Henry John Todd: "It is 'dedicated to the most beautifull and vertuous Ladie, the Countess of Essex.' This Lady had been the wife of Sidney, and was now married to the Earl of Essex. She was the daughter of the memorable Sir Francis Walsingham. Sir Philip left by her an only daughter. His affectionate attention to this Lady and to her family, is abundantly shewn in his Will, preserved by Collins in his Memoirs of the Lives and Actions of the Sidneys. It had been first proposed for Sir Philip to marry a daughter of Secretary Cecil, on the recommendation of his uncle, the Earl of Leicester; and his own choice, in earlier days, is said to have been unsuccessfully fixed on Lady Rich. Of this latter circumstance Spenser makes an elegant use.... The poet, with inimitable pathos, thus relates a feigned event, 'To prove that death their hearts cannot divide, | Which living were in love so firmly tide.' He relates, that Stella, after many fruitless offices of tendered love, barely witnessed the last pains of the wounded Astrophel, and followed him 'like turtle chaste;' and then he most poetically adds: 'The gods, which all things see, this same beheld; | And, pittying this paire of lovers trew, | Transformed them there lying on the field | Into one flowre that is both red and blew...." Works of Spenser (1805) 1:cvi.
Rowland Freeman: "We shall venture to make one remark only upon this poem. It is a little extraordinary that Spenser though he has dedicated his elegy to Sidney's widow, then Countess of Essex, should make no mention of that lady in any part of it. We are assured that she accompanied her husband in his unfortunate expedition, and assiduously watched over him in the anxious interval from the time of his being wounded, until his death. The introduction of Lady Rich, or Stella, is still more extraordinary, when the dedication is considered in connection with the following lines: — 'For one alone he car'd, for one he sighed, | Stella the fair! | Her did he love, her he alone did honour: | Her, and but her, of love he worthy deemed, | For all the rest but little he esteemed.' Mr. Todd remarks, that 'the early love of Sir Philip Sidney for Lady Rich is converted into a beautiful fiction in Spenser's Elegy of Astrophel.' To the present writer, this fiction appears in a directly opposite light, as one particularly unfortunate, and considering the party to whom the Elegy is dedicated, almost indecorous; very much unlike the manner of the gentle and courtly Spenser. It may, however, perhaps, admit of the following explanation: — Spenser's Elegy was written before the publication of Sidney's poetry entitled Astrophel and Stella, which was probably never communicated to him in manuscript. The Poet had doubtless heard of the poetic designation of Sidney's mistress, but her real name was unknown to him. — The haughty and high-born Sidney, though he condescended to patronize and encourage the 'lowly strains' of Spenser, was not very likely to select the plebeian bard for a confidant in an affair of so much delicacy. May we not then presume that Spenser, in celebrating the loves of Astrophel and Stella, had no other person in his view than the Countess of Essex herself, whom he considered as the original of Stella? This conjecture receives support from some expressions in the 'Mourning Muse,' where Stella, lamenting the death of Sidney, is made to call him her 'true and faithful Pheer,' and her 'trusty guide'" Kentish Poets (1821) 1:158-59.
Retrospective Review: "It is very remarkable, that Spenser, in celebrating the memory and death of his amiable and gallant patron, for whom he appeals to have entertained much affection, should hardly display a single particle of feeling. These poems are the very essence of conceit and pedantry, and never once awaken the slightest emotion in the reader. The mere prose narration of his death is worth a thousand of such verses" 12 (1825) 155-56.
Dennis Kay: "If the shepherd-poets to whom the volume was addressed wished to see an example of the emulation to which they were exhorted, here it was. And there is no doubt that they followed his example. With the Astrophel volume, Spenser invented Spenserian poetry. From this collection his followers derived a clear and practical sense of the nature of poetic community, the value and possibility of poetic community, and the role and status of the laureate poet in relation to his fellows" Melodious Tears (1990) 65-66.
Shepherds, that wont on Pipes of Oaten Reed,
Oft-times to plain your Love's concealed Smart;
And with your piteous Lays have learn'd to breed
Compassion in a Country Lass's Heart;
Hearken ye gentle shepherds to my Song,
And place my doleful Plaint, your plaints emong.
To you alone I sing this mournful Verse,
The mournful'st Verse that ever Man heard tell;
To you whose softned Hearts it may empierce,
With Dolour's Dart, for Death of Astrophel:
To you I sing, and to none other Wight;
For well I wot my Rymes been rudely dight.
Yet as they been, if any nicer Wit
Shall hap to hear, or covet them to read;
Think he, that such are for such ones most fit,
Made not to please the living, but the dead:
And if in him found Pity ever place,
Let him be mov'd to pity such a Case.
Gentle Shepherd born in Arcady,
Of gentlest Race that ever Shepherd bore,
About the grassie Banks of Haemony,
Did keep his Sheep, his little Stock and Store:
Full carefully he kept them Day and Night,
In fairest Fields, and Astrophel he hight.
Young Astrophel, the Pride of Shepherds Praise,
Young Astrophel, the rustick Lasses Love;
Far passing all the Pastors of his Days,
In all that seemly Shepherds might behove.
In one thing only failing of the best,
That he was not so happy as the rest.
For from the time that first the Nymph his Mother
Him forth did bring, and taught her Lambs to feed,
A slender Swain, excelling far each other,
In comely Shape, like her that did him breed;
He grew up fast in Goodness and in Grace,
And doubly fair wox both in Mind and Face.
Which daily more and more he did augment,
With gentle Usage, end Demeanure mild;
That all Mens Hearts with secret Ravishment
He stole away, and weetingly beguil'd.
Ne Spight it self, that all good things doth spill,
Found out in him, that she could say was ill.
His Sports were fair, his Joyance innocent,
Sweet without Sowre, and Honey without Gall;
And he himself seem'd made for Merriment,
Merrily masking both in Bower and Hall.
There was no Pleasure nor delightful Play,
When Astrophel so-ever was away.
For he could pipe and dance, and carol sweet,
Emongst the Shepherds in their shearing Feast;
As Sommers Lark, that with her Song doth greet
The dawning Day, forth coming from the East:
And Layes of love he also could compose;
Thrice happy she, whom he to praise did chose.
Full many Maidens often did him woo,
Them to vouchsafe emongst his Rimes to name,
Or make for them, as he was wont to do
For her, that did his Heart with Love inflame.
For which they promised to dight, for him,
Gay Chapelets of Flowers and Girlonds trim.
And many a Nymph, both of the Wood and Brook,
Soon as his oaten Pipe began to shrill,
Both crystal Wells and shady Groves forsook,
To hear the Charms of his enchanting Skill:
And brought him Presents, Flowers if it were Prime,
Or mellow Fruit if it were Harvest-time.
But he for none of them did care a whit,
Yet Wood Gods for them often sighed sore:
Ne for their Gifts, unworthy of his Wit,
Yet not unworthy of the Country's Store.
For one alone he car'd, for one he sigh'd,
His Life's Desire, and his dear Love's Delight.
Stella the fair, the fairest Star in Sky,
As fair as Venus, or the fairest Fair,
(A fairer Star saw never living Eye)
Shot her sharp-pointed Beams through purest Air.
Her he did love, her he alone did honour,
His Thoughts, his Rimes, his Songs were all upon her.
To her he vow'd the Service of his Days,
On her he spent the Riches of his Wit;
For her he made Hymns of immortal Praise,
Of only her he sung, he thought, he writ.
Her, and but her, of Love he worthy deemed,
For all the rest but little he esteemed.
Ne her with idle words alone he wooed,
And Verses vain, (yet Verses are not vain)
But with brave Deeds to her sole Service vowed,
And bold Atchievements her did entertain.
For both in Deeds and Words he nourtred was,
Both wise and hardy (too hardy alas!)
In wrestling, nimble; and in running, swift;
In shooting, steddy; and in swimming, strong:
Well made to strike, to throw, to leap, to lift,
And all the Sports that Shepherds are emong.
In every one, he vanquisht every one,
He vanquisht all, and vanquisht was of none.
Besides, in hunting, such Felicity,
Or rather Infelicity he found,
That every Field, and Forest far away,
He sought, where salvage Beasts do most abound.
No Beast so salvage but he could it kill,
No Chace so hard, but he therein had Skill.
Such Skill matcht with such Courage as he had,
Did prick him forth with proud Desire of Praise
To seek abroad, of Danger nought ydrad,
His Mistress' Name, and his own Fame to raise.
What needeth Peril to be sought abroad,
Sith round about us it doth make aboad?
It fortuned, as he that perilous Game
In forein Soil pursued far away;
Into a Forest wide and waste he came,
Where store he heard to be of salvage Prey.
So wide a Forest, and so waste as this,
Nor famous Ardeyn, nor so foul Arlo is.
There his well-woven Toyls and subtil Trains
He laid, the brutish Nation to enwrap;
So well he wrought with Practise and with Pains,
That he of them great Troups did soon entrap:
Full happy Man (misweening much) was he,
So rich a Spoyl within his power to see.
Eftsoones all heedless of his dearest Hate,
Full greedily into the Herd he thrust,
To slaughter them, and work their final Bale,
Lest that his Toyl should of their Troups be burst.
Wide Wounds emongst them many a one he made,
Now with his sharp Boar-spear, now with his Blade.
His care was all, how he them all might kill,
That none might scape (so partial unto none):
Ill Mind, so much to mind another's Ill,
As to become unmindful of his own.
But pardon that unto the cruel Skyes,
That from himself to them withdrew his Eyes.
So as he rag'd emongst that beastly Rout,
A cruel Beast of most accursed Brood,
Upon him turn'd (Despair makes Cowards stout)
And with fell Tooth, accustomed to Blood,
Launched his Thigh with so mischievous Might,
That it both Bone and Muscles rived quight.
So deadly was the Dint, and deep the Wound,
And so huge Streams of Blood thereout did flow,
That he endured not the direful Stound,
But on the cold dear Earth himself did throw:
The whiles the captive Herd his Nets did rend,
And having none to lett, to Wood did wend.
Ah! where were ye this while his Shepherd Peers,
To whom alive was nought so dear as he;
And ye fair Maids, the Matches of his Years,
Which in his grace did boast you mode to be?
Ah! where were ye, when he of you had need)
To stop his Wound that wondrously did bleed?
Ah wretched Boy! the Shape of Dreryhead,
And sad ensample of Man's sudden End;
Full little faileth but thou shalt be dead,
Unpitied, unplain'd, of Foe or Friend:
Whilst none is nigh, thine Eye-lids up to close,
And kiss thy Lips like faded Leaves of Rose.
A sort of Shepherds suing of the Chace,
As they the Forest ranged on a day,
By Fate or Fortune came unto the place,
Whereas the luckless Boy yet bleeding lay ;
Yet bleeding lay, and yet would still have bled,
Had not good hap those Shepherds thither led.
They stopt his Wound (too late to stop it was)
And in their Arms then softly did him rear;
Tho (as he will'd) unto his loved Lass,
His dearest Love him dolefully did bear.
The dolefulst Bier that ever Man did see,
Was Astrophel, but dearest unto me.
She when she saw her Love in such a plight,
With crudled Blood and filthy Gore deformed,
That wont to be with Flowers end Girlonds dight,
And her dear Favours dearly well adorned;
Her Face, the fairest Face that Eye mote see,
She likewise did deform, like him to be.
Her yellow Locks, that shone so bright and long,
As sunny Beams in fairest Summer's Day,
She fiercely tore; and with outrageous wrong
From her red Cheeks the Roses rent away:
And her fair Brest, the Treasury of Joy,
She spoyl'd thereof, and filled with Annoy.
His pallid Face, impictured with Death,
She bathed oft with Tears, and dried oft;
And with sweet Kisses suck'd the wasting Breath
Out of his Lips, like Lillies, pale and soft.
And oft she call'd to him, who answer'd nought,
But only by his Looks did tell his Thought.
The rest of her impatient Regret,
And piteous Mone the which she for him made,
No Tongue can tell, nor any forth can set,
But he whose Heart like Sorrow did invade.
At last, when Pain his vital Powers had spent,
His wasted Life her weary Lodge forwent.
Which when she saw, she staied not a whit,
But after him did make untimely haste;
Forth-with her Ghost out of her Corps did flit,
And followed her Mate, like Turtle chaste:
To prove that Death their Hearts cannot divide,
Which living were in Love so firmly tide.
The Gods which all things see, this same beheld,
And pitying this Pair of Lovers true,
Transformed them there lying on the Field,
Into one Flowre, that is both red and blue:
It first grows red, and then to blue doth fade,
Like Astrophel, which thereinto was made.
And in the midst thereof a Star appears,
As fairly form'd as any Star in Skyes;
Resembling Stella in her freshest Years,
Forth darting Beams of Beauty from her Eyes:
And all the Day it standeth full of Dew,
Which is the Tears that from her Eyes did flow.
That Herb of some, Starlight is call'd by name,
Of others, Penthia, though not so well;
But thou, where ever thou dost find the same,
From this day forth do call it Astrophel:
And whensoever thou it up doost take,
Do pluck it softly for that Shepherd's sake.
Hereof when Tydings far abroad did pass,
The Shepherds all which loved him full dear
(And sure full dear of all he loved was)
Did thither flock, to see what they did hear:
And when that piteous Spectacle they viewed,
The same with bitter Tears they all bedewed.
And every one did make exceeding Mone,
With inward Anguish, and great Grief opprest;
And every one did weep, and wail, and mone,
And means devis'd to shew his Sorrow best:
That from that howre, since first on grassie Green
Shepherds kept Sheep, was not like Mourning seen.
But first, his Sister, that Clarinda hight,
That gentlest Shepherdess that lives this day;
And most resembling both in Shape and Spright
Her Brother dear, began this doleful Lay:
Which, lest I mar the Sweetness of the Verse,
In sort as she it sung, I will reherse.
Ay me! to whom shall I my Case complain,
That may compassion my impatient Grief?
Or where shall I unfold my inward Pain,
That my enriven Heart may find Relief?
Shall I unto the heavenly Powres it show?
Or unto earthly Men, that dwell below?
To Heavens? ah! they alas the Authors were,
And Workers of my unremedied Wo;
For they foresee what to us happens here,
And they foresaw, yet suffred this be so.
From them comes Good, from them comes also Ill;
That which they made, who can them warn to spill?
To Men? ah! they alas like wretched be,
And subject to the Heaven's Ordinance;
Bound to abide whatever they decree:
Their best Redress, is their best Sufferance.
How then can they, like wretched, comfort me,
The which no less need comforted to be?
Then to my self will I my Sorrow mourn,
Sith none alive like sorrowful remains;
And to my self my Plaints shall back retourn,
To pay their Usury with double Pains.
The Woods, the Hills, the Rivers shall resound
The mournful Accent of my Sorrow's ground.
Woods, Hills and Rivers, now are desolate,
Sith he is gone the which them an did grace;
And all the Fields do wail their widow State,
Sith Death their fairest Flower did late deface
The fairest Flowre in Field that ever grew,
Was Astrophel; that was we all may rue.
What cruel Hand of cursed Foe unknown,
Hath cropt the Stalk which bore so fair a Flowre?
Untimely cropt, before it well were grown,
And clean defaced in untimely howre.
Great loss to all that ever him did see,
Great loss to all, but greatest loss to me.
Break now your Girlonds, O ye Shepherds Lasses,
Sith the fair Flowre, which them adorn'd, is gone;
The Flowre, which them adorn'd, is gone to Ashes,
Never again let Lass put Girlond on.
In stead of Girlond, wear sad Cypress now,
And bitter Elder, broken from the Bough.
Ne ever sing the Love-layes which he made:
Who ever made such Layes of Love as he?
Ne ever read the Riddles which he said
Unto your selves, to make you merry Glee.
Your merry Glee is now laid all abed,
Your Merry-maker now alas is dead.
Death, the Devourer of all World's Delight,
Hath robbed you, and reft fro me my Joy:
Both you and me, and all the World he quight
Hath robb'd of Joyance, and left sad Annoy.
Joy of the World, and Shepherds Pride was he,
Shepherds hope never like again to see.
Oh Death, that hast us of such Riches reft,
Tell us at least, what hast thou with it done?
What is become of him whose Flowre here left
Is but the Shadow of his Likeness gone?
Scarce like the Shadow of that which he was,
Nought like, but that he like a Shade did pass.
But that immortal Spirit, which was deckt
With all the Dowries of celestial Grace;
By soveraign choice from th' heavenly Quires select,
And lineally deriv'd from Angels Race;
O what is now of it become, aread:
Aye me! can so divine a thing be dead?
Ah no: it is not dead, ne can it die,
But lives for aye, in blissful Paradise;
Where like a new-born Babe it soft doth lie
In Bed of Lillies, wrapt in tender wise,
And compast all about with Roses sweet,
And dainty Violets from head to feet.
There thousand Birds all of celestial Brood,
To him do sweetly carol day and night;
And with strange Notes, of him well understood,
Lull him asleep in Angel-like Delight:
Whilst in sweet Dream to him presented be
Immortal Beauties, which no Eye may see.
But he them sees, and takes exceeding pleasure
Of their divine Aspects, appearing plain,
And kindling Love in him above all measure;
Sweet Love, still joyous, never feeling Pain.
For what so goodly Form he there doth see
He may enjoy, from jealous Rancor free.
There liveth he in everlasting Bliss,
Sweet Spirit, never fearing more to die;
Ne dreading harm from any Foes of his,
Ne fearing savage Beasts more Cruelty:
Whilst we hear Wretches wail his private lack,
And with vain Vows do often call him back.
But live thou there still happy happy Spirit,
And give us leave thee here thus to lament;
Not thee that doost thy Heavens Joy inherit,
But our own selves, that here in Dole are drent.
Thus do we weep and wail, and wear our Eyes,
Mourning in others our own Miseries.
Which when she ended had, another Swain
Of gentle Wit, and dainty sweet Device;
Whom Astrophel full dear did entertain
Whilst here he liv'd, and held in passing price;
Hight Thestylis, began his mournful tourn,
And made the Muses in his Song to mourn.
And after him full many other moe,
And every one in order lov'd him best,
'Gan dight themselves t' express their inward Woe,
With doleful Layes unto the Time addrest.
The which I here in order will rehearse,
As fittest Flowres to deck his mournful Hearse.
[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 5:1412-23]