Good Example Of The Beauty With Black Eyes: Astrophil's Muse Term Paper
Philip Sidney was one of the prominent poets of Elizabethan era. His poetic style was notable, especially his portrayal of woman was notable. He portrayed various features of womanhood in his poetry. His representation of women depicts his poetic skills. He sketched female characters with different personality traits. They are bewitching, multifarious, bold, and beautiful female characters. One of his much sought-after literary works of Philip Sidney is Astrophil and Stella dedicated to his love and his muse Stella. It is the collection of 108 sonnets and 11 songs composed by Philip Sidney. Through the sonnets, the poet depicts his love story through Astrophil and his muse Stella. It is a biography of Sidney. Here Astrophil is Sidney himself who falls in love with a beautiful, intelligent and virtuous lady. Stella is no one but Lady Penelope Rich, the beloved of Sidney but then the wife of a courtier, Robert Rich. Due to some reason, the marriage between Penelope and Sidney could not take place. She has to marry to Robert Rich and she was not happy with the marriage. The sonnets written by Sidney has been dedicated to the beauty of Penelope, i.e. Stella. For Sidney, his Stella is his muse and the inspiration for his poetry. The word ‘beauty’ stops when it reaches to Stella. Sidney believes that his Stella is the ultimate beauty. In the collection of his sonnets and songs of Atrophil and Stella, Sidney describes both her physical beauty and the good qualities present in her personality. The good virtues of Stella are her compassion, love and ultimately her sacrifice for her love. The depiction of Stella’s beauty is striking, especially the depiction of her countenance and the sensuous appeal of her body. Sidney writes on Stella’s physical appearance to show his sexual desire for Stella, and her virtuous mind. Thus the poet is longing for sexual as well as psychological love of Stella.
The major organ of her countenance described in many of the sonnets of “Astrophil & Stella” is her lustrous eyes. Sidney is very captivated by her eyes and in many sonnets the poet describes her eyes with beautiful similes and metaphors. The lustre of her eyes is compared with beam. ‘With the beams of her eyes, Stella ignited the flames of love in his heart’ (Gale, 982). Her eyes thus directly burns his heart when they come in contact with the eyes of the poet. Among 108 sonnets, numerous sonnets are dedicated to her eyes. Some sonnets are fully devoted to her eyes, while in some sonnets frequently her eyes are referred by the poet.
The first sonnet in the collection is Sonnet 7. It is entirely on describing Stella’s eyes. As stated by Hamilton (89), ‘Stella is the star, sonnet 7 describes her beauty as residing in her eyes whose beams shine as stars from black sky.’ Her eyes are black and they are compared to the black sky and the beams of her eyes is compared with the star shining in the black sky at night. The poet has a doubt in his mind how Stella’s eyes are black. The black colour of her eyes makes her fair complexion more notable. Sidney tries to find the reason behind the black eyes of Stella. Sidney thinks that they are black on the background of her fair complexion, to enhance the aesthetic effect.
"When Nature made her chiefe worke, Stella's eyes, / In colour blacke, why wrapt she beames so bright?"(Sonnet 7)
The black colour of Stella’s eyes are actually a mystery for Sidney and he is trying to unfold. In Renaissance period, it was the poetic presumption that the eyes of the beloved kills the lover with her single glance. The eyes of the beautiful woman are as sharp as sword. They are quite capable of penetrating the heart of their lovers just like an arrow that penetrates its target. The poet is trying to solve the riddles of Stella’s striking black eyes. He compares the eyes with veil. They are black like veil to protect Stella from bright and glowing light. He also compares her eyes with sunglasses. Her eyes are like sunglasses but not for Stella, but for those who look at her. The black colour of her eyes is to protect the people from the bright sun rays like flash coming from her eyes. The nature has made her eyes black deliberately. Sidney also expresses the possibility that the nature wants to show the unusual beauty lies in the black colour. Generally the people deny black as beautiful colour. But nature has made the stereotype wrong by creating Stella’s eyes. Sidney personifies love when he says that love dwells in Stella’s black eyes. Stella is an epitome of beauty and love and her love reflects in her eyes and that is why they have become more adorable.
The poem has used lot of hyperbolic expressions. Sometimes it seems that the poet is using exaggeration while describing the beauty of Stella’s eyes. Through the hyperbolic style, the readers come to know how the poet is captivated by the beautiful eyes of Stella.
Sonnet 8 is not entirely describing Stella’s eyes. Various other expressions are also found in this sonnet. The reference of eyes appears in this poem to show the impact of Stella’s beauty on Cupid. Stella’s eyes are so powerful that Cupid also cannot escape from the beauty of her eyes. Though the sonnet is not just associated with the eyes of Stella, the poet mentions in the line 9 that Stella’s eyes are beamy and shiny. He uses the simile of morning sun and snow, to describe Stella’s eyes. The sun is bright and when it falls its rays on the snow, the snow also starts beaming. So Stella’s eyes are like the sun according to the poet. Here again the hyperbole is used by Sidney to elucidate Stella’s eyes. The reference of the snow can also be associated with the lover. If the snow comes in contact with the fire or a hot thing, it is bound to melt. The lovers are like snow and they melt when they come in contact with Stella’s beamy eyes.
The association of Stella’s eyes with sun is reflected in many other sonnets about which we have discussed in the paper. In Sonnet 76, Sidney says that Stella’s eyes are as bright as the rising sun with the dawn. Their brightness is warm and pleasant, but then they become flashy. The eyes seem to be brighter just like the sun. The sun’s journey from warmness to hotness and then towards scorching state is taken for the comparison for Stella’s eyes.
In Sonnet 7, Sidney has already mentioned that Cupid is also captivated by Stella’s beauty so he lives in Stella’s eyes. Sonnet 12 is also dedicated to Stella’s eyes. Though not much has been talked about Stella’s eyes. The poet just imagines that Cupid shines in Stella’s eyes. The poetic imagination of Cupid is also carried forward in Sonnet 12.
In Sonnet 17 Spenser uses a very unusual hyperbolic metaphor that Stella’s eyebrows are like bow and her eyes are arrows which kill those who come around her and at the glance of her eyes.
‘Of Stella’s brows made him two better bows, And in her eyes of arrows infinite.’ (Sonnet 17)
Cupid is the God of love and uses the arrow and bow to wound the lovers but Stella’s eyes and eyebrows are enough to perform the task of Cupid’s arrow and bow. Stella uses her eyes just like the arrows of Cupid in Sonnet 17, whereas Cupid himself hides in Stella’s eyes in Sonnet no 20. The poet describes the process of falling in love with Stella in Sonnet 20. She invades the heart of the poet by the darts of Cupid in her black eyes. The poet is wounded by the darts coming from her eyes.
Of all my thoughts hath neither stop nor start,But only Stella’s eyes and Stella’s heart. (Sonnet 23)
The description of Stella’s eyes again appears in Sonnet 42 of Astrophil and Stella. In the first line the eyes are personified. Sidney says that the eyes are so powerful and have immense strength to conquer love. Stella’s eyes are no doubt very shiny and dazzling. Though they seem to be the fighters, they are very innocent and humble, and yet they have not lost the innocence. The poet uses the adjective compassionate to describe Stella’s eyes in sonnet 67.
Of her conquest with compassionate eyes? (Sonnet 67)
Sonnet 42 is one of the finest examples of personification where the poet is talking as if the eyes are human beings. He is directly addressing to the eyes calling them the unending source of happiness. Along with the happiness the eyes of Stella have full of virtues. They are so virtuous that even the love also is defeated by their innocence and purity.
O eyes, whose humble looks most glorious proveOnly loved tyrants, just in cruelty (Sonnet 42)
In the last lines of sonnet 42, the poet says if he dies due to the beams of the eyes, it will be a triumph for him because he dies for the sake of love. So the poet does not feel regretful to die for the sake of Stella and her eyes. The poet uses indirect antithesis when he expresses the probability of his death through the immense innocence of Stella’s eyes.
In sonnet 76, Sidney continues the comparison of Stella’s eyes with that of blazing sun which becomes bright in the noon. They brightness of the eyes is burning the poet’s heart. The burning is too intense even to cool with shade or wind. Like the sun the brightness of her eyes will diminish at night and then only the poet can take her in the bed with him. ‘Stella’s eyes emit scorching rays that leave ‘burning marks’ on their victim’s skin’ (Bates, 33)
The poet has carried forward the hyperbole in sonnet 66. In this sonnet the poet feels that her eyes are heaven. The heaven is the place for eternal peace, tranquillity and happiness. When he looks at her eyes, he feels calm and peaceful. He can get heavenly experience in her eyes. The beauty of the eyes for the poet does not belong to the concrete world, but it belongs to divine world. Heaven is also the abode of eternal bliss. He also feels that the eyes of Stella are showering bliss on the poet. When the eyes of Stella come in contact with the poet’s eyes, she blushes and turns around. It is an obvious reaction shown by the coy mistress when she really falls in love with the lover. Stella is also not exception for that. But the poet is killed by her blushing. Thus the poet says that her eyes are enough to know that she also loves him and longs for him. The blushing glance indicataes that Stella is in love with him. But the poet could not identify through her eyes whether the blush in her eyes is out of rejoice or guilt. The eyes both connote rejoice for being in love with the poet and the guilt and regret for the social bondage and her social status. Stella was the wife of someone else. She had to be loyal and faithful to her husband and the poet is not sure whether her blushing is due to her love for him or due to the sense of guilt that she is adulterous.
One of the most notable attributes about her eyes that Sidney explains, is the expressiveness of her eyes. Her eyes are so expressive that according to the poet, most of the time she speaks with her eyes. In Sonnet 67 for example, he says that she doesn’t need to speak anything. Her eyes are enough to understand what she wants to say.
Her eyes’ speech is translated in that way by you. (Sonnet 67)
Stella’s eyes have been compared with sun in many sonnets by the poet. They have already been mentioned above. In Sonnet 71 again he compares that her eyes are flashy and bright like a sun
That inward sun in thine eyes shineth so. (Sonnet 71)
Her eyes are so bright and dazzling as if the sun has hidden beneath her eyes. And in the brightness of her eyes, night birds just fly away. Here the night birds are associated with the evil or vice things. There is an unusual combination of innocence and brightness which is used by the poet. Her eyes are innocent and at the same time they are so dazzling. The brightness of her eyes is also associated with the purity of her heart that is so appealing to the poet. The sun is pure and he burns the evil things from the world. Night or darkness is always associated with ignorance or evil. Stella’s eyes have immense strength to remove the darkness and impurity. The night is also associated with sorrow. When the poet is in deep sorrow, there is not a single ray of hope for him, she appears with her bright eyes, and pass the hope and joy in his monotonous and sorrowful life. Her eyes are enough for the poet to come out from the state of weariness and drowsiness. That is why, he calls her eyes “shining twins” (sonnet 76) He also requests her not to scorch him with too much brightness, but spread enough light that brings warm to revive her frozen spirit.
Her flamy glist’ring lights increase with time and place;
My heart cries, ‘Ah, it burns’; mine eyes now dazzl’d be:
No wind, no shade can cool, what help then in my case,
But with short breath, long looks, staid feet and walking head,
Pray that my sun go down with meeker beams to bed. (sonnet 76)
The poet is amused by the warmness of her eyes, but sometimes the eyes release fierce hot rays that the poet feels as if he is burning. He prays that he would get the warmth from her eyes, a warmth full of love and compassion. He gets afraid of scorching heat of her eyes.
Figurative language and the use of lot of poetic devices had been the special attributes of Elizabethan sonnets. Sidney was one of the poets, who utilizes his poetic creativity to make his sonnets appealing and amusing. The poetic devices or figures of Speech prominently used by Sidney are personification, hyperbole oxymoron, rhetorical questions, simile and metaphor. He uses all these figures of speech to describe Stella’s eyes. Stella’s eyes are the continuous source of inspiration and energy for the poet. Cupid is Stella and the killed lover is the poet. The fire is Stella and the burning target is the poet. The arrow is Stella and the penetrating heart belongs to the poet. And Stella is doing all these things with the help of her two eyes. Her eyes are the most powerful weapons and she does not need any kind of weapon to attack on her lovers. That is why most of the sonnets of Philip Sidney majorly tells about Stella’s exceptional eyes.
Bates, C Masculinity, Gender and Identity in the English Renaissance Lyric. Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.
Gale, S.H. Encyclopaedia of British Humourists: Geoffrey Chaucer to John Clesses, Vol. 2. Taylor and Francis,
Hamilton, A. C. Sir Philip Sidney: A Study of His Life and Works. Cambridge University Press, 1977. Print.
Philip, Sidney. "Astrophil and Stella, A Cycle of Sonnets and Songs. ." Poet's Corner. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/sidney01.html>.