His literary works occurred between the years 1578 and 1582, though nothing was published after his death. The Arcadia appeared in 1590, in an unfinished state, and appeared again in 1598, complete. About 1580 Apologia for Poetries was written. In 1591 this work was named Defense of Poesies. The Strophe and Stella Sonnets appeared in 1593, numbering one hundred and eight and eleven songs.
Less brilliant than Marlowe, less witty than Lyly, inferior to Spenser in glamour, and excelled many others.
‘Arcadia’: Of his Arcadia and its remarkable influence, mention is made elsewhere. Here may be noted the discerning critique – The Defense of Poesies – where he uttered those poignant simple words that go to the root of all poetry: “I never heard the old story of Percy and Douglas, that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet.”
His quick and sensitive imagination enables him to pluck out the very soul of song. “It is not riming and verging that market a poet, no more than a long gowned market an advocate, Who though’ he pleaded in armor should be an advocate and no soldier.”
But his most remarkable literary work is to be found in the series of sonnets, Strophe and Stella, first published after his death. There was undoubtedly a personal element in these love verses, Sidney (Strophe) having been in love with Penelope Devereux (Stella), who afterwards made an unhappy marriage, but allowance must be made for a poet’s fancy, and there is no need to treat them as entirely autobiographical.
Some illustrations from his works are given hereunder: But, if some of his work seems more literary in inspiration than original and first hand; if, as compared with Spenser, the lines on occasion drag somewhat nerveless, there are rare flashes of beauty, fine notes of passion, unforgettable phrases.
We recall such lines as.
“Fool said my Muse, look in thy heart and write”;
Such verses as:
“Doubt you, to whom my Muse, these notes intended? Which now my breast overcharged to music landed? To you, to you all song of praise is due: Only in you my song of praise is due”; such melodious things as:
“Ring out your bells, let mourning shows be spread for Love is dead”; and the even more familiar:
“My true love hath my heart, and I have his.”
Sidney and Spenser:
By some Sidney has been lauded, as co-equal with Spenser, by others as cold and artificial. The open-minded student cannot fail to realize the injustice of both these verdicts. As a many-gifted personality, he is probably second to none; as a poet, he is certainly inferior to Spenser in power of expression and in range.
A man of exquisite culture with a delicate palate for all that is fine in literature, he knew precisely what to say, but lacked at times the executive power to say it in the right way. This is largely due to want of experience in writing; and his later verses are greatly superior to his earlier efforts.