Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
Via Amoris
By Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586)
HIGH-WAY, 1 since you my chief Parnassus be,
And that my Muse, to some ears not unsweet, 2
Tempers her words to trampling horses’ feet
More oft than to a chamber melody,—
Now blessèd you bear onward blessèd me        5
To her, where I my heart, safe-let, 3 shall meet;
My Muse and I must you of duty greet
With thanks and wishes, wishing thankfully;
Be you still fair, honour’d by public heed;
By no encroachment wrong’d, nor time forgot;        10
Nor blamed for blood, nor shamed for sinful deed;
And that you know I envy you no lot
Of highest wish, I wish you so much bliss,—
Hundreds of years you Stella’s feet may kiss!
Note 1. Sonnet number lxxxiv., in Astrophel and Stella, ed. of 1598. Line 1, High-way … Parnassus be: “Because it leads him to Stella, the inspiration of his song and the cause of his fame.” (Schelling.) [back]
Note 2. Unsweet: in the second quarto the reading is unmeet. “As he is speaking of his Muse, and as we have the rhythm meet, in line six, I think ‘unsweet’ the right word … or at all events the later and better one.” (Grosart.) [back]
Note 3. Safe-left: (Ed. 1613) is prettier than “safe-best” (quarto edit., 1598) = with Stella.” (Grosart.) I take this sonnet of Sidney’s to be one of the finest in the language. Perhaps no single line in all poetry, except Shakespeare’s “Bare-ruined Choirs where late the sweet birds sang,” has contained in its meaning and music so much, as “Tempers her words to trampling horses’ feet.”
  Of Sidney’s Sonnets, Charles Lamb says: “Sidney’s Sonnets—I speak of the best of them—are among the very best of their sort. They fall below the plain moral dignity, the sanctity, and high, yet modest, spirit of self-approval, of Milton, in his compositions of a similar structure. They are, in truth, what Milton, censuring the Arcadia, says of that work (to which they are a sort of after-tune or application), ‘Vain and amatorious’ enough, yet the things in their kind (as he confesses to be true of the romance) may be ‘full of worth and wit.’ They savour of the Courtier, it must be allowed, and not of the Commonwealthsman. But Milton was a Courtier when he wrote the Masque at Ludlow Castle, and still more a Courtier when he composed the Arcades. When the national struggle was to begin, he becomingly cast these vanities behind him; and if the order of time had thrown Sir Philip upon the crisis which proceeded the Revolution, there is no reason why he should not have acted the same part in that emergency, which has glorified the name of a later Sydney. He did not want for plainness or boldness of spirit. His letter on the French match may testify he could speak his mind freely to Princes. The times did not call him to the scaffold…. But they are not rich in words only, in vague and unlocalised feelings—the failing too much of some poetry of the present day—they are full, material, and circumstantiated. Time and place appropriates every one of them. It is not a fever of passion wasting itself upon a thin diet of dainty words, but a transcendent passion prevailing and illuminating action, pursuits, studies, feats of arms, the opinions of contemporaries and his judgement of them. An historical thread runs through them, which almost affixes a date to them; mark the when and where they were written.” [Some Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney, Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. E. V. Lucas. Ed. 1903, pp. 213 and 218.] [back]
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