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Sir Philip Sidney's Sonnet 79

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Sir Philip Sidney

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 79

Sidney's " Sonnet 79" is part of sonnet sequence titled, Astrophil and Stella. "Astrophil" comes from the Greek for "star" (astro-) and "love" (-phil); therefore, the lover in this sonnet sequence is a "star lover"; "Stella," his love object, is Latin for "star." Therefore the title translates literally as Starlove and Star, or Star Lover and Star.

The entire sequence concentrates on the theme of unrequited love. Astrophil is the lover and Stella is the beloved, whose love he covets. The sonnets display various innovative combinations of the Petrarchan and Elizabethan forms.

Sonnet 79 plays out in an interesting combination of the English and Italian sonnet forms; for example, it breaks into the octave and sestet, which further break into quatrains and tercets, with the rime-scheme itself, combining both Petrarchan and Elizabethan schemes: ABBA ABBA CDC DGG. Thus, the sonnet ends with a couplet, just as the Elizabethan sonnet always does.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Sonnet 79

Sweet kiss, thy sweets I fain would sweetly indite,
Which e'en of sweetness sweetest sweet'ner art:
Pleasing'st consort, where each sense holds a part,
Which, coupling doves, guides Venus' chariot right;
Best charge, and bravest retreat in Cupid 's fight;
A double key, which opens to the heart,
Most rich, when most his riches it impart;
Nest of young joys, schoolmaster of delight,
Teaching the mean, at once to take and give;
The friendly fray, where blows both wound and heal;
The pretty death, while each in other live;
Poor hope's first wealth, hostage of promised weal,
Breakfast of love: but lo, lo, where she is,
Cease we to praise, now pray we for a kiss.

Commentary

The stars-in-his-eyes speaker in Sir Philip Sidney's Sonnet 79 from Astrophil and Stella focuses on the kiss of his beloved. His infatuation leads him to explore the exaggerated euphoria that is holding his imagination in its grip.

First Quatrain: Musing on a Kiss

Sweet kiss, thy sweets I fain would sweetly indite,
Which e'en of sweetness sweetest sweet'ner art:
Pleasing'st consort, where each sense holds a part,
Which, coupling doves, guides Venus' chariot right;

The speaker imagines and muses on the kiss of his beloved. He fancies the experience so sweet that he uses the term "sweet," or a form of it, six times in the first two lines: "Sweet," "sweets," "sweetly," "sweetness," "sweetest," and "sweet'ner."

The infatuated speaker then asserts that such a "pleasing" act would not only include the sense of lips touching but would also make all of the senses come alive with pleasure. He insists that such an event of the pair, like "coupling doves," would also please the goddess of love.

Second Quatrain: Counting the Ways

Best charge, and bravest retreat in Cupid 's fight;
A double key, which opens to the heart,
Most rich, when most his riches it impart;
Nest of young joys, schoolmaster of delight,

The speaker then lists a number of other ways that the kiss of his beloved would provide him greatest pleasure: it would resemble the melee of "Cupid's fight" and "open" the heart. It would provide such a "rich" experience that would duplicate the gift that Cupid gives as he heralds love from lovers. He likens that kiss to a "nest of young joys" and says that it would be like a teacher who teaches delight.

First Tercet: Taught by a Kiss

Teaching the mean, at once to take and give;
The friendly fray, where blows both wound and heal;
The pretty death, while each in other live;

Like a "schoolmaster," the kiss would teach them both the pleasures of "take and give." The yielding of each partner would offer a "friendly fray." But the "blow" each receives would "both wound and heal." And the feigned death would only allow each to live more fully in the other.

Second Tercet: The Fantasy of Hope

Poor hope's first wealth, hostage of promised weal,
Breakfast of love: but lo, lo, where she is,
Cease we to praise, now pray we for a kiss.

In the second tercet, as the speaker is winding up his fantasy, he claims that his dream is only "poor hope's first wealth." And his fancy is merely a "hostage of promised" enjoyment, like a "breakfast of love," upon which he will sadly not be feasting.

Then the speaker exclaims "lo! lo!" and queries after the lady's whereabouts. He cannot even locate her at the moment, so he decides instead of this continued fantasy wherein he "praise[s]" the prospects of the luscious kiss, he has to begin praying that he will be able to receive a kiss from the lady.

Introduction to Sir Philip Sidney

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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