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UPON THE DEATH OF THE MOST NOBLE AND VALOROUS
DEDICATED TO THE MOST BEAUTIFULL AND
*This lady had been the wife of Sir Philip Sidney, and was now married to the celebrated Earl of Essex. She was the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham.
SHEPHEARDS, that wont, on pipes of oaten reed,
Oft times to plaine your loves concealed smart;
And with your piteous layes have learnd to breed
Compassion in a countrey lasses hart:
Hearken, ye gentle shepheards, to my song,
And place my dolefull plaint your plaints emong.
To you alone I sing this mournfull verse,
The mournfulst verse that ever man heard tell:
To you whose softened hearts it may empierse
With dolours dart for death of Astrophel.
To you I sing and to none other wight,
For well I wot1 my rymes bene rudely dight.2
Yet as they been, if any nycer wit
Shall hap to heare, or covet them to read:
Thinke he, that such are for such ones most fit,
Made not to please the living but the dead.
And if in him found pity ever place,
Let him be moov'd to pity such a case.
A GENTLE Shepheard borne in Arcady,
Of gentlest race that ever shepheard bore,
About the grassie bancks of Hæmony
Did keepe his sheep, his little stock and store.
Full carefully he kept them day and night,
In fairest fields; and Astrophel he hight.
Young Astrophel, the pride of shepheards praise,
Young Astrophel, the rusticke lasses love:
Far passing all the pastors of his daies,
In all that seemly shepheard might behove.
In one thing onely fayling of the best,
That he was not so happie as the rest.
For from the time that first the Nymph his mother
Him forth did bring, and taught her lambs to feed;
A sclender swaine, excelling far each other,
Astrophel and the accompanying poems are specimens of the many lamentations in verse which the untimely death of Sir Philip Sidney called forth. They are none of them above mediocrity in point of poetical merit, and are deficient in the simplicity belonging to the expression of true feeling, which is somewhat singular, as the writers were, undoubtedly, sincere mourners.
In comely shape, like her that did him breed,
He grew up fast in goodnesse and in grace,
And doubly faire woxe both in mynd and face.
Which daily more and more he did augment,
With gentle usage and demeanure myld:
That all mens hearts with secret ravishment
He stole away, and weetingly beguyld.
Ne Spight it selfe, that all good things doth spill,
Found ought in him, that she could say was ill.
His sports were faire, his ioyance innocent,
Sweet without sowre, and honny without gall:
And he himselfe seemd made for meriment,
Merily masking both in bowre and hall.
There was no pleasure nor delightfull play,
When Astrophel so ever was away.
For he could pipe, and daunce, and caroll sweet,
Emongst the shepheards in their shearing feast;
As somers larke that with her song doth greet
The dawning day forth comming from the East.
And layes of love he also could compose:
Thrise happie she, whom he to praise did chose.
Full many Maydens often did him woo,
Them to vouchsafe emongst his rimes to name,
Or make for them as he was wont to doo
For her that did his heart with love inflame.
For which they promised to dight for him
Gay chaplets of flowers and gyrlonds trim.
And many a Nymph both of the wood and brooke,
Soone as his oaten pipe began to shrill,
Both christall wells and shadie groves forsooke,
To heare the charmes of his enchanting skill;
And brought him presents, flowers if it were prime,
Or mellow fruit if it were harvest time.
But he for none of them did care a whit,
Yet Woodgods for them often sighed sore:
Ne for their gifts unworthie of his wit,
Yet not unworthie of the countries store.
For one alone he cared, for one he sigh't,
His lifes desire, and his deare loves delight.
Stella the faire, the fairest star in skie,
As faire as Venus or the fairest faire,
(A fairer star saw never living eie.)
Shot her sharp pointed beames through purest aire.
Her he did love, her he alone did honor,
His thoughts, his rimes, his songs were all upon her. 60
To her he vowd the service of his daies,
On her he spent the riches of his wit:
For her he made hymnes of immortall praise,
Of onely her he sung, he thought, he writ.
Her, and but her, of love he worthie deemed;
For all the rest but litle he esteemed.
Ne her with ydle words alone he wowed,
And verses vaine, (yet verses are not vaine,)
Ver. 55. Stella, &c.] Lady Penelope Devereux, afterwards married to Lord Rich, to whom Sir Philip Sidney was much attached, and in honor of whom he wrote the collection of poems called Astrophel and Stella.