Astrophil and Stella, Sonnet 27 by Philip Sidney

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 rumor 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.

Summary

In this sonnet Sidney explains how, even in the court, he remains lost in the thoughts of Stella, and the courtiers ignore him. He finds himself alone even when he is in the Queen’s court with a large company. The lords make speeches on various subjects, and when he is not able to answer them, they consider him proud and his reputation as a courtier suffers; they attribute his silence to pride, and that I love myself, and despise others. This foul rumour flies in the court like poison. Sidney asserts that he is not at all proud or haughty—the fact which is much too obvious, yet he has one worse fault or defect, i. e., he is ambitious, he confesses. This fact itself makes many friends ignore him. He feels that because of his intense love, he has been ignoring the claims of his friends. Though he is among friends, but because his thoughts are fixed on Stella, his friends remain unseen, their conversation remains unheard, while his thoughts mount to the highest place; all this faculties and powers are bent upon one object; to seek Stella’s favour. Thus reason gives way to passion. Here all his thoughts are being directed by Stella who has some mesmeric power impelling the poet’s thoughts to focus on her only and ignore all other company. The poet regrets his conduct in the court but he attributes all his failures as a courtier to the influence of Stella.

Analysis

Sonnet 27 shows Sidney as a courtier, and statesman who is also overwhelmed by passion for Stella, who is constantly present in his mind and often distracts his mind while he is in the company of many noblemen, lords and ladies in the Queen’s court. Among such a, large gathering of great men, the poet-feels, a sense of loneliness. He finds no words to respond to the queries made by other nobles, in fact his mind is overshadowed by the thoughts of his beloved so that he cannot take active part in political matters or discussions, as is expected of a courtier and statesman. His silence is consequently misconstrued and their judgments adversely affect his reputation as a diplomat. The pun on the word ‘doom’ which means judgment, and also his ‘doom’ as a courtier, as it engenders all sorts of rumours that he is vain or proud. But the poet says that whatever else he might be, he is not at all proud nor does he nourish any dislike towards others.

However he confesses that he has one weakness or defect – he nurses ambition. Again the word ‘ambition’ has dual meanings: (i) ambition to rise high to get the monarch’s favour, and (ii) ambition to possess ‘Stella’ or to win her love. Thus his mind continues to oscillate between two nodal targets. This situation causes the loss of his best friends who simply ignore him. All the same his friends remain unseen and unheard (metaphorically) while all his thoughts are inclined towards (or fixed on) Stella in an endeavour to seek her favour. Stella’s magnetic personality seems to have so mesmerised him that the poet can think of none else but Stella. The question that we should pose to ourselves is: whether or not Stella’s influence on the poet lover (who is a courtier and an ambitious diplomat) is negative–causing hurdles in his advancement as a career-diplomat. The sonnet is self-exploratory and is autobiographical. The lover Astrophil is fully conscious of the blatant neglect of his true role as a courtier, in the chess-game between reason and passionn, it is the latter which triumphs.

The court throbbed with cheerful pleasantries, discourses and speeches about England’s relations with other countries, English Empire was expanding. Political matters engaged the astute minds. Here was Sidney, whose thoughts were fixed on Stella. Did the passion for the lady have any constructive and positive influence on the poet ? Astrophil knows it but can’t help loving the lady. Astrophil is at once inspired by and degraded by his love for Stella.

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