Writing after Sidney: The Literary Response to Sir Philip Sidney, 1586-1640

By Gavin Alexander | Go to book overview

6
Lyric After Sidney

When Henry Olney, 'the first publique bewrayer of Poesies Messias',1 published his unauthorized edition of Sidney's Defence of Poesy, he prefaced the text with 'Foure Sonnets written by Henrie Constable to Sir Phillip Sidneys soule' (A3r). Constable addresses Sidney in Sidney's voice, by using Sidney's own favoured variant of sonnet form: the counter-rhymed Petrarchan octave paired with an English sestet of cross rhyme and couplet, cdcdee. But form is not content, and Constable struggles fo…onceit that can connect Sidney the poet to the poems of his successors:

Shall not all Poets praise thy memory?
And to thy name shall not their works give fame,
When as their works be sweetned by thy name?

(Sonnet 2.12–14)

Not, we notice, Sidney teaching his successors how to write (as he surely did); but Sidney as matter for verse, his name flourishing 'in the printers' shops' and, as here, in 'man…oetical preface' (Defence, 121). The problem, as Constable's next sonnet shows, is that poets could not agree on what Sidney represented:

Even as when great mens heires cannot agree:
So ev'ry vertue now for part of thee doth sue,
Courage prooves by thy death thy hart to be his due,
Eloquence claimes thy tongue, and so doth courtesy,

Invention knowledge sues, Judgment sues memory,
Each saith thy head is his

(Sonnet 3.1–6, A3v)

Constable has learned this sonnet's way with personification, and, after its irregular opening line, its alexandrines, from Astrophil and Stella, 1.

1An Apologie for Poetrie (1595), A4r.

-193-

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