Rereading Sidney's Certain Sonnets
Critics often see the early collection of Certain Sonnets as a poetic apprentice's juvenilia, but analysis suggests that Sidney was here experimenting with the poetic miscellany. This varied collection is related to the genre of ‘gentlemen's miscellanies’, containing the personal compositions of individual poets interested in providing a public forum for their work. The arrangement of the 32 poems appears to be based on the principle of variety: all but one poem represents some variation of the lover's frenzy caused by his paradoxical desire: he is as enthralled by the virtue of his mistress as he is impelled to seek sexual fulfilment with her. Sidney constructs a textual space in which the anxiety of compulsive desire engages in a rhetorical battle with its implacable negation. Later poems develop a narrative initiated in Certain Sonnets: the ambivalence of human longing.