Reader Response to Sydney's Sonnets, Astrophil and Stella
As we discussed Astrophil and Stella in class, I felt a familiar knot in my stomach. At first I could not pin-point the reasons for my aversion to these sonnets. However, as we discussed it in class, it became clear to me. I could identify with Penelope Devereux Rich. Although Astrophil and Stella could be interpreted as an innocent set of love sonnets to an ideal woman and not a particular woman, they reminded me of the letters I received last year from a guy, Lee Burt, I had not seen in seven years. He stalked me by mail and phone. I felt small and vulnerable, and in some ways, violated. I do not hold much higher opinions of Sir Philip Sydney. I would argue that Sydney's sonnets were not innocent, but obsessions, and he too could be considered a stalker.
In Sydney's first stanza, he attempts to rationalize and give a reason for writing these sonnets. He hopes that by writing what is in his heart, "might cause her read, reading might make her know, knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain." Lee did not write these sentiments out as clearly, but they were often implied. He did state, "I'll send you my thoughts in segments and let you piece them together." He then proceeded to send me a poem a day until I finally began simply stamping them return to sender. These "pieces" reminded me of Sydney's stanzas.
The obsession with idealized beauty is also consistent between Lee's letters and Sydney's poems. In one letter, Lee wrote, "You walked into that room like an angel in all its glory. With a beautiful smile upon your face you introduced yourself to me. My heart, from that moment on, gave itself to you willingly." This is a striking parallel to Sydney's stanza seven in which he writes, "Least if no veil those brave gleams did disguise,/ They sun-like should more dazzle than delight?/...Both so and thus, she, minding Love should be/ Placed ever there, gave him this mourning weed,/ To honor all their deaths, who for her bleed."
Sydney also devotes a number of stanzas arguing with Reason over his obsession. He is sure that if Reason looked at Stella, it would kneel "and offeredst straight to prove/ By reason good, good reason her to love." Lee spends a whole page attempting to convince Reason that his feelings are something more than hormonal. He mentions God often. "I don't understand what God's plan, reason was for our paths to cross. For as long as I can remember I've been praying and praying for God to show me the one - and every other time I think he points one out to me - it is just my hormones speaking."
Sydney often mentions pity as well. Stanza 45 particularly addresses this, ending with the lines, "Then think, my dear, that you in me do read/ Of lover's ruin some sad tragedy./ I am not I; pity the tale of me." With similar sentiments Lee tried to play on my pity. "My life since the very beginning has been strange. Somehow no one had my problems, and frankly...