Astrophil and Stella
Sir Philip Sidney’s poem entitled Astrophil and Stella is about a man who longed for a woman but is impossible to possess because the woman named Stella is already married. Astrophil, the narrator once kissed Stella and hoped for another time to kiss and touché her but it did not happened. He tried to seduce her but nothing ensued. He craved for her due to his sexual intentions and love but Stella did not give him any chance. Many critics said that Astrophil is the identity of Sidney while Stella was his special girl named Penelope who was soon married to a Lord Rich. Through this, Sidney used his poem Astrophil and Stella to show his longing, love, and feelings before during and after the relationship from Penelope. He also showed his true intentions for Penelope through the character of Astrophil. Astrophil described Stella as beautiful as it can be; her unique beauty is one of a kind that cannot be taken for granted.
Because Sidney used his poem as an escape and expression of his love to Penelope and jealousy to its husband, many critics and analysts are criticizing its poems. Aside from this, Sidney also used sexual attacks that may seem to be the true intention of Sidney towards Penelope aside from its love to her. According to Donna, one of the critics of Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella, Philip used the name Astrophil as a form of abbreviating his name Phil for Philip because it was an autobiographical poem of Sydney to show how much he longed and love Penelope through the character of Stella.
Aside from the sociological and personal issues of this poem, Sydney also used different elements and images to distinguish and describe the beauty and greatness of being in love. However, he also used elements that show loneliness, jealousy, and revenge of being desperate and rejected.
Conventional topics such as addressing the moon, appealing to the world of sleep and dreams, bemoaning the lady’s absence, praising her unique beauty and virtue, reprimanding her cold chastity and affirming his frustrated longings are all infused within the sequence, but the impossibility of the hero and heroine’s relationship, coupled with Astrophil’s weak and uninspiring character, are highlighted in the complementing structural and thematic devices which Sidney adopts. (Donna, 2002)
This analysis showed that Sidney used elements and images of nature to make his attempt to impose the beauty and magnitude of Stella’s personality and aura. However, even if Sydney used elements that described Stella as a wonderful and “perfect” being, he suppressed the character of Astrophil that illustrates weakness and uninspiring characterization. Through this form of characterization, Stella became the focus of the poem while Astrophil became the ordinary, plain, and typical narrator who is being mesmerized by his description of Stella. Nevertheless, it can be the point of attack of Sydney to captivate his readers about the magnificent character of Stella that he would rather choose to describe Astrophil as uninspiring character to prove to himself and to its reader his yearn and appreciation of Stella’s sympathy.
Whether or not Penelope was worthy to serve as a model for Stella seems to be a side issue. We all know the power of projection. The crudeness of the raw materials, which motivate creative artists in no way, invalidates the final product. Our most petty loves and fears mask the goddesses and the monsters of our unconscious. Perhaps it is only poetic justice that they emerge transformed in the works of our imagination. (Yoder, 1997)
Yoder described and explained how Sydney used his elements and images to express Penelope or Stella’s character. However, according Yoder, Sydney’s description of beauty and magnificence do not signify as beauty and magnificence alone but it is an opposition and masks to darkness, cruelty, and monstrous being. Therefore, it was being stated that Sydney’s point of attack to exemplify the description of real beauty of a woman is not merely in a basis of goodness but also a basis of contradiction to what is right and evil.
The sonnet implies different forms of contradictions such as attractiveness and unattractiveness, good and evil, lightness and darkness. These contradictions are dictated by the society. Because of the sociological state that the society is trying to impose to these negations, the poem implies that beauty is always right while ugliness or unattractiveness will result to darkness. Therefore, oppositions of two different aspects are strongly exemplified by the author to show the sociological impact of its values and culture during those times.
The poem also explained the meaning of love and desire that can be a form of possession and radical thinking of men towards women. Astrophil’s desire towards Stella is not just a simple admiration of her beauty but it is a form of craving for her love and sex. Because of this, Astrophil made his intentional agenda to make Stella fall in love with him but the poem shows that Astrophil did not succeed from his earthly desire. This only means that culture values of Philip Sydney still exists to the extent that though there are instances of sexual desire, rational and humane values are needed to be able to accept this kind of scenarios.
The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. Elizabethan writers did not believe that the use of certain images detracted from their work. On the contrary, it placed them firmly within the realm of the universal, made their artistic achievement all the more impressive and convincing. All art follows certain patterns, which viewed objectively, might be seen as a departure from realism. (Yoder, 2002)
This statement shows that images and elements of each narratives or poems should be used to form an exploration rather than use as an escape. If these things were achieved, any work of art will be more favorable not only to its readers but also to its analysts and critics for there would be larger scale to look upon. Because elements and images in this poem are extremely used, which caused opposition, readers would think of it as an objective and not based on the subjective conscientious of each in order to understand fully the theme, justification, conflict, and resolution of this work of art.
As a whole, the poem merely discussed different forms of opposition that will contradict to the characters of Astrophil and Stella. However, it can be a way of making the poem more substantial and ethical to discuss. Therefore, even if it is an autobiographical poem, Sydney had his attempt of releasing its personal identity rather than attaching it to his own self.
Cambridge University. Sir Phillip Sidney, “Astrophil and Stella”. Retrieved on October 8, 2007 from http://faculty.goucher.edu/eng211/sir_philip_sidney_.htm
Donna. “Structure, theme and convention in Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella”. May 2002. Retrieved on October, 8, 2007 from http://www.literature-study-online.com/essays/astrophil_and_stella.html
Yoder, Carol. “Sir Philip Sidney: Astrophil and Stella”. September, 2002. Retrieved on October 8, 2007 from http://www.emu.edu/courses/eng351a/astrostel.htm