Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sonnet 45 - Sir Philip Sidney

Since this blog is titled in tribute to an essay by Sir Philip Sidney, I thought I should start out by sharing my favorite of his sonnets, Sonnet 45.  In this poem, Sidney expresses the idea -- explored in fuller detail in the essay "Defence of Poesie" -- that oftentimes fiction can hold more power over our thoughts and emotions than simple reality does.  In this sonnet, the narrator -- experiencing unrequited love for a girl he calls Stella -- expresses his frustration over Stella's lack of regard for his suffering.  Stella feels strong emotion when reading a story about star-crossed fictional lovers, but can't bring herself to feel sorry for her spurned real-life admirer.  The fictional story elicits more feeling from her than his suffering does.  Finally, the poet asks her to imagine that he himself is in a tale: "I am not I: pity the tale of me." 

I find Sidney's ideas fascinating; as a reader of fiction, I definitely know what he's talking about.  And I find it fascinating that Sidney himself has created this fictional/poetical version of himself...and thereby drawn us into his story.  What do you think?

Astrophil and Stella: Sonnet 45

Stella oft sees the very face of woe
Painted in my beclouded stormy face,
But cannot skill to pity my disgrace,
Not though thereof the cause herself she know;
Yet hearing late a fable, which did show
Of lovers never known a grievous case,
Pity thereof gat in her breast such place
That, from that sea derived, tears' spring did flow.
Alas, if fancy, drawn by imaged things
Though false, yet with free scope, more grace doth breed
Than servant's wrack, where new doubts honor brings,
Then think, my dear, that you in me do read
Of lovers' ruin some sad tragedy.
I am not I; pity the tale of me.

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