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Sir Philip Sidney

1554–1586

Sir Philip Sidney was born on November 30, 1554, in Kent, England. His father, Sir Henry Sidney, was the lord president of Wales, and his uncle, Robert Dudley, was the Earl of Leicester and Queen Elizabeth’s friend and advisor. Sidney attended Oxford University’s Christ Church College from 1568 to 1571, but he left to travel Europe before completing his studies.

Sidney returned to England in 1575 and was appointed cupbearer to Queen Elizabeth, a prestigious position. In 1577, he was sent to Germany as an ambassador, and when he returned to England soon after, he became a patron of the arts, notably encouraging the poet Edmund Spenser. He also continued his involvement in politics, opposing the queen’s planned marriage to the French heir and serving as a Member of Parliament in the early 1580s.

Sidney penned several major works of the Elizabethan era, including Astrophel and Stella, the first Elizabethan sonnet cycle, and Arcadia, a heroic prose romance. He was also known for his literary criticism, known as The Defense of Poesy. Although he shared his writing with his close friends, he did not allow his work to be published during his lifetime.

In 1585, Sidney was appointed governor of the Dutch town of Flushing. He fought in a battle against the Spanish at Zutphen in 1586 and died of his wounds several days later. He was buried at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on February 16, 1587.


Selected Bibliography

Sir Philip Sidney: The Major Works (Oxford University Press, 1989)
The Defense of Poesy (William Ponsonby, 1595)
Arcadia (Mary Herbert, 1593)
Astrophel and Stella (Thomas Newton, 1591)

By This Poet

3

The Twenty-Third Psalm

Dominus regit me

The Lord the Lord my shepherd is,
   And so can never I
      Taste misery.
He rests me in green pasture His.
   By waters still and sweet
      He guides my feet.

He me revives, leads me the way
   Which righteousness doth take,
      For His name's sake.
Yea though I should through valleys stray
   Of death's dark shade I will
      No whit fear ill.

For Thou dear Lord Thou me beset'st,
   Thy rod and Thy staff be
      To comfort me.
Before me Thou a table set'st,
   Ev'n when foe's envious eye
      Doth it espy.

With oil Thou dost anoint my head,
   And so my cup dost fill
      That it doth spill.
Thus thus shall all my days be fed,
   This mercy is so sure
      It shall endure,
And long yea long abide I shall,
   There where the Lord of all
      Doth hold His hall.

The Nightingale

The nightingale, as soon as April bringeth 
Unto her rested sense a perfect waking, 
While late bare earth, proud of new clothing, springeth, 
Sings out her woes, a thorn her song-book making, 
And mournfully bewailing, 
Her throat in tunes expresseth 
What grief her breast oppresseth 
For Tereus' force on her chaste will prevailing. 
O Philomela fair, O take some gladness, 
That here is juster cause of plaintful sadness: 
Thine earth now springs, mine fadeth; 
Thy thorn without, my thorn my heart invadeth. 

Alas, she hath no other cause of anguish 
But Tereus’ love, on her by strong hand wroken, 
Wherein she suffering, all her spirits languish; 
Full womanlike complains her will was broken. 
But I, who daily craving, 
Cannot have to content me, 
Have more cause to lament me, 
Since wanting is more woe than too much having. 
O Philomela fair, O take some gladness, 
That here is juster cause of plaintful sadness: 
Thine earth now springs, mine fadeth; 
Thy thorn without, my thorn my heart invadeth.

A Ditty

My true-love hath my heart, and I have his,
By just exchange one to the other 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.