Astrophil and Stella by Philip Sidney

Astrophil and Stella is a sequence containing 108 sonnets and 11 songs written by Philip Sidney. The love represented in the sequence may be a literal one as Sidney evidently connects Astrophil to himself and Stella to Lady Penelope Devereux who was a childhood friend.

It is said that there was a proposal between Sidney and Penelope but somehow it did not materialize, owning perhaps to Sidney’s political ambitions. Penelope started an affair with Charles Blount before she was forced to marry Lord Rich. Her love for Blount continued after marriage and this was perhaps the cause of rejection of Sydney’s advances who had realized his passion for Penelope only after her marriage and when she became unapproachable.

The title seems to have been very carefully chosen by Sidney. It is a direct pointer to the distance between Astrophil (which means a stargazer) and Stella (which means a star). Penelope, a married woman, was as unreachable as a star. Thus he could gaze at her, admire and praise her golden hair and black eyes but could not obtain her.

None of these poems were intended to be published but circulated among Sidney’s friends. Today it remains one of the most moving, delightful, and provocative collections of love poems, all the more powerful in its impact because of the variety of discourses that strain within it for articulation – erotic, poetic, political, religious, and cultural.

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