Philip Sidney: Poems & Explanation

Instructor: Debbie Notari
Sir Philip Sidney was a poet and dramatist from the Renaissance, but he didn't see himself as a writer. In this lesson, we will look at Sidney's life and poems and see how he contributed to Renaissance literature.


Brief Biography

Sir Philip Sidney was born in 1554, the grandson of the Duke of Northumberland. His father was often away from home. Because Sir Philip grew up with a strong motherly influence, it is believed that he gained a unique understanding of women as is evidenced in his poems. To add to this womanly influence, his sister, Mary Sidney Herbert, helped Sidney in his writing and preserved his works after he died.

Sidney's mother, Lady Mary, was lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth whom she nursed back to health when the queen contracted smallpox. Lady Mary fell ill, and for the rest of her life, her face was disfigured due to the disease. Sir Philip Sidney seems to have drawn from his mother's fate in some of his poems, such as his Certain Sonnets, in which Sidney actually laments a beautiful woman's face that has been disfigured by disease.

Sir Philip Sidney lived an exciting life of travel, exploration, and sometimes danger. He enjoyed writing drama and poetry, but his writing was secondary to his life experiences. An excellent scholar, Sidney learned foreign languages easily. He served as a cupbearer, an ambassador, and, later, a governor for Queen Elizabeth, who liked Sidney, Sir Phillip Sidney

His Poems

Sir Philip Sidney was a masterful poet. He wrote both sonnets and book-length poems like Astrophil and Stella. In this section, we will analyze a few of Sidney's poems. The first poem is entitled 'The Bargain:'

'My true love hath my heart, and I have his,

By just exchange one for another given:

I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss,

There never was a better bargain driven:

My true love hath my heart, and I have his.

His heart in me keeps him and me in one,

My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:

He loves my heart, for once it was his own,

I cherish his because in me it bides:

My true love hath my heart, and I have his.'

In this poem, Sidney takes on the persona of a woman. He uses repetition, which was common in Renaissance poetry. So was wit, and the words intertwine like the two hearts do in this poem.

Here is another example. In Sidney's fourteen-line sonnet, 'His Lady's Cruelty,' he asks the moon if women act the same up there as they do down here. Here is the text:

'With how sad steps, O moon, thou climb'st the skies!

How silently, and with how wan a face!

What! may it be that even in heavenly place

That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?

Sure, if that long-with-love-acquainted eyes

Can judge of love, thou feel'st a lover's case:

I read it in thy looks; thy languish'd grace

To me, that feels the like, thy state descries.

Then, even of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,

Is constant love deem'd there but want of wit?

Are beauties there as proud as here they be?

Do they above love to be loved, and yet

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