Imagery over romantic love in Astrophil and Stella I
Many people struggle with expressing their feelings for others. In Astrophil and Stella Sonnet 1 Sidney does just that with a lover, struggle. He starts to declare how he has been trying to find the right words that would make his poem have an impact on its recipient. Unfortunately for him, this woman doesn’t give him the time of day so he is stuck with his imagination rather than any expression of romantic interaction. Incapable of writing a poem about his professed love for this woman, he does however, successfully uses succinct imagery to express how difficult it is for romantic words to come out unto the paper.
There are multiple ways to interpret some of the image-laden lines. Most notably the line “I sought fit words, to paint the blackest face of woe” where he starts to declare how he has been trying to find the right words that would make his poem have an impact on its recipient. He wants something that will arouse pity from his lover in order to get her attention. He hopes that this attention in the form of pity will transform into returned love. “The blackest face of woe” can be interpreted racially by an African American reader. If taken literally posits that to have a black face is to be in misery. It can even be seen as racist; as a woe is a thing that causes trouble and distress implying to be black is to cause trouble. The other meaning is that Sidney simply sees himself as the most depressed and sorrowful person on the face of the earth.
Sidney paints a vivid picture of the condition of his mind during writer’s block. Another densely packed imagery line is, “Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburn’d brain,” is that gives the reader an idea that he is in pain, trying to force something from his head, rubbing two sticks together to create fire. The only problem is that he ends up sunburn’d. Now he would like something fresh and original, fruitful as in mindblowing and profound stemming from a shower of inspiration. There is a world wind going on inside of him that he wants to unleash but feels week, saying he is “great with child to speak and helpless in my throes.” This metaphorical imagery lets us know that he wants to lets the words out but is unable to. He empathizes with a woman late in pregnancy who cannot wait for the birth of the baby and who experiences intense pain and struggle in childbirth. “By biting [his] truant pen,” televises it in one’s mind not only that he is biting his pen but that he’s truant like an absent student who is not where he needs to be when he needs to be in school. Finally the writer is on to something, he begins to think that there is something he is not doing, somewhere he is not going.
The most powerful line of the poem is the very last one that is introduced through, “beating myself for spite,” where he blames himself. It is this self-flagellation that incites his Muse to say immediately after, “Fool, look in thy heart and write.” It would appear that this might have been more captivating if his Muse yelled this instead; if Sidney had put an exclamation point to indicate strong feelings. Upon first read it would appear that he comes out of nowhere with that command of writing from the heart, but a closer encounter shows that he beats it out of himself. One sees how closely beating is related to the heart. He is possibly subconsciously aware of his heartbeating. His muse tugs at his heartstring urging him to look within. Hence a firm statement can be just as resounding and emphatic as an indication of strong feelings. The ultimate line also vibrates (resonate, continue to cause the preceding lines to be heard) the preceding lines: blackest face of woe, great with child, and sunburnt brain, allowing underlying cohesive depth to the poem. These are examples of successfully crafted imagery. Behold, Sidney completed an imaginative poem even though it isn’t particularly the romantic-love one he set out to do in the beginning.
Philip Sidney. “From Astrophil and Stella I.” The Norton Anthology English Literature: 8th ed. Vol. 1. Greenblatt, Stephen, General Editor. New York: Norton, 2012. 1084-1085. Print.