Sonnets were written as a way to express someone’s feelings and a lot were about the emotion love that they feel. A regular theme used in the sixteenth century, particularly by Sidney in Loving In Truth and With How Sad Steps and Spenser in One Day I wrote her name, was writing about unrequited love. However, over time sonneteers began to change the familiar theme of unrequited love, to writing about other aspects of love, for example Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116. John Donne also changed writing just about love in sonnets to including religion for example in Holy Sonnet XIV.
In the sonnet Loving In Truth, Sir Philip Sidney describes his love for a particular woman. Beginning, “loving in truth” shows that his love is honest and he uses the sonnet as a way to express his feelings of love as he says, “in verse my love to show. ” This also implies that perhaps he cannot express his love for someone in other ways than writing it down in words. He was inspired to show the emotion in a sonnet, from other sonnets written about love: “off turning others’ leaves. ”
The main topic within the theme of love in the sonnet is clear when it says, “she might take some pleasure of my pain” thus Sidney is writing about unrequited love, which evokes emotion for readers. Sidney’s love is one with deep, raw emotion describing himself as having a “sunburned brain” symbolically meaning he is lovesick to the point he cannot function properly. The “But” on the ninth line indicates a volta and moves the sonnet on from describing the inspiration he has from other writers to speak about his love, to showing how he struggles with doing so.
He says, “strangers in my way” meaning that other people do not understand his love and thus he cannot find the words he feels inside to formulate the poem. When he says, “great with child to speak” it shows Sidney needs great determination and guidance in order to be able to express the love that he feels. The ending phrase, “look in thy heart, and write” which his Muse told him, concludes that by writing the sonnet, he has found the way to be able to show his love in words, as he needs to speak from his heart.
The love Sidney feels is unrequited, yet romantic love, which he begins to write about, but finds it difficult to express it fully. However, the sonnet helps him to conclude on how to write down the love he feels in words, which almost makes the sonnet more moving, as he has such strong feelings in love, no words can describe it. Sidney wrote another sonnet: With How Sad Steps, which slightly contrasts Loving In Truth. This is because in With How Sad Steps, it is much more down heartening to read, as opposed to him feeling optimistic.
The opening line to the sonnet is, “With how sad steps, O Moon”. A moon is a symbol of love and so this symbolises a painful love Sidney feels. The fact that the moon walks with a sad feeling shows Sidney to be lonely and perhaps that whom he loves does not return this love. He also chooses “how” for the second word of the sonnet, which is one with long vows and so draws out his misery for the reader.
Sidney asks several rhetorical questions in the sextet, for example asking the Moon, “do… hose lovers scorn whom that love doth possess? ” The fact that he asks the Moon, which is a symbol of love, shows he misunderstands what love involves and needs to know from something that does understand. This quotation also explains how his love is unrequited, as he believes women love being idolised but scorn those who love them. The sonnet is different to other sonnets about love in that there is no positive feeling or any description of what he actually feels for another being.
Instead, Sidney is showing his lack of understanding about love and his articulation of pain. Unlike Loving In Truth, Sidney does not come to a clear conclusion at the end of the sonnet, but instead finalises it with another rhetorical question showing his complete lack of understanding about love and that writing the sonnet has not helped him to find the answers he needs. In the 17th century, Edmund Spenser wrote One day I wrote her name, which like Loving In Truth is about writing down feelings of love in a sonnet.
The type of love Spenser writes about is sad, as he says how he “wrote her name upon the strand, But came the waves and washed it away” showing how his loved one is no longer with him for a reason that is not yet explained. The idea of him writing about the woman whom he loves is stressed when he says, “My verse your virtues shall eternise” and he later says that although she may die, their “love shall live” showing their love is so strong that he will preserve her and she will be remembered in words forever.
Although this sonnet is similar to Loving In Truth where they both use the sonnet to record their love, there is also a difference between them. Spenser writes about a love that is returned and so that he can have a memory of it, whereas Sidney writes about unrequited love that he fails to write down in words. Later on in the 17th century, sonnets started to develop into ones about love incorporated with other aspects of life, for example John Donne in Holy Sonnet XIV writes a poem of apology and accusation about love and religion.
He uses imagery of God when he says, “Batter my heart, three person’d God” which combines love and religion together. Using “batter” with “heart” provokes a violent image of love as opposed to the romantic and affectionate love described in both Loving In Truth and One Day I Wrote Her Name. He asks the Trinity, God, to do the action and asks his “force, to break, blow, burn, and make new” so Donne wants to be purified like Christ. This sentence is also purposely tri-colonic to stress that he has included the theme of religion into the sonnet.
In the octet, Donne shifts the blame of being manipulated by the Devil onto God, however in the sextet he begins, “Yet dearly I love you, and would be great fain” thus shows that he does feel great love for God, but the “would” indicates that at that moment, he feels it is an unrequited love as is in Loving In Truth. In the octet, Donne feels betrayed and empty but the “yet” on line eight changes the tone for the sextet. Donne requests further and in detail how God can free him from the Devil and that he wants his human love to turn into divine love.
Donne, in the sextet, uses the sonnet to beg God to “imprison” him and so literally take him from Satan so that he can freely love God, which he pines for. This sonnet is different from Sidney’s and Spenser’s in that it links love and religion together and his love is extremely strong as he says to God, “you ravish me” where ravish is associate with raping someone. Sidney and Spenser’s love on the other hand, is romantic and love for another woman. However there are some similarities with Loving In Truth, as he is writing the sonnet in order to attract attention.
This attention in his case is the help he needs from God. Shakespeare wrote a lot of sonnets about love, for example Sonnet 116, which showed how nothing alters the course of true love. He believes love is “an ever-fixed mark” that “is never shaken” and so is showing that love is a too strong emotion that once felt for another person, is a fixed feeling. Unlike Sidney, Spenser and Donne’s sonnets, Shakespeare does not write about his feeling of love for another being but instead a general view on what love entails.
In conclusion, a lot of earlier sonnets were written about unrequited love and so the writer cannot understand fully about the feeling of love. As a result, many sonneteers wrote their feelings down in order to find an answer to their questions. However, although we can see from Sidney that the answers were not always found, over time, for example with Shakespeare in his sonnet fully understood about love and how it is a feeling that can never be changed.