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    In both Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella XXXIX Essay

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    Words such as embalmer, casket and hushed connote a sense of the ultimate escape, death, reinforced by the religious lexicon of other verses. Normally reserved for God alone, a hymn is a religious song that sings the praises of the Lord. By conferring this type of praise onto sleep, the speaker is demonstrating its importance to him. The notion of the climactic volta is also reinforced by the rhyming of the first verse of the volta with the first group of the poem. The vocabulary used in this group is very dark (midnight, shutting, gloom-pleas’d, enshaded) and contrasts strikingly with the negatively-bright daylight in the volta.

    The carefully chosen words of the poems give a deeper understanding of the themes of the poems, and help the listener to more fully feel the plight of each speaker. The most obvious poetic device used in either of the poems is the personification of sleep. In Astrophel and Stella XXXIX, sleep is very much a saviour for the speaker. He asks sleep to shield and protect him, to save him from having to face the image of Stella. Despair is also personified, as Astrophel’s mortal enemy whom sleep must vanquish. This relationship reinforces the theme of conflict and the peace that only sleep can bring.

    Another poetic device used in the sonnet is direct opposition to show conflict. In the first body of rhymes, Astrophel gives three examples of the power of sleep to cure fighting. The first is as “the baiting-place of wit and the balm of woe. ” [2] The parallel between the words is immediately striking, as are the differences. The hard ‘t’ sounds in baiting and wit connote aggression and gaiety, while the long vowel sounds of balm and woe are heavier and more serious, an immediate contrast. Further developing this idea, Astrophel speaks of figurative versus literal freedom, and the impartiality of a decision between two extremes.

    Another common figure of speech to the two sonnets is the use of alliteration. Specifically, the ‘s’ sound in verses like “civil wars to cease” and “save me from curious Conscience that still lords” lends a softness to the poem, akin to a gentle breeze blowing or a mother soothing an young child. Further assonances in To Sleep, such as “soft embalmer” or “pillows, woes” give the sonnet a heavy, sombre tone. The personification of both sleep and conscience in this poem again shows how the speaker needs sleep to protect him, this time from himself.

    The desperate need to escape of both speakers in these poems is made evident in the construction of the arguments and rhyme schemes, the vocabulary chosen by the poet and in the devices used to emphasize the disquiet in each of them. The conflict Astrophel is running away from in the first sonnet is more situational; he cannot get Stella out of his mind and therefore can get no rest. In To Sleep, however, the conflict is within the speaker; it is his own conscience troubling him. Both represent the desire in all of us to step back from our problems and yet illustrate the very temporary nature of this retreat.

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    In both Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella XXXIX Essay. (2018, Jan 23). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/sidneys-astrophel-stella-xxxix-41781/

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