About the author
Lady Mary Wroth holds a significant place in English Renaissance literature. Born into a notable literary family on October 18, 1587, as Mary Sidney, she became Lady Mary Wroth upon her marriage. Her family connections were indeed impressive; being the niece of Mary Herbert (Countess of Pembroke) and Sir Philip Sidney, she inherited a rich literary heritage. Lady Wroth is particularly known for her prose romance titled “Urania” and her sonnet sequence “Pamphilia to Amphilanthus”. This work is considered one of the earliest examples of a full-length prose romance written by an Englishwoman. “Urania” combines elements of pastoral romance, courtly intrigue, and allegory, showcasing Lady Wroth’s skill in navigating various literary genres.
In this strange Labyrinth how shall I turn,
Ways are on all sides while the way I miss:
If to the right hand, there, in love I burn,
Let me go forward, therein danger is.
The speaker begins by describing their situation as a “strange labyrinth,” suggesting a complex and confusing emotional state. The labyrinth is a metaphor for the challenges and uncertainties the speaker faces in matters of love. The question posed reflects the speaker’s internal struggle and uncertainty about which direction to take. The speaker laments that there are paths (ways) in every direction, emphasizing the abundance of choices or possibilities. However, there’s a sense of frustration or confusion because, despite these numerous options, the speaker feels they are missing the right way. This could imply a struggle to find a clear and suitable path through the complexities of love. The speaker contemplates turning to the right. Here, “in love I burn” suggests a passionate and intense experience. The right could symbolize a path associated with love and emotional intensity.
If to the left, suspicion hinders bliss; Let me turn back, shame cries I ought return: Nor faint, though crosses my fortunes kiss, Stand still is harder, although sure to mourn.
Continuing the exploration of different paths in the labyrinth of love, the speaker considers turning to the left. However, this direction is associated with “suspicion,” suggesting that doubts or mistrust may hinder the potential happiness or bliss that could be found in that direction. Faced with suspicion to the left, the speaker entertains the idea of turning back. However, the emotion of “shame” intervenes, suggesting a societal or personal expectation that returning may be seen as a source of embarrassment or moral judgment. There’s a conflict between the desire to retreat and the shame associated with doing so. The speaker urges themselves not to falter or lose courage, even when faced with hardships (“crosses”) in their fortunes. This line acknowledges the inevitability of challenges or difficulties in life and relationships but encourages resilience in the face of adversity. Choosing to remain stationary or “stand still” is presented as a difficult option, despite the certainty of mourning or grieving. The speaker suggests that, while staying in one place may avoid some risks or uncertainties, it comes with its own challenges, particularly the emotional pain of mourning. This line underscores the complexity of decision-making in matters of love.
Thus let me take the right, or left hand way, Go forward, or stand still, or back retire: I must these doubts endure without allay Or help, but travail find for my best hire.
The speaker now expresses a sense of resolution or acceptance of the choices before them. They are willing to consider either the right or left path, indicating a readiness to face the challenges and uncertainties associated with either direction in the labyrinth of love. The speaker lists three possible actions: moving forward, remaining stationary, or retracing their steps backward. This reflects the various options available to them in navigating the complexities of love. Each option comes with its own set of consequences and challenges. The speaker recognizes that they must find their way through the difficulties and uncertainties without direct assistance or relief (“Or help”). The word “travail” refers to labor or effort, suggesting that the speaker understands that navigating love requires hard work. The phrase “for my best hire” implies that the effort invested in overcoming these challenges will lead to the speaker’s ultimate benefit or reward.
Yet that which most my troubled sense doth move,
Is to leave all, and take the thread of Love
Here, the speaker introduces a contrast with the previous lines. Despite considering various paths and options in the labyrinth of love, the speaker now reveals what troubles them the most. The word “move” suggests emotional stirring or agitation. So, amidst all the complexities, there is a specific element that stands out as the primary source of the speaker’s turmoil. The speaker reveals that, despite the challenges and uncertainties, what most strongly influences them is the idea of “leaving all” and embracing “the thread of Love.” “leaving all” signifies a willingness on the part of the speaker to abandon other options, doubts, or considerations that might have caused confusion and turmoil. This could include the various paths or choices presented earlier in the sonnet. The metaphorical expression “the thread of Love” is particularly poignant. It conjures the image of a thread guiding someone through a labyrinth or maze. In the context of the sonnet, “the thread of Love” serves as a symbol of guidance and direction amidst the complexities of life and love. It implies that, despite the challenges and uncertainties, the speaker is committed to following the path of love as a guiding force through the intricate twists and turns of their emotions and relationships.
Let’s summarize the important ideas, themes, and metaphor in Lady Mary Wroth’s sonnet. The poem uses the metaphor of a labyrinth to depict the complexities and challenges of navigating through the speaker’s emotions and choices in matters of love. The sonnet explores the internal conflict of the speaker as they weigh the pros and cons of different directions and actions in the context of love. Despite the uncertainties, the speaker ultimately resolves to prioritize and embrace the path of love, expressing a commitment to it. The sonnet encapsulates the speaker’s internal journey and contemplation regarding love. It portrays the difficulties, dilemmas, and choices one faces in matters of the heart, ultimately expressing a resolution to embrace and follow the path of love despite its inherent complexities.