Category Archives: Literature
On one of Sir Philip Sidney’s great love sonnets
Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnets often shut closed neatly and satisfyingly with a snap. They build towards their conclusion, and although Sidney uses the Petrarchan sonnet form (which doesn’t usually conclude with a rhyming couplet), his last lines tend to have the ring of finality about them, ending his poem with a bang rather than a whimper. ‘Nymph of the garden where all beauties be’, which is the 82nd sonnet in his sequence Astrophil and Stella, is a fine example of how well Sidney took the relatively new sonnet form (in English) and made it his own.
Nymph of the garden where all beauties be,
Beauties which do in excellency pass
His who till death looked in a watery glass,
Or hers whom nak’d the Trojan boy did see;
Sweet garden-nymph, which keeps the cherry-tree
Whose fruit doth far the Hesperian taste surpass,
Most sweet-fair, most fair-sweet, do not, alas,
From coming near those cherries banish me.
For though, full of desire, empty of wit, Read the rest of this entry
Taken from Edmund Spenser’s 1590s sonnet sequence Amoretti, this poem opens with a paradox: how come the poet’s fiery desire for his ice-cold beloved doesn’t thaw her coldness, but actually makes her even icier and more standoffish? Similarly, how come her coldness doesn’t cool his fire?
My Love is like to ice, and I to fire:
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dissolved through my so hot desire,
But harder grows the more I her entreat?
Or how comes it that my exceeding heat
Is not allayed by her heart-frozen cold,
But that I burn much more in boiling sweat,
And feel my flames augmented manifold? Read the rest of this entry
‘To a Louse’, a poem written in the Habbie dialect, sees Robert Burns musing upon the louse that he spots crawling on a lady’s bonnet in church – the louse does not observe class distinctions and regards all human beings equally, as potential hosts. As Burns concludes, ‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!’ Such a power or ability would save us a lot of bother and ‘foolish notions’; but we cannot see ourselves as others see us. The one thing we cannot do is take the view of that louse.
To a Louse
Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?
Your impudence protects you sairly;
I canna say but ye strunt rarely,
Owre gauze and lace;
Tho’, faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
On sic a place. Read the rest of this entry