Thursday, September 18, 2008

Remembering Sir Philip Sidney

I’ve been looking at verse materials published in commemoration of Sir Philip Sidney: Thomas Churchyard’s Sir Phillip Sidney, his honorable life, his valiant death, and true virtues, Angel Day’s Upon the life and death of the most worthy, and thrise renowmed knight, Sir Phillip Sidney and John Philips, The life and death of Sir Phillip Sidney, late lord governour of Flushing his funerals solemnized in Paules Churche where he lyeth interred; with the whole order of the mournfull shewe, as they marched thorowe the citie of London, on Thursday the 16 of February. 1587.

What was the cause of all this grief, asks Day’s poem rhetorically, and answers that it was the loss of:

the choice of all the powers divine:
The influence self, where Virtues erst did flow,
The very work of all the Muses nine:

The care of earth and skies, in one self twine,
The rarest Type of courtly gentleness:
Adorned erst with stem of nobleness …

None of these writers know about ‘Astrophel and Stella’, but Day knows about the prose and other poetry:

Arcadia now, where is thy sovereign guide,
who stately Pembroke erst did to thee knit,
Where be the notes, his skill did erst divide,
In sundry meters, wound from finest wit,
Which he so well in covert shapes could fit…

‘Which he so well in covert shapes could fit’: I suppose Day refers to Sidney’s use of pastoral personae. But the subject of my post here, and shown in one of the two composite images above, is the use of overt shapes in the learned elegies on Sidney’s death. It seems from the Oxford collection of neo-Latin elegies, that beyond the normal elegiac meters, concrete poetry was in fashion locally, and so we get tapering pyramids and bulging columns in Exequiae illustrissimi equitis, D. Philippi Sidnaei, gratissimae memoriae ac nomini impensae. , Oxonii : Ex officina typographica Iosephi Barnesii, anno Domini (1587).

Such picture poems did not appear in the Cambridge volume, which gets upside of its Oxford rival by including elegies in Greek, and one in Hebrew: Academiae Cantabrigiensis lachrymae tumulo nobilissimi equitis, D. Philippi Sidneij sacratae per Alexandrum Nevillum , Londini : Ex officina Ioannis Windet impensis Thomae Chardi, Anno salutis humanae, M.D.lxxxvij.

Cambridge students did, though, seem to have a weakness for acrostics, and I was pleased to find a neo-Latin acrostic whose ingenious author has managed to make his first and last letters on each line spell out the latinised form of Sidney’s name.

But I will end this with John Philips’ closing stanza: in his poem, the dead man speaks from beyond the grave, and has a very simple message:

Thus from my grave I bid you all adieu.
Your Sidney’s words remember rich and poor,
Though dead, my life doth daily call to you.
Think ye how death knocks daily at life’s door,
Provide your lamps of oil prepare you store,
My tale is told, and I my race have run,
My body earth, my soul the heavens hath won.

Somehow I doubt that the neo-Latinists said anything that much better than this gauche directness.


Whitney said...

nice images! as you may know, there's many more great examples of 16th-century concrete poetry in Dick Higgins book, Pattern Poetry: Guide to an Unknown Literature.

DrRoy said...

Ah, that's one of the many books I do not know, and know I've read a bit more about it on your most interesting blog, so double thanks. I really must do something about the look of my blog too (yours made me think).