A Short Analysis of Sir Philip Sidney’s Sonnet 71: ‘Who will in fairest book of nature know’

A summary of a classic Sidney poem

Astrophil and Stella is one of Elizabethan poetry’s finest achievements. In 108 sonnets and a handful of songs, Sir Philip Sidney produced the first sustained sonnet sequence in English (though not, contrary to popular belief, the very first). Sonnet 71, beginning ‘Who will in fairest book of nature know / How virtue may best lodged in beauty be’, is one of the best-known poems from the latter half of the sequence (many of the ‘greatest hits’ in Astrophil and Stella are found in the first forty or so sonnets). Here is Sonnet 71, along with some notes towards an analysis of this intriguing and deftly crafted poem.

Who will in fairest book of Nature know
How virtue may best lodged in beauty be,
Let him but learn of love to read in thee,
Stella, those fair lines which true goodness show.
There shall he find all vices’ overthrow,
Not by rude force, but sweetest sovereignty
Of reason, from whose light those night-birds fly;
That inward sun in thine eyes shineth so.
And not content to be perfection’s heir
Thyself, dost strive all minds that way to move,
Who mark in thee what is in thee most fair;
So while thy beauty draws the heart to love,
As fast thy virtue bends that love to good.
But, ah, Desire still cries: ‘Give me some food.’ Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of Ezra Pound’s ‘A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste’

A summary of Pound’s Imagist manifesto

Modernist poetry in English never had an official manifesto, but there are several documents which conceivably have a claim to the de facto title: T. E. Hulme’s ‘A Lecture on Modern Poetry’ (1908), for instance, or T. S. Eliot’s ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1919). Another potential claimant is Ezra Pound’s short essay ‘A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste’, which was published in Poetry magazine in 1913 and does have the right to the title ‘Imagist manifesto’. Since Imagism was the starting-point for much modernist English poetry, ‘A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste’ is worth exploring, summarising, and analysing here. You can read the full text here.

‘Imagisme’ (the final ‘e’ was Pound’s attempt to give the word a French sound, after Symbolisme; it was quickly, and quietly, dropped) began in the British Museum tea-room in 1912, when Ezra Pound declared to his ex-girlfriend Hilda Doolittle and her new boyfriend Richard Aldington that they were both ‘Imagist poets’, and the co-founders of a new poetic movement. (Pound also suggested Doolittle sign her poems simply as ‘H. D.’.) Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of Henry Howard’s ‘In Cyprus Springs’

A summary of an early English sonnet

Although he gets the credit for it, William Shakespeare didn’t invent the Shakespearean sonnet. That specific poetic form – also known as the English sonnet – was instead the innovation of a Tudor courtier and poet named Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-47), who, as well as making Shakespeare’s Sonnets possible, also invented the verse form that would make Elizabethan drama possible: blank verse. The Bard had a lot to thank Henry Howard for.

‘In Cyprus Springs’ is the short title sometimes attached to the sonnet by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey which begins ‘In Cyprus springs whereas Dame Venus dwelt’. (We’ll come to the punctuation in a moment.) This is a curious poem, an example of the ‘lover’s complaint’, and deserving of closer analysis. First, here is the poem:

In Cyprus, springs (whereas Dame Venus dwelt)
A well so hot, that whoso tastes the same,
Were he of stone, as thawed ice should melt,
And kindled find his breast with fixed flame,
Whose moist poison dissolved hath my hate. Read the rest of this entry