The Book of Sonnet Sequences

By Houston Peterson | Go to book overview

I -- SIR PHILIP Sidney
[1554-1586]

Knowledge her light hath lost, valor hath shine her knight, Sidney is dead, dead is my friend, dead is the world's delight.

THUS EDMUND SPENSER and all of England grieved for the brightest flower of Elizabethan chivalry. He had gone to help the Dutch in their war with Spain and was mortally wounded in a skirmish at Zutphen. He closed his brief career with that radiance and grace of spirit which distinguished him more than any single achievement.

In his youth Sidney travelled for three years on the continent, acquiring languages, making some invaluable friendships, and learning the ways of politics. Ambitious, eager, earnest, he looked forward to a life of splendid action but Elizabeth and her advisers gave him little outlet. Aside from a few diplomatic missions and intense efforts to advance the cause of Protestanism on the Continent, the one decade of his maturity was largely spent in enforced idleness. "My youth doth waste, my knowledge brings forth toys," he cried in despair. One of these "toys" was the famous Arcadia which he wrote for the entertainment of his sister; another was the Apologie for Poetrie, a reply to Gosson's School of Abuse. A true gentleman of the Renaissance, he helped greatly in the advance of English literature, without taking his own writings very seriously.

Sidney's Astrophel and Stella, a series of one hundred and eight sonnets, interspersed with songs, was circulated in manuscript among his friends but not published until 1591, five years after his death. Although often reminiscent of the French and Italian sonneteers, especially of Petrarch, it is not merely a literary exercise. "Overmastered by some thoughts," Sidney hinted in the Apol-

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