The Sonnet Sequence Astrophil English Literature Essay

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Sidney sets the tone of Sonnet 31 as one of sadness and melancholy with the first phrase of the sonnet, "With how sad steps…" "Sad steps" alludes to the misery which is the pervasive sentiment of the sonnet, and the poet uses the literary technique "alliteration" to further emphasize the word pair, and therefore, the disposition of the sonnet. Because "[w]ith how sad steps," is followed with a direct and dramatic appeal to the intended listener, "O Moon," it is apparent that Sonnet 31 utilizes "personification" as perhaps it's most encompassing poetic device. This sonnet portrays "pathetic fallacy," a personification that emphasizes the relationship between the emotional state of the poet, and the poet's assessment and characterization of the inanimate object. The poet employs the literary device "[masculine] caesura" at the point of the appeal in order to further emphasize the important preceding word pair "sad steps," as well as the direct appeal to the personified moon. The remainder of the first line of the sonnet serves to build upon the personification of the moon, describing it's ascension into the sky at the end of the day as a slow, sad climb (which imparts human sentiments to the inanimate moon, depicting anthropomorphism). The first line is end-stopped with a comma, denoting an intact thought. Line two is a powerful line designed to further emphasize the prevalent personification of the moon in the sonnet. "How silently," the opening of the second line, involves some irony since the speaker of the poem effectively points out the moon's inability to respond, yet he proceeds to attempt conversation with the moon throughout the remainder of the sonnet. The second line also makes use of masculine caesura, creating a natural pause following the stressed third syllable of the word "silently." The line continues, "and with how wan a face!" This phrase revolves around two key words that can be considered puns in this instance. Both "wan" and "face" are descriptive of human traits & characteristics, but can also specifically apply to the moon (in instances without personification). In reference to the moon, "wan" would be synonymous to the adjectives "dim" or "pale." Likewise, the visible (lit) portion of the moon is commonly referred to as the "face of the moon," without any intended implication of human physical characteristics. Additionally, "wan" is a term used to describe the characteristic pallor of an unhealthy or unthrifty person's complexion. Therefore, this phrase could also be viewed as a continuation of the moon's personification, with the description of a "wan face" suggesting that the moon has human physical traits (a face), and struggles with human issues (health versus illness, in this instance). This line is emphatically end-stopped with an exclamation point, which causes the reader's eye to linger a moment longer on this line containing the speaker's ironic observation and the poet's clever phrasing. The third line of the sonnet contains a feminine caesura following the first [unstressed monosyllabic] word of the line. By placing the caesura directly after the opening word, "[w]hat," the poet emphasizes that the thought to follow will be an inquiry. The most notable feature of the third line of the sonnet is the use of enjambment. Enjambment is employed in this instance to sweep the reader's eye seamlessly across the final two lines of the first quatrain in a continuous flow of thought. This thought is a deviation from the evaluations and appeals of the opening lines, included in order to introduce the speaker's questioning of various elements of love throughout the galaxy. Lines three and four, when taken together, read "What, may it be that even in heavenly place\ That busy archer his sharp arrow tries?" The "busy archer" referenced here is an allusion to Cupid, the Roman mythological being credited with the ability to ignite amorous sentiments within any person who is pierced by one of his arrows. The question being asked of the moon is, in essence, if beings in the heavenly realm (where the moon is located, in the speaker's estimation) experience love. With the question mark denoting the end-stop of the fourth line, the first quatrain is concluded.

From this first quatrain, the reader may note that the speaker is demonstrating the poetic device known as "apostrophe," in which a speaker carries out a one-sided conversation with an inanimate object or a concept (such as Time or Nature). This conversation is rational from Astrophil's perspective because he has personified the target of his conversation- the moon- and so believes he is directing his thoughts to a human-like being, rather than an inanimate celestial body.

The second quatrain begins with the fifth line of the sonnet, which begins similarly to the third line of the sonnet in that it too displays usage of a feminine caesura following the first [unstressed monosyllabic] word of the line. Also like the third line, the fifth line utilizes enjambment to continue the flow of thought throughout the subsequent line as well. The fifth and sixth lines read, "Sure, if that long-with-love-acquainted eyes\ Can judge of love, thou feel'st a lover's case;" and together form a continuous thought that is partly inferring and partly imploring. The speaker is noting that the moon- from its vantage- has surely looked upon all varieties of lovers for untold ages, and he is beseeching the moon, with all of its knowledge from such observations, to profess insight into the matter of love. The hyphenated adjective in the fifth line includes alliteration of the "L" sound, which gives a musical quality to the body of the line, though the alliteration does not have any notable significance in this instance. The segment "judge of love" from the sixth line of the sonnet can be considered an example of the use of assonance, given the repetition of the like vowel sounds in the phrase. Due to the enjambment of the fifth line, there is a natural [masculine] caesura between the fourth and fifth syllables of the sixth line of the sonnet. Line six is end-stopped with a semi-colon upon completion of both the thought and the line. The seventh line of the sonnet is focused upon assigning human sentiments and qualities to the inanimate moon, expounding upon the anthropomorphism introduced in the first quatrain of the sonnet. Line seven, "I read it in thy looks: thy languished grace," features masculine caesura between the sixth and seventh syllables (the approximate midpoint) of the line, denoted with the strong and eye-catching punctuation of a colon. The other major significance of the seventh line of the sonnet is the poet's use of an oxymoron. Because the word "languish" means "feeble, weak, lacking in vitality," the pairing of this term with "grace" is in direct opposition, making "languished grace" an oxymoron. The seventh line is end-stopped with a comma at the conclusion of the thought and the line. The eighth line, the final line of the second quatrain and also of the octave, is a continuation of the speaker's dramatic monologue and personification of the moon. In this line, the speaker likens himself to the moon, stating that they are suffering the same torment [of unrequited love], and that he recognizes the outward projections of the misery and lovesickness that they have in common. The final line of the octave, "To me that feel the like, thy state decries," features a masculine caesura between the sixth and seventh syllables in order to isolate and strengthen the final phrase, which is a dramatic anthropomorphism upon which the poet concludes the octave.

Following the tradition of Italian sonnet form, Sidney places a "volta," or turn/shift of thoughts, after the conclusion of the octave. In Sonnet 31, the focus shifts from developing the personification of the moon and pondering vague notions of love throughout the universe, to dramatic pleading with the moon to explain the specific behaviors of the woman he loves but cannot seem to win.

Though classical Italian sonnet form forbids the usage of a couplet to conclude the sonnet, Sidney breaks from tradition to create a quatrain and a couplet within the sestet (the final 6 lines of the 14-line sonnet). The final quatrain begins at the ninth line of the sonnet and reads, "Then even of fellowship, O Moon, tell me," ending with a comma at the end-stop of the line, though the thought is incomplete without the inclusion of the subsequent line. The ninth line is the first line of the final quatrain, and it mimics the first line of the first quatrain by repeating the direct appeal "O Moon." The meaning of this line is built upon the likening of the speaker to the moon that was introduced in the previous quatrain, but this line takes the notion a step further. Previously the speaker implied that they had commonalities of circumstance, but the ninth line implies that their link goes beyond having similarities- to being one of fellowship. Like the first line of the sonnet, the first line of this final quatrain employs masculine caesurae to isolate the direct appeal to the moon and the final two words of the line, in which the speaker implores the moon to answer his up-coming queries. The line end-stops with a comma, though the train of thought continues in the subsequent line.

The remaining five lines of the sonnet are direct questions from the speaker to the moon, and offer some insight into the speaker's circumstances of love and romance. Line 10 asks the first question of the sestet, and it is complete and end-stopped with a question mark. The line reads, "Is constant love deemed there but want of wit?" The speaker's term "constant love" refers to intense devotion in a relationship, and he is asking the moon if such love is belittled as foolishness in the heavenly realm, as apparently it is in the speaker's society. The final phrase of the line, "want of wit," is an example of alliteration, and effectively emphasizes the phrase and focuses the reader's attention on the apparent fact that his society considers devoted love to be a sign of foolishness or lack of intelligence. The following line is another single-line inquiry, which end-stops upon completion of the thought and line, and reads "Are beauties there as proud as here they be?" Again, the speaker is beseeching the moon to provide him answers, and this time he asks the moon if desirable females of the heavenly realm are as haughty or vain as those on earth. The twelfth line of the sonnet varies from the two previous lines in that the question presented begins in Line 12 but finishes in Line 13 because of the use of enjambment. Lines 12 and 13 together read, "Do they above love to be loved, and yet\ Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?" The word pair "above love," found in Line 12, is an example of strong assonance, and the repetition of a form of the word "love" later in the same phrase adds to the quality of the phrase and assonance. The masculine caesura inserted between the eighth and ninth syllables isolates the tempo of the phrase containing assonance from the very important final word pair of the line. The word pair at the end of Line 12, "and yet," serves to alert the reader to a significant upcoming contradiction. The use of enjambment following this strong word pair serves to hurriedly usher the reader into the subsequent line, which illustrates the contradictory behavior of the women in the speaker's social circle. The speaker's frustration and confusion over the reality that some women reject the men that offer them the love they have longed for- if that man's love is strong and intense- is made obvious by his usage of powerful, clipped words with a clearly conveyed negative tone in Line 13. The enjambment that links Lines 12 and 13 is uncomfortable for the reader because the rhyming scheme has placed Line 12 as the final line of the third quatrain, and Line 13 as the first line of the concluding couplet. The awkwardness and disorder of linking these lines from separate rhyming groups may have been intentional, as the discomfort serves to underscore the confusion and frustration that are being communicated by the speaker throughout these lines.

The couplet at the conclusion of the sonnet includes the tail end of the enjambed question that began on Line 12, and progresses to the final desperate query of the sonnet on Line 14. The speaker asks, "Do they call virtue there ungratefulness?" The speaker interprets his love object's unwillingness to shift their platonic relationship to a physical one as a sign of ingratitude for his affection. With a tone of obvious resentment, he then uses the final line of the sonnet to ask the moon if the females of the heavens, like the women of the speaker's society, believe that ingratitude is a virtue to be exalted. The silent, inanimate moon can neither impart insights nor commiserate, so the speaker is left alone to dwell on his misery and frustration, and to ponder the questions that continue to beleaguer him.

Sidney inserted frequent caesurae and end-stopped lines throughout Sonnet 31 to convey the discord and disarray of an agitated mind, such as that of poor tormented Astrophil, forever entangled in the misery of unrequited love.

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