it then, that with so smooth an ease
My thoughts I speak; and what I speak doth flow
In verse, and that my verse best wits doth please?        235
Guess we the cause! What, is it thus? Fie, no.
Or so? Much less. How then? Sure thus it is,
My lips are sweet, inspired with Stella’s kiss.
HIGH way, since you my chief Parnassus be,
And that my Muse, to some ears not unsweet,        240
Tempers her words to trampling horses’ feet
More oft than to a chamber-melody.
Now, blessèd you bear onward blessèd me
To her, where I my heart, safe-left, shall meet;
My Muse and I must you of duty greet        245
With thanks and wishes, wishing thankfully.
Be you still fair, honoured by public heed;
By no encroachment wrong’d, nor time forgot;
Nor blam’d for blood, nor sham’d for sinful deed;
And that you know I envy you no lot        250
Of highest wish, I wish you so much bliss,—
Hundreds of years you Stella’s feet may kiss.
WHEN I was forced from Stella ever dear—
Stella, food of my thoughts, heart of my heart—
Stella, whose eyes make all my tempests clear—        255
By Stella’s laws of duty to depart;
Alas, I found that she with me did smart;
I saw that tears did in her eyes appear;
I saw that sighs her sweetest lips did part,
And her sad words my sadded sense did hear.        260
For me, I wept to see pearls scattered so;
I sighed her sighs, and wailèd for her woe;
Yet swam in joy, such love in her was seen.
Thus, while th’ effect most bitter was to me,
And nothing then the cause more sweet could be,        265
I had been vexed, if vexed I had not been.
STELLA, think not that I by verse seek fame,
Who seek, who hope, who love, who live but thee;
Thine eyes my pride, thy lips mine history:
If thou praise not, all other praise is shame.        270
Nor so ambitious am I, as to frame
A nest for my young praise in laurel tree:
In truth, I swear I wish not there should be
Graved in my epitaph a Poet’s name.
Nor, if I would, could I just title make,        275
That any laud thereof to me should grow,
Without my plumes from others’ wings I take:
For nothing from my wit or will doth flow,
Since all my words thy beauty doth endite,
And Love doth hold my hand, and makes me write.        280
BE your words made, good Sir, of Indian ware,
That you allow me them by so small rate?
Or do you curted Spartans imitate?
Or do you mean my tender ears to spare,
That to my questions you so total are?        285
When I demand of Phoenix-Stella’s state,
You say, forsooth, you left her well of late:
O God, think you that satisfies my care?
I would know whether she did sit or walk;
How clothed; how waited on; sighed she, or smiled;        290
Whereof,—with whom,—how often did she talk;
With what pastimes Time’s journey she beguiled;
If her lips deigned to sweeten my poor name:
Say all; and all well said, still say the same.
O FATE, O fault, O curse, child of my bliss!
What sobs can give words grace my grief to show?
What ink is black enough to paint my woe?
Through me—wretch me—even Stella vexèd is.
Yet, truth—if caitif’s breath may call thee—this
Witness with me, that my foul stumbling so,        300
From carelessness did in no manner grow;
But wit, confused with too much care, did miss.
And do I, then, myself this vain ’scuse give?
I have—live I, and know this—harmèd thee:
Though worlds ’quit me, shall I myself forgive?        305
Only with pains my pains thus easèd be,
That all thy hurts in my heart’s wrack I read;
I cry thy sighs, my dear, thy tears I bleed.
STELLA, since thou so right a princess art
Of all the powers which life bestows on me,        310
That ere by them ought undertaken be,
They first resort unto that sovereign part;
Sweet, for a while give respite to my heart,
Which pants as though it still should leap to thee:
And on my thoughts give thy lieutenancy        315
To this great cause, which needs both use and art.
And as a queen, who from her presence sends
Whom she employs, dismiss from thee my wit,
Till it have wrought what thy own will attends,
On servants’ shame oft masters’ blame doth sit:        320
O let not fools in me thy works reprove,
And scorning say, ‘See what it is to love!’
Note 1. blamed. [back]
Note 2. For branle, a kind of dance (Fr.). [back]

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