Sonnet 30 by Robert Sidney
Absence, I cannot say thou hid’st my light,
Not darkened, but for ay sett is my sun;
No day sees me, not when night’s glass is run;
I present, absent am; unseen in sight.
Nothing but I do parallel the night
In whom all act of light and heat is done:
She that did all in me, all hath undone;
I was love’s cradle once, now love’s grave right.
Absence, I used to make my moan to thee;
When thy clouds stayed, my joys they did not shine;
But now I may say joys, cannot say mine.
Absent, I want all what I care to see,
Present, I see my cares avail me not:
Present not hearkened to, absent forgot.
This sweet sonnet is by the younger brother of the famous Sir Philip Sidney, courtier, spy and poet. Robert was nine years younger than Philip but joined him in the Netherlands in the war against Spain. Philip was mortally wounded and Robert cared for him until his death. I think, like his brother he was probably involved in espionage against the Netherlands, Spain and Scotland, and served his queen, Elizabeth I well. On the succession of James I he became Baron Sidney of Penshurst.
Robert was born in 1563, and married twice. His first wife, the beautiful Barbara, bore him eleven children, William (who died before his father), Robert, Henry, Philip, Mary, Catherine, Philippa, Barbara, Dorothy, Elizabeth and Bridget. He later married Sarah after the death of Barbara. He himself died in 1628 at the age of sixty-five.
Robert came to greater prominence as a poet when a notebook containing his hand written work was discovered; how exciting it must have been in the 1960’s when this notebook was found among the papers held at Warwick Castle and a whole treasury of his work was discovered, a collection of sonnets, songs, pastorals, elegies and epigrams. I suppose that because his work was ‘lost’ for so long, the first line of sonnet 30 is more meaningful, ‘Absence, I cannot say thou hid’st my light.’