Analysis of Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella, Sonnet 15

Astrophil and Stella, Sonnet 15 (You that do search for every purling spring) is written by Sir Philip Sidney.


Like Sonnet 1, this sonnet too is an exposition of Sidney’s poetic creed, and also a compliment to his beloved Stella, whom he considers to be his true Muse who, (unlike the Muses invoked by the ancients) lives in the heart of the poet, and it is she who is the real source of inspiration.

The poet criticizes the contemporary poets who try to seek inspiration from the ancients or the Italian poet Petrarch. They freely borrow their images and rhetorical devices to embellish their verses. Some of them use dictionaries to find suitable words for their rhymes. All their borrowed material is soon exposed. This also shows that these poetasters are bankrupt of inherent poetic ability nor do they have any real inspiration. Their verses are thus hackneyed and stale having no freshness of a true poetic genius.

The frequent use of dictionaries is still worse. They hunt for rhyming words and alliterative words to decorate their verses. This practice makes their poetry look artificial and consequently boring. Their main interest seems to discover rhyming words whether they make any sense or not. Sidney advises such poets to give up their practices, instead of seeking far-fetched help, they should seek inspiration from within—from their own feelings and emotions. They should look into their heart and write.

Sidney is closer to the Romantics who gave importance to their own feelings — poetry was considered to be a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”. For Sidney, ‘Stella’ is his true Muse. She inspires him to write. Thus the sonnet becomes both an exposition of Sidney’s poetic creed and a great tribute to his beloved.

The structure of the sonnets is Petrarchan. It is divided into an octave often followed by a sestet with a pause in between. Sidney’s rhyme scheme varies from sonnet to sonnet, sometimes it is Petrarchan, and sometimes he follows the English pattern with a little modification. The rhyme of this sonnet is abba, abba, ccde, ed. A Shakespearean sonnet follows abab, cdcd, efef, gg rhyme-scheme with three quatrains followed by a rhymed couplet which sums up the idea.

Sidney feels that the poets should seek inspiration from within their own mind and heart and express their own feelings arid emotions as they flow out rather than slavishly imitating the method or the style of the ancients or foreign poets. They are at liberty to use any rhyme scheme which may beautifully embody their feelings, restricting to the overall unity and the fixed number of lines, i.e., fourteen, if they choose to write a sonnet. They can use any rhyme scheme and use any number of lines if they wish to write a lyric or a song.

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