Sam Daniel's from 'To Delia'. The first sonnet.

Samuel Daniel (1562-1619). The first sonnet in the sequence ‘To Delia’.

It’s been estimated that between 1530 and 1650 in Italy, France, Germany and Britain some 3,000 writers produced about 200,000 sonnets. Most of these are conventional and uninteresting. While ‘To Delia’ isn’t equal to the standard set by Sidney, most of the sonnets in it are well-written, intelligent but conventional Tudor Pine: the lover discovers there’s only so many ways in which he can bemoan his lover’s indifference and exhausts them and the reader’s patience.

But I think this first sonnet has one of the best opening images of any sonnet or poem: ‘Unto the boundless ocean of your beauty/runs this poor river…’

Sonnet 1 from Sir Philip Sidney's 'Aristophil and Stella'

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) was so many things to his contemporaries. To history he is one of the first major poets of the Tudor ‘Renaissance’. Aristophil and Stella is one of the first sonnet sequences in English, and may well be the best of them.

Despite Sidney’s claims in his Defence that poetry was moral and lead to virtue, Aristophil and Stella is the story of an (?unrequited?) adulterous passion. After Sidney’s early death, Penelope Rich was happy to admit that she was ‘Stella’.

This is the first sonnet of the sequence, with its famous final line.