A Sonnet can be about many things, but the first ones were about courtly love. This was a three hundred old tradition by the time of Sydney.
They had lost the idea of tenzone, in which sonnets were written against each other. Sydney uses this himself: writing against his wit, questioning his gifts, and considering, correctly, that his infatuation for Stella was doomed.
On Cupids bowe how are my heart-strings bent,
That see my wracke, and yet embrace the same!
When most I glory, then I feele most shame;
I willing run, yet while I run repent;
My best wits still their own disgrace inuent:
My very inke turns straight to Stellas name;
And yet my words, as them my pen doth frame,
Auise them selues that they are vainely spent:
For though she passe all things, yet what is all
That vnto me, who fare like him that both
Lookes to the skies and in a ditch doth fall?
O let me prop my mind, yet in his growth,
And not in nature for best fruits vnfit.
Scholler, saith Loue, bend hitherward your wit.
Sir Philip Sydney
Running a race for a prize is an ancient metaphor: St Paul talked of it. Yet Sydney considers, correctly, that this is a trap: he could lose his honour. This is as modern as last week, when the #MeToo movement devoured one of the women who started it.
But we all look to the skies. It is better instead, to look to each other.