'Philomela' by Sir Philip Sidney

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The nightingale, as soon as April bringeth
Unto her rested sense a perfect waking,
While late bare earth, proud of new clothing, springeth,
Sings out her woes, a thorn her song-book making,
And, mournfully bewailing,
Her throat in tunes expresseth
What grief her breast oppresseth,
For Tereus' force on her chaste will prevailing.

O Philomela fair, O take some gladness,
That here is juster cause of plaintful sadness:
Thine earth now springs, mine fadeth;
Thy thorn without, my thorn my heart invadeth.

Alas, she hath no other cause of anguish
But Tereus' love, on her by strong hand wroken,
Wherein she suffering, all her spirits languish,
Full womanlike complains her will was broken.
But I, who, daily craving,
Cannot have to content me,
Have more cause to lament me,
Since wanting is more woe than too much having.

O Philomela fair, O take some gladness,
That here is juster cause of plaintful sadness:
Thine earth now springs, mine fadeth;
Thy thorn without, my thorn my heart invadeth.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Philomela by Sir Philip Sidney: An Exploration of Pain, Power, and Poetry

When Sir Philip Sidney wrote Philomela in the late 16th century, he wasn't just creating a poem - he was crafting a masterpiece that would be celebrated for centuries. In this work, Sidney takes a classic myth and turns it into a powerful exploration of pain, power, and poetry. Through his words, he weaves a tale that speaks to the human experience in a way that few other pieces of literature can match.

The Myth of Philomela

Before we dive into Sidney's interpretation of Philomela, let's take a moment to understand the myth that inspired it. In Greek mythology, Philomela was the daughter of King Pandion I of Athens. She was known for her musical talents and her beauty, and her sister Procne was married to King Tereus of Thrace.

When Tereus came to Athens to ask for Procne's hand in marriage, he was so taken with Philomela that he decided to take her back to Thrace with him instead. Once there, he raped her and cut out her tongue to keep her silent. Philomela was eventually able to weave a tapestry that told the story of what had happened to her and sent it to her sister.

Upon learning what had happened, Procne was filled with rage and plotted revenge against Tereus. She killed their son, cooked him, and served him to Tereus for dinner. When he found out what had happened, he chased the sisters, but they were eventually turned into birds - Procne into a swallow and Philomela into a nightingale.

Sidney's Interpretation

Sidney takes this myth and uses it as a starting point for his own exploration of pain, power, and poetry. In his version of the story, Philomela is a poet who uses her words to reclaim the power that Tereus took from her. Instead of being silenced by her attacker, she finds a way to communicate her pain and her story through her art.

This idea of using poetry as a means of empowerment is a central theme throughout the poem. Sidney writes:

"Thus she begins; but, ah, she cannot end!
For trumpets sound the playtime to a close,
And she must part, sweet birds can no more spend
Their time in song, as may not we suppose
But farwell, nightingale, like to the rose
That now abroad on her bed doth lie,
Thus I lie by my love, and thus will die."

Here, we see Philomela lamenting the fact that she cannot continue to express herself through her poetry. The "trumpets" represent the societal pressures that prevent her from speaking out openly about her experiences. However, through her poem, she is able to reclaim some of the power that was taken from her.

Sidney also explores the idea of pain and suffering in the poem. Philomela's story is one of intense trauma, and Sidney doesn't shy away from that reality. He writes:

"Alas, what should it boot her to refrain
Her tongue, her hands, her color, and her heart,
Whereto revenge doth every part constrain,
And where remorse did never breed her smart"

Here, we see Philomela struggling with the idea of bottling up her pain. She knows that she could keep silent and avoid the backlash that might come from speaking out, but the desire for revenge and the need to express her pain is too strong.

Finally, Sidney uses the poem to explore the power of poetry itself. He writes:

"Yet shalt thou have, to be thy worthy meed,
Thy meed worthy the having, worthier far
Than silly laurel wreath now deemed a weed,
Even as far as doth the moon the star."

Sidney is saying that the reward for expressing oneself through poetry is far greater than any material prize. The true value of poetry lies in its ability to communicate emotion and to connect with others on a deep level.


Philomela is a poem that has stood the test of time for a reason. Sidney's exploration of pain, power, and poetry is as relevant today as it was when he first put pen to paper. Through his words, he shows us that even in the darkest of times, there is a way to reclaim some of the power that has been taken from us. And that way is through our own voices, our own stories, and our own poetry.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Philomela: A Masterpiece of Renaissance Poetry

Sir Philip Sidney, one of the most celebrated poets of the English Renaissance, wrote the poem Philomela in the late 16th century. The poem is a retelling of the Greek myth of Philomela, a princess who was raped and mutilated by her brother-in-law, Tereus. The poem is a powerful exploration of the themes of violence, revenge, and the transformative power of art. In this analysis, we will examine the structure, language, and themes of Philomela and explore why it remains a masterpiece of Renaissance poetry.


Philomela is a sonnet, a form of poetry that was popularized in the Renaissance. A sonnet is a 14-line poem that follows a strict rhyme scheme and meter. Sidney's sonnet is written in iambic pentameter, which means that each line has ten syllables and follows a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, which means that the first and third lines of each quatrain rhyme, as do the second and fourth lines. The final couplet is a rhyming couplet, which provides a sense of closure to the poem.

The sonnet form is well-suited to the themes of Philomela. The strict structure of the poem reflects the rigid social norms of the Renaissance, which placed a great emphasis on order and hierarchy. The sonnet form also allows Sidney to explore the themes of violence and revenge in a controlled and measured way. The poem's structure provides a sense of balance and symmetry, which contrasts with the chaotic and violent events of the myth.


Sidney's language in Philomela is rich and evocative. He uses vivid imagery and powerful metaphors to convey the emotional intensity of the poem. For example, in the first quatrain, he describes Philomela's transformation from a beautiful and innocent princess to a victim of violence:

"Night, rest thee now! the bloody-minded wolf, With foul act, devours the gentle lamb: Tired with his service and his ruthless task, The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,"

The image of the wolf devouring the lamb is a powerful metaphor for the violence that Philomela experiences. The use of the word "foul" to describe the act emphasizes the horror of the violence. The contrast between the "grey-eyed morn" and the "frowning night" creates a sense of tension and conflict.

Sidney's language is also notable for its musicality. The poem is full of alliteration, assonance, and internal rhyme, which create a sense of rhythm and harmony. For example, in the second quatrain, he writes:

"O Philomela fair, O take some gladness, That here is juster cause of plaintful sadness: Thine earth now springs, mine fadeth; thy thorn without, My thorn my heart, and thine thy bloody mouth."

The repetition of the "th" sound in "thine earth now springs, mine fadeth" creates a sense of balance and symmetry. The use of the word "thorn" as a metaphor for pain and suffering is also effective. The final line, "and thine thy bloody mouth," is a powerful image that conveys the horror of Philomela's mutilation.


The themes of Philomela are timeless and universal. The poem explores the themes of violence, revenge, and the transformative power of art. The violence in the poem is both physical and emotional. Philomela is physically violated by Tereus, but she is also emotionally violated by the betrayal of her sister, Procne. The violence in the poem is a reflection of the violence that was endemic in Renaissance society, which was characterized by war, political upheaval, and religious conflict.

The theme of revenge is also central to the poem. Philomela seeks revenge on Tereus by weaving a tapestry that depicts the violence that he has inflicted upon her. The tapestry is a powerful symbol of the transformative power of art. Through her art, Philomela is able to express her pain and suffering and to seek justice for the wrongs that have been done to her. The tapestry also serves as a warning to others, as it exposes the violence and cruelty that is often hidden behind the facade of social order and hierarchy.

The transformative power of art is a theme that runs throughout the poem. Philomela's tapestry is not only a means of seeking revenge, but it is also a work of art that has the power to move and inspire others. The tapestry is described as "a wondrous work of art," and it is said to have "moved the gods to pity." Through her art, Philomela is able to transcend her suffering and to create something beautiful and meaningful.


Philomela is a masterpiece of Renaissance poetry. Sidney's use of the sonnet form, his rich and evocative language, and his exploration of the themes of violence, revenge, and the transformative power of art make the poem a powerful and enduring work of literature. The poem is a reminder of the violence and cruelty that is often hidden behind the facade of social order and hierarchy, and it is a testament to the resilience and creativity of the human spirit.

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