Study Guide

With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies! Lines 9-14

By Sir Philip Sidney

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Lines 9-14

Lines 9-11

Then, even of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,
Is constant love deemed there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be? 

  • The poem now shifts from a description of the Moon's and the speaker's lovesickness to a series of more general reflections on love.
  • This sudden shift isn't anything to get fussy about. You see, in sonnets, there's usually a shift of some kind right around line 9.
  • It goes by many names, the "turn" and the "volta" (Italian for "turn") being the most common. (Head over to "Form and Meter" for more on the sonnet as a form.)
  • In general, the first eight lines go in one direction in terms of the content, while the last six go in a slightly different one. Often, this takes the form of problem (lines 1-8) and solution (lines 9-14). 
  • Here, however, it goes: description of the moon and love pains (1-8), then generalized complaints about love and the way woman treat those who love them (9-14).
  • So, let's get down to business. The speaker asks the Moon to tell him if constant love in the heavenly realm ("there") is treated as "want of wit," rather than something beautiful and serious.
  • Clearly, the speaker feels that Stella, the woman he leaves, isn't taking him seriously. She's treating his "constant love" as a lack ("want") of wit (intelligence, cleverness, etc.).
  • He follows up this little complaint of a question with another complaint of a question. "Are women in the heavens as proud as they are here on Earth?" he asks. 
  • Proud isn't the kind of pride you feel when your brother hits the winning home run. No, no, no. The speaker has in mind a disdainful, "I'm too good for you" kind of pride.
  • He's implying pretty clearly that his beloved, Stella, is proud, prideful, even mean to him. Well that's no bueno now, is it? How could she not be charmed by Astrophel and his "constant love"?
  • That's a good question. Um, maybe it has something to do with the fact that he talks to the moon?
  • Okay, we know you're wondering about that little bit about "even of fellowship" that we've so quietly ignored so far. Well, you can relax; we're not ignoring it any more.
  • It's a tricky little clause, but the easiest way to read it is to assume it goes with "constant love" so that the speaker asks: "Is constant love, even of fellowship [friendship or companionship], considered a lack of wit?" In other words, the speaker is wondering whether even the love of being around others—"fellowship"—is considered a total joke.
  • Hmm—that's funny. This whole time we've been thinking about another famous fellowship.
  • Before we move on to this poem's conclusion, note how lines 9-11 echo other lines in the poem. Just like the poem's first line, for example, line 9 contains an explicit apostrophe ("O Moon"), and just like lines 3-4 it contains a question or two. Like we said earlier, doubleness is everywhere in "With How Sad Steps." We're even doubling ourselves by repeating that point for you, Shmoopers.

Lines 12-14

Do they above love to be loved, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call virtue there, ungratefulness?

  • Woops, we spoke too soon. The speaker has some more questions for the Moon. In a dazzling display of his skill at internal rhyme, he asks whether or not "they above" (i.e., the planets, the stars, anything in the sky) love being loved, and then pull a 180 and "scorn" those who love them.
  • How did we get all that from these lines? Well, "whom that love doth [does] possess" is a Renaissance, poetic way of saying "whom love controls" or "who are doing the loving."
  • So the speaker is describing those who do the loving as being possessed by some powerful force called love. If you've ever been in love, you know that it sure does feel like possession sometimes. 
  • The speaker is wondering about the "scorn" the heavenly objects of affection might feel for these poor, possessed souls who love them. To put it another way, he's asking, "Do those beloved ones—who really love to be the apple of their lovers' eyes—hate on their lovers anyway, like they do down here?" Here poor Astrophel is implying that, even though Stella really enjoys being the object of his affection, and even though he's possessed and unable to control his love for her—well, she's got no time for him all the same. Bummer. 
  • Since he's already asked a bunch of questions, maybe Astrophel should ask one final question before he concludes. In keeping with his complaint, he asks if those in the heavens call "virtue […] ungratefulness." Hmm. This is an interesting little quip.
  • Sounds like the speaker is implying that "constant love" is a kind of virtue, a sign that somebody is capable of experiencing the most powerful and noble of emotions. It also sounds like Stella, for some reason, sees the speaker's display of virtue and constant love as a total joke, as "ungratefulness."
  • Well, we don't know for sure how she feels about the whole thing, but if you're dying for an answer, check out some of the poems before and after this poem in the sequence to satisfy your curiosity. 
  • In the meantime, we can chat about the rhymes in these last six lines, which follow a different rhyme scheme: CDCDEE. 
  • Okay, they sort of rhyme like that. "Me" and "Be" rhyme straight up, but what about "wit" and "yet"? Well, they only sort of rhyme. The consonant endings are the same (the T sound), but the vowels are different. 
  • Now, we can imagine an old British dude pronouncing "wit" and "yet" so that they sound really similar: "wet" and "yet." We can also, however, choose to see this as a sign of the discord that the speaker is discussing with respect to love: virtue is seen as ungratefulness, constant love as a lack of wit.
  • If you assume that these two words don't really rhyme that well, the proper term for that in the poetry biz is half-rhyme, or slant rhyme
  • It's kind of awkward, don't you think? The flow and smoothness of the poem is interrupted, just like the speaker's life has been interrupted by pain. Sad—but then again, love isn't always puppy dog tails and high fives, people.

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