Loving in Truth: Sonnet 1 of Astrophil and Stella

cover image featuring Edmund Spenser

Astrophel and Stella is perhaps one of the most famous Sonnet cycles ever written, right up there with the sonnets of Shakespeare’s and Spenser’s. Written by Sir Philip Sidney and published in the year 1591, the 108 sonnets are a prime example of the Petrarchan sonnet, capturing the theme and structure perfectly. Loving in Truth is the first sonnet in the series and the last two lines of this sonnet are famous in the literary world. 

Loving in Truth is a sonnet of expression of love. This love is being expressed to someone who the lover can never get. This theme has been common in many of the Petrarchan sonnets written at that time, but it is the expression, the use of words, and rhyme that make this sonnet so popular. 

We’ll include a paraphrased version of Sonnet 1 and a detailed analysis of the sonnet including all the literary devices. But before that, take a look at the original sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney. 

Sonnet 1 of Astrophil and Stella, Loving in Truth

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,

That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain,—

Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,

Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,—

I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe;

Studying inventions fine her wits to entertain,

Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow

Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburn’d brain.

But words came halting forth, wanting invention’s stay;

Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows;

And others’ feet still seem’d but strangers in my way.

Thus great with child to speak and helpless in my throes,

Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,

“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart, and write.”

Paraphrase and summary of Astrophil and Stella Sonnet 1

I love her truly, and my verses will show my love happily 

And my dear love shall take pleasure in reading these verses about my pain,

And for this pleasure, she might read and reading might make her know,

And by knowing my pain, she might pity me, and with pity comes grace.

I sought the right words to explain my dreadful sorrow;

Writing verses so unique to keep her entertained,

Reading the works of other poets to get to know 

Some beautiful verses by them, which are not coming from my brain.

But no words came, I needed more creativity in my way

Creativity is something natural that runs away from forced calls

And others’ verses and words still seemed out of place

So like being pregnant with a child, I felt helpless in pain 

Biting my useless pen, chastising myself for spite

“Fool,” said my creativity to me, “look in your heart, and write”

Analysis of Sonnet 1 

Sir Philip Sidney is trying to convey a message to his love through this sonnet. This isn’t about the confession of mutual love, but rather a final plea to let the other person know that the poet loved her and still loves her. This sonnet is a desperate attempt to gain some pity and grace from his love, for that is all the poet expects. 

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,

That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain,—

Pleasure might cause her to read, reading might make her know,

Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,—

The poet says that his love is true and his verses will be glad to show his love. Since he knows that his love does not love him, it is more of a painful expression than a merry one. But it is alright if his love enjoys reading about his pain, for this pleasure will make her read these verses and he will get her attention. 

After reading she will know the true nature of his love and with that, she might pity him. And with pity will come grace, the only thing he can expect from her at this point. 

I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe;

Studying inventions fine her wits to entertain,

Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow

Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburn’d brain.

The poet looked for words that could perfectly express the true nature of woe he felt in the absence of her love. He tried to get as creative as he could all so that the lady would be entertained while she reads the verses. 

The poet says that he read the works by other poets and writers to get some new spark of creativity, to get fresh ideas of which his brain was completely exhausted. This reveals the condition that the poet was in; hopeless, lost, and trying to make his love notice his condition.

But words came halting forth, wanting invention’s stay;

Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows;

And others’ feet still seem’d but strangers in my way.

But no matter what he tried or did, nothing helped him to express his emotions. Now we come to the interesting part which makes this sonnet so beautiful. The clever use of metaphors must be noted. 

The poet says that invention or creativity is the child of nature. This means that creativity is something natural, given by nature. The next line he says is “Invention has fled Step-dame Study’s blows” meaning that study is the step-mother of creativity. 

Then he also mentions that using the works of other poets still felt a little off, like something foreign that has come to his space, something out of place. It wasn’t his own creation completely.

Thus great with child to speak and helpless in my throes,

Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,

“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart, and write.”

This is the part that has perhaps one of the most popular lines in English literature. The poet says his mind is impregnated with this emotion that he wants to let out but cannot. And this is causing him pain. He bites his pen which seems to be of no help (all the writers have felt this pain) and he starts to curse himself and this is where the muse comes in. 

There are nine muses in Greek mythology, but the one concerning this sonnet is the muse of love poems, Erato. The poet says that Erato comes and speaks to him, finally listening to his pleadings. She says “Fool, look inside your heart and write whatever you see”. And this is one of the most used quotes among writers.

And this concludes the analysis of the Loving in Truth by Sir Philip Sidney. But there’s more to it than just the core analysis. Let’s take a look at the literary devices of the poem, a part that is as important as the meaning of the poem. 

Literary devices in the sonnet

Metaphor: Here are some examples of metaphors used in the sonnet;

I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe; the Blackest face of woe is used to describe how severe his tragedy is.

Studying inventions fine her wits to entertain,

Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow: Here the poet is studying inventions, referring to reading the creative works of other poets. “Turning others’ leaves” refers to the pages of their books. 

fruitful showers upon my sunburn’d brain: Seeking some ideas in his exhausted mind.

Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows; Creativity is Nature’s child, meaning that it is given to us by nature. Studying for creativity is like the child’s stepmother. Very harsh to it.

feet still seem’d but strangers in my way: Here, this metaphor refers to the usage of others’ works in the poet’s works. Others’ work did not fit the poet’s original work. 

look in thy heart, and write: The most famous and powerful metaphor of the sonnet, it means to look inside yourself to seek creativity and inspiration, and not at someone else’s works.

The rhyme scheme of Astrophil and Stella Sonnet 1: The rhyme scheme of this sonnet is an interesting one. The scheme is a slight modification of the Petrarchan sonnet rhyme scheme. It has ABAB ABAB CDCD EE with 12 syllables in each line. Apparently, this was done deliberately to convey the sense of tragedy and tediousness. 

Alliteration: Here are some examples of alliteration used in the sonnet: 

take some pleasure of my pain

her read, reading might make her know,

Some fresh and fruitful showers 

Personification: Here are some examples of personification – 

blackest face of woe; Woe here has been personified. 

Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows: Here, nature, invention, and study have been personified. 

Biting my truant pen: The pen has also been personified with the association of truant adjective to it.

This concludes the article. Here are some related articles on sonnet analysis which you will find interesting. Take a look: 

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