Imagine this: A sensitive young man roams the fields at night, lovesick and therefore unable to sleep. Although his weary eyes are posed at the ground, he can’t help weakly stumbling along. Pitifully, but still somehow hilariously, romantic, the young man lifts his eyes to the skies and pours forth a diatribe to the moon:
With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb’st the skies !
How silently, and with how wan a face !
What, may it be that even in heavenly place
That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?
Sure, if that long with love-acquainted eyes
Can judge of love, thou feel’st a lover’s case;
I read it in thy looks; thy languisht grace
To me that feel the like, thy state descries.
Then, even of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,
Is constant love deemed there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
Do they above love to be loved, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call virtue there, ungratefulness
Our sensitive young man gripes to the moon in a perfect sonnet, projecting his own despair on the heavenly body’s typical pale visage.
The poem is one of Sir Philip Sydney’s most famous, a part of the Astrophel and Stella series. Unrequited love was a popular theme in the 16th century (it kind of still is, actually). The speakers of various poems often lamented the beautiful young woman who demanded love and attention from a tortured lover, yet hid behind cold morality when push came to shove.
A popular poem, it is often read during an Introduction to British Literature classes. I was first exposed to it during one such class, loving it dearly. I had a thing for the neatest and cleverness of sonnets, although I hardly understood the sentiments and situations they described as an inexperienced teenager.
It was only a couple of days ago that I stumbled across the poem again. Phrases drifted across my eyes and struck my senses. “Are beauties there as proud as here they be?” and “Do they above love to be loved, and yet/Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?” Whoa, it reminded me of a quasi-relationship I had just put behind me. And it wasn’t what you would think.
“Oh, no! I’m the sensitive young man in love with a narcissist!” I thought, recoiling in horror. “I’m that ridiculous romantic who, for lack of worthier objects to receive my vast awakening sensitivities, has utterly fell for a person who’s totally in love with himself!” Safe to say that poetry has helped cure me of that trap.
Just a note: If you are a woman who’s wondering about a relationship with a man who reminds you of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!