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Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586)

You Gote-heard Gods


Strephon.

              1You Gote-heard Gods, that loue the grassie mountaines,
              2    You Nimphes that haunt the springs in pleasant vallies,
              3    You Satyrs ioyde with free and quiet forests,
              4    Vouchsafe your silent eares to playning musique,
              5    Which to my woes giues still an early morning;
              6    And drawes the dolor on till wery euening.

Klaius.

              7O Mercurie, foregoer to the euening,
              8    O heauenlie huntresse of the sauage mountaines,
              9    O louelie starre, entitled of the morning,
            10    While that my voice doth fill these wofull vallies,
            11    Vouchsafe your silent eares to plaining musique,
            12    Which oft hath Echo tir'd in secrete forrests.

Strephon.

            13I that was once free-burges of the forrests,
            14    Where shade from Sunne, and sports I sought at euening,
            15    I that was once esteem'd for pleasant musique,
            16    Am banisht now among the monstrous mountaines
            17    Of huge despaire, and foule afflictions vallies,
            18    Am growne a shrich-owle to my selfe each morning.

Klaius.

            19I that was once delighted euery morning,
            20    Hunting the wilde inhabiters of forrests,
            21    I that was once the musique of these vallies,
            22    So darkened am, that all my day is euening,
            23    Hart-broken so, that molehilles seeme high mountaines,
            24    And fill the vales with cries in steed of musique.

Strephon.

            25Long since alas, my deadly Swannish musique
            26    Hath made it selfe a crier of the morning,
            27    And hath with wailing strength clim'd highest mountaines:
            28    Long since my thoughts more desert be then forrests:
            29    Long since I see my ioyes come to their euening,
            30    And state throwen downe to ouer-troden vallies.

Klaius.

            31Long since the happie dwellers of these vallies,
            32    Haue praide me leaue my strange exclaiming musique,
            33    Which troubles their dayes worke, and ioyes of euening:
            34    Long since I hate the night, more hate the morning:
            35    Long since my thoughts chase me like beasts in forrests,
            36    And make me wish my selfe layd vnder mountaines.

Strephon.

            37Me seemes I see the high and stately mountaines,
            38    Transforme themselues to lowe deiected vallies:
            39    Me seemes I heare in these ill changed forrests,
            40    The Nightingales doo learne of Owles their musique:
            41    Me seemes I feele the comfort of the morning
            42    Turnde to the mortall serene of an euening.

Klaius.

            43Me seemes I see a filthie clowdie euening,
            44    As soon as Sunne begins to clime the mountaines:
            45    Me seemes I feele a noysome sent, the morning
            46    When I doo smell the flowers of these vallies:
            47    Me seemes I heare, when I doo heare sweete musique,
            48    The dreadfull cries of murdred men in forrests.

Strephon.

            49I wish to fire the trees of all these forrests;
            50    I giue the Sunne a last farewell each euening;
            51    I curse the fidling finders out of Musicke:
            52    With enuie I doo hate the loftie mountaines;
            53    And with despite despise the humble vallies:
            54    I doo detest night, euening, day, and morning.

Klaius.

            55Curse to my selfe my prayer is, the morning:
            56    My fire is more, then can be made with forrests;
            57    My state more base, then are the basest vallies:
            58    I wish no euenings more to see, each euening;
            59    Shamed I hate my selfe in sight of mountaines,
            60    And stoppe mine eares, lest I growe mad with Musicke.

Strephon.

            61For she, whose parts maintainde a perfect musique,
            62    Whose beautie shin'de more then the blushing morning,
            63    Who much did passe in state the stately mountaines,
            64    In straightnes past the Cedars of the forrests,
            65    Hath cast me wretch into eternall euening,
            66    By taking her two Sunnes from these darke vallies.

Klaius.

            67For she, to whom compar'd, the Alpes are vallies,
            68    She, whose lest word brings from the spheares their musique,
            69    At whose approach the Sunne rose in the euening,
            70    Who, where she went, bare in her forhead morning,
            71    Is gone, is gone from these our spoyled forrests,
            72    Turning to desarts our best pastur'de mountaines.

Strephon. Klaius.

            73These mountaines witnesse shall, so shall these vallies,
            74These forrests eke, made wretched by our musique,
            75Our morning hymne is this, and song at euening.

Notes

1] Poem number 71 of the first eclogues in the 1590 Old Arcadia but in the second eclogues in 1593. Strephon and Klaius are two shepherds from outside Arcadia in love with a noble lady, Urania, wrongly supposed a shepherd's daughter,who has ordered them to stay there until she sends word to come.

3] Satyrs: mythic goat-men (head and breast of man, lower body of goat), living in woody regions, and typically lecherous.

7] euening: the evening star, Venus, which rises in the sky after the sun has gone down.

8] heauenlie huntresse: Diana, goddess of chastity, the moon, and famedfor hunting.

13] free-burges: a citizen, one who is "free of the city," that is,at liberty to do business.

18] shrich-owle: an omen of death.

25] deadly Swannish musique: swans were thought to sing only when dying.

42] mortall serene: night's dew, thought to cause sickness and death.

45] sent: scent.

59] hate: from the 1593 edition; the 1590 reads "haue."

61] she: Urania.

63] passe: surpass, exceed.
state: stateliness, impressiveness.

70] bare: carried away.

74] eke: also.

Commentary by Ian Lancashire
(2002/9/9)

Sir Philip Sidney's dramatic dialogue and double sestina, "You Gote-heard Gods," belongs to the opening of his Old Arcadia, a macaronic (prose and verse) narrative finished in 1581. Strephon and Klaius, two shepherds in Arcadia, a pastoral utopia in the Peloponnese in ancient Greece, open Chapter 1 by complaining about the absence of their beloved shepherdess Urania, who has gone to the near-by island, Cithera. By framing their complaint within an Arcadian romance, Sidney distances its subject matter, unrequited love, from contemporary Elizabethan England in both space and time. His readers must have experienced some of the same strange formality that we find in this poem today, centuries later. These long dead shepherds, belonging to a pagan society lost before Christianity was born, describe a particularly intense despondency that can have little practical import for Sidney's readers. The poem's opening three words announce its archaic neo-classical frame: only eccentrics worship gods that make a living on earth by herding goats.

Both Strephon and Klaius take a long time to explain why they are so melancholy. Their theme at first seems to be, self-referentially, just their song itself. Strephon pleads with goat-herd gods, nymphs, and satyrs, and Klaius with the heavenly bodies Mercury, the Moon, and Venus, to "Vouchsafe your silent eares to playning musique" (4, 11). To judge by how the shepherds go on to describe their music, it makes a fearful cacaphony. Strephon grows "a shrich-owle" (18; cf. 40) with his "deadly Swannish musique" (25). Klaius utters "cries" (24), "strange exclaiming musique" (32), and can only think of "The dreadfull cries of murdred men" when he hears "sweete musique" (47-48). Strephon curses music-makers (51) and Klaius stops his ears, lest he go crazy (60). Only in stanzas 11-12 do they get to the point, that "she" (that is, Urania, as we learn from the prose narrative) has left Arcadia. Worse still, she has taken with her "perfect musique" (61), especially the music of spheres, a harmony that ancient philosophers and theologians attributed to the planets' need to worship their creator. What is left is a music that makes the mountains, valleys, and forests of Arcadia "wretched," from "morning hymne" to "song at euening" (73-75). Ending is like beginning. In their invocations of the pagan gods and planets, Strephon and Klaius promised nothing but "dolor" (6).

The gutteral alliteration in the poem's opening line foreshadows how the shepherds' musical motifs and phrases -- like repeating initial consonants -- echo, almost numbingly. Two types of repetition occur: terminal and initial. First, Sidney selects the ideal poetic form, the sestina, and then doubles its length, to reflect the two lovers' manic iteration of despair. This form conventionally has six six-line stanzas and a final three-line envoy. Each six-line stanza ends with the same six words, although in a different order each time. The last word in any one six-line stanza's last line becomes the last word of the first line of the next stanza. The pattern of repeating final words is

STANZA

i 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

ii 6 | 1 | 5 | 2 | 4 | 3

iii 3 | 6 | 4 | 1 | 2 | 5

iv 5 | 3 | 2 | 6 | 1 | 4

v 4 | 5 | 1 | 3 | 6 | 2

vi 2 | 4 | 6 | 5 | 3 | 1

vii 1 2 | 3 4 | 5 6 |

Sidney imposes this cycle first at lines 1-36 and then repeats it at lines 37-72. The six terminal words, "mountaines," "vallies," "forests," "musique," "morning," and "evening" occur terminally 13 times each (that is, 78 occasions) and three times medially (21, 54, 58). The second kind of repetition operates initially, line-wise, both within stanzas and between pairs of stanzas. For example, Strephon opens three lines with "You," and Klaius three lines with "O"; and then Klaius also repeats Strephon's 4th line as his fifth line. Stanzas 3-4 repeat "I that was once" initially, as stanzas 5-6 repeat "Long since," stanzas 7-8 "Me seemes I", and so on.

Readers, driven near "mad with Musicke" (60), as Klaius describes himself, become "witnesse" and co-partaker, with Arcadia's mountains, valleys, and forests, of the unrelenting sameness of the misery that the shepherds feel. This wretchedness builds from stanza to stanza. Early "woes" become "huge despair" (17), and "playning musique" turns into "cries" (24) and then "dreadfull cries of murdred men" (48), until both shepherds "curse" their own songs (51, 55) and "hate" the mountains or themselves (52, 59). The longer the complaint goes on, the more self-destructive and frenetic it is. Only the memory of Urania the beloved in stanzas 11-12 brings some closure for the "darke vallies" (66), the "spoyled forrests" (71), and the mountains whose "grassy" (1) slopes are deserts (72). At the mention of her "perfect musique" (61) and beauty (62), the shepherds' energy seems to flag. The three-line closing stanza is simple, clear, and almost calm, in comparison. Passion is spent.

The poem formally imitates its content, the music echoing the feelings, but readers not only admire Sidney's technical mastery of the sestina form but make sympathetic witnesses to the shepherds' plight. Love-sickness, after all, characterizes the youth of present-day urban sprawl no less than it does pastoral archetypes. Personal devastation, obsession, and self-loathing succeed one another in the mind of the suddenly abandoned lover-new-to-love, no matter the era. Sidney's "Astrophel and Stella" sonnet sequence depicts his own love agony. Chaucer's Troilus, Shakespeare's Orsino, Keats' knight at arms, Janis Joplin, and the unmarried woman in Fatal Attraction turn love-sickness into art across 600 years. Even cognitive psychology increasingly stresses the role of emotions in enabling us to survive, or leading us to fail.

Uniformly, obsessive love-sickness projects the sufferer's misery on the entire world. It makes the mental and the physical the same thing. This distortion, termed anthropomorphization or the Romantic fallacy, lends human attributes to nature. Strephon's mountains "Of huge despaire," his valleys of "foule afflictions" (17), his "ioyes come to their euening" (29), and his "thoughts more desert ... then forrests" (35) extrapolate his feelings so that they characterize the three landscapes. Likewise, Klaius's thoughts are "beasts in forrests" (35). Their obsession breaks down rational distinctions between the self and its environment. Mania results; in the sufferers' imaginations, sheer impossibilities become facts. Mole hills resemble high mountains (23), mountains turn into low valleys (38), nightingales sings like owls (40), flowers smell putrid (45), lovely music sounds like murdered men's cries (47-48), and beasts hunt the hunter (35). Love-sickness transforms Arcadia, the pastoral utopia, into a nightmare world. Hatred of its landscapes goes hand in hand with self-hatred (59).

Love satisfied, with the beloved present in memory, has a similar effect on the shepherds' perception as love unrequited does. Urania is a universe in herself; her eyes are two suns (66). The shepherdess has the power of God or the first mover in that she can cause the spheres to imitate her beauty by singing (68). Urania's presence also distorts images of the world. She makes the Alps appear like valleys (67; cf. 38); and she brings on morning in the evening (69; cf. 41-42). By leaving, she also converts mountains into deserts (72).


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Sir Philippe Sidnei, The Covntesse of Pembrokes Arcadia (London: William Ponsonbie, 1590): 95v-96v. Facsimile edited by H. Oskar Sommer (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1891).
First publication date: 1590
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1999.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/11*1:2002/9/9

Composition date: 1581
Form: double sestina


Other poems by Sir Philip Sidney