Study Guide

With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies! Themes

  • Love

    Tons of sonnets are about love, and "With How Sad Steps" is no exception. But this poem isn't about any ordinary old love. No, no, no. It's about a very painful, unrequited love, a love that wreaks so much havoc that Astrophel starts seeing visions of it all over the place (like, in the moon for example). Clearly, the love described in this poem isn't the way it should be, as Astrophel implies that Stella is treating his constant love as a total joke. That is seriously cold-blooded, y'all. We would talk to the moon, too.

    Questions About Love

    1. We know it's weird, but who might the moon be in love with anyway?
    2. Why do you think Astrophel's beloved (Stella) is treating him the way he implies? 
    3. Is it possible that Astrophel's love, while pure, has become annoying to Stella? Is it time for him to give it a rest already maybe? Why or why not?
    4. What do you make of Cupid's appearance in this poem? Is it funny, charming, scary, weird? Why?

    Chew on This

    Believe it, gang. Asphodel is proof that love is powerful enough to affect the way we look and act.

    The poem shows that, with intense love, comes intense pain. Um, yay?

  • Man and the Natural World

    While this isn't your typical "oh the trees are so beautiful" nature poem, "With How Sad Steps" is about one dude's relationship to the moon, which is part of nature. Astrophel looks at the Moon and decides that it too is suffering from the pains of love. In other words, Astrophel forges an identity between himself and the natural world. Why does he do this? It's not entirely clear, but perhaps he wants a partner in his suffering, perhaps he's curious if the world of nature is as bad as the world of humanity, or maybe he's just gone a little funny in the noggin and is imagining that the moon is just like a person.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. What does the speaker achieve by acting as if the moon is suffering as well?
    2. Who, or what, is this poem really about? Astrophel, or the moon? How do you know?
    3. What is the significance of the moon, really? What associations does it conjure? How do those associations work in this poem?
    4. Does the nature described in this poem seem supernatural at all? If so, how?

    Chew on This

    In times of crisis, we see visions of our own pain everywhere, just like Astrophel sees his own love sickness in the "wan" moon. Bad times.

    We may not like to think so, but people and nature aren't so different from another. The speaker and the moon, for example, are practically twins.

  • Sadness

    If this poem is about love, it's about being sad. Or rather, it's about how love can be the source of a whole lot of sadness. This poem's title and first line, after all, begin with the phrase "With how sad steps." If that's not a definite indication that sadness will be a big part of this sonnet, we don't know what is. "With How Sad Steps," however, isn't just all "woe is me." It's also about what we do when we're sad and how we try to make sense of it. In this case, Astrophel talks to the moon, and starts to think that the moon is sad as well. Sometimes, knowing that somebody is sad makes us feel just a little better. Misery loves company, right?

    Questions About Sadness

    1. Have you ever been so sad that you talked to the moon? Can you relate to Astrophel at all? Why or why not?
    2. Does Astrophel think love is always associated with sadness? Or is he just having a bad day? How can you tell?
    3. How is the moon, or nighttime in general, associated with sadness at all (symbolically, that is)? Does Astrophel talk about the moon because he doesn't want to confront his own pain? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    The poem points out how sadness can affect us so deeply that we don't even resemble our normal selves. We become our sad selves, which is… well, sad.

    Don't blame our man Astrophel. It's natural to want to talk to somebody when we're sad, even if that somebody is just the moon.

  • Women and Femininity

    "With How Sad Steps" is just two dudes talking to each other—wait, check that. It's one dude addressing another dude (or, you know, planet) who can't really respond. So how in the world is it about women? Well, clearly Astrophel is having a hard go with that special someone, and he thinks the moon is having the same issue. Astrophel wonders if females everywhere are like Stella—lovers of attention, mean to those who love them, and generally not approving of "constant," devoted love. This poem, simply put, is one of about a billion instances of a dude trying to figure out women.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. Does Astrophel resemble a misogynist (a guy who hates women) at all? How so or why not?
    2. Does Stella seem like a mean girl? Or just one who's tired of Astrophel's garbage? Why do you think so?
    3. Is this poem's presentation of women one-sided? Why or why not?
    4. What is the effect of calling women "beauties"? What does this say about Astrophel's feelings, really?

    Chew on This

    Ah, we give up. This poem is proof that men and women will never completely understand each other; they are too different.

    Astrophel seems to think Stella is the cause of all his problems, but when you point a finger, you have at least three pointed back at yourself (four depending on what you do with your thumb). Our man should really look at his own actions, too.