Loving in Truth (Sonnet No. 1) | Summary and Analysis

Loving in Truth (Sonnet No. 1) | Summary and Analysis

Loving in Truth by Philip Sidney

Sonnet No. 1 (Loving in Truth), taken from Astrophil and Stella, is modeled on the Petrarchan sonnet. It deals with the single subject (i.e. the lover’s hopeless love for his beloved) and is visible in two parts- the octave and the sestet. The octave describes the lover’s attempt to entertain the wits of his beloved by writing a poem. The sestet exhibits the difficulties that he faces to fulfill his desire.

Summary of Loving in Truth

My love being sincere, I wanted to show it to my beloved through the medium of verse so that my dear beloved might get some pleasure out of my product of pain. Pleasure might induce her to read my poem from which she would come to know of my sorrow arising out of her rejection of me. Sorrow might win her sympathy which in its turn might help me obtain her grace (=favour). This being the case, I searched for fit words so that I could draw the face of my misery in the blackest way. I began to study fine inventions (=original ideas and expressions, novel imagery and striking figures of speech) from others’ works with a view to entertaining (=giving delight to) her wits (=intelligence) therewith (=with these) after using them in my own poem. I also turned over others’ pages to see whether I could procure there from (=from them) some inspiration that would help me to produce some lively and productive ideas in my dry (without ideas) head: I did this in the same way a man with a ‘sun-burnt brain’ turned (=moved) from the leaves of one tree to those of another to test if some fresh and fruitful showers would fall on his head.

But words began to come out in a halting manner as a result of my study, and they needed support from invention. Unfortunately invention, which preferred spontaneity, avoided the company of study which comprised of effort and imitation. It happened in the same way a child runs away for fear of a stepmother’s blows. I also felt uneasy when, advised by study, I wanted to imitate and use others’ feet (=metrical patterns) in my poem. This was like the uncomfortable experience of one who, accustomed to walking over a lonely place, suddenly heard the sound of strangers’ footsteps from behind. So I fell into a distressing situation and felt like a pregnant woman suffering from labour although unable to cause the delivery of her child. I held between the teeth my pen which like a boy who staying away from school without permission, shirked its duty of composition. Seeing me in such a hopeless state my Muse (=goddess of poetry) called me a fool and advised me to write about the feelings of my heart (instead of fruitlessly trying to study and imitate others’ poetic creations).

Also Read:

Loving in Truth Analysis

A Record of Hopeless Love: Sonnet No.1 (Loving in truth) is taken from Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet sequence entitled Astrophil and Stella (composed in 1582 but not printed until 1591). Consisting of 108 sonnets and 11 songs, the work provides an excellent record of the poet’s hopeless love for Penelope Rich ‘in terms which combine traditional Petrarchan conceits with considerable individuality expression and feeling’.

The title literally means the love of Astrophil (‘star-lover’: name of a plant having clusters of small white star-like flowers) for Stella (‘star’) the love of an earthly object for a distant one. Though Sidney was betrothed to Penelope Devereux, the marriage did not take place, one of the reasons being Sidney’s indifference. Later when she was married to Lord Rich, he suddenly realized his deep love for her and fruitlessly tried to obtain love from her. The sonnet sequence describes the various moods of the lover and his efforts to win back his former beloved.

Sonnet No.1 is not only a record the lover’s desperate attempt to obtain her favour but also an account describing the difficulty one faces while writing a poem. It was not before the last line when the difficulty was resolved through the Muse’s advice. Showing of Love ‘in Verse’: The lover wants to show his love ‘in verse’. This is a sixteenth-century rhetorical strategy which aims more to persuade and impress than to reflect sincerity and naturalness. He chooses verse rather than bare prose as the former is a language of emotion having scope to adorn his thoughts with novel imagery and striking figures of speech. In addition this would give him an opportunity to write about the art of writing love poems rather than the fact of writing directly about love.

The lover is not willing to let his beloved know of his real intention straightway. He rather has recourse to a cumbrous process by which he wants to reveal his true purpose. He believes that if he tells her directly about his sorrow and unhappiness on account of her non-response to his love appeals there is every possibility of her paying no heed to these. So he thinks of a clever ploy (=tactic; trick) which has some chance of success. He plans of writing a poem which will be based on his own sorrow and suffering. It being a product of art, his poem is likely to give her pleasure. He expects that pleasure might make her read his poem and reading might make her know of his real state. Knowledge might win pity (sympathy) from her and pity might cause him to obtain her ‘grace’ (=favour). This faint and distant possibility of getting favour from the beloved, thus, makes the lover ready to write a poem in which he intends to paint his distress in the darkest way, without caring whether his pain in this way will be more exaggerated than real. This periphrastic way of revealing his real intention to his beloved serves a number of purposes: this helps to unravel the complex and cavernous nature of the feminine heart; at the same time this enables the poet to launch an indirect attack on the artificial nature and logic-chopping habit of the contemporary sonneteers to whom sonnet writing was more a literary exercise than an occasion for showing their personal emotions and individual ways of expression.

Difficulties Encountered to Entertain the Beloved’s Wits

The lover intends to entertain the wits of his beloved by writing a poem. This offers Sidney a chance to deal with the universal predicament (plight; dilemma) of poetic creation. The lover proposes to write his poem by imitating the famous poets as was the wont (custom; habit) of the time. His desire is to get from them ‘inventions (=original thoughts and expression: novel imagery and striking figures of speech) fine’ and ‘fit words. So he begins to study others’ works and turn their leaves to see if he could get some fresh and profitable ideas from them. But his effort is not crowned with as much success as he expects. His study results in getting words that are limping in nature. These are stock phrases and worn-out expressions (of other poets) not at all ‘fit’ for his proposed poem. He realizes that in order to be serviceable these words must get support from invention (i.e. help of imagination). But the relationship between study and invention is so strained that the more he studies, the more invention flies off from him. In addition the metrical ‘feet’ which study compels him to follow appears quite strange to him. So he falls into a very difficult and uncomfortable situation. Although he is very much eager to produce a poem, he cannot do so on account of his dependence on study and imitation of others’ works. Thus Sidney points to the Universal predicament that lies behind poetic creation, and shows how a would be poet has to resolve some literary problems before he can produce a satisfactory poem.

Literary Problem in respect of Poetic Creation

The poem raises a literary problem that a poetic practitioner has often to face Should he depend on others’ works for his poetic subject as well as expression or should be reply on his own power of invention as well as imagination? Sidney’s own experience is that if one depends on study, effort and imitation it may end in sterile re-production that can at best offer cerebral satisfaction. If, on the other hand, one depends on one’s own inventive power and imaginative capacity, the product that will result will be natural, spontaneous and emotionally highly satisfactory. Hence Sidney recommends a policy that is different from the oft-repeated practices of the time. Through this he indirectly shows why the contemporary sonneteers, whose themes are borrowed, ladyloves unreal and conceits grotesque, fail to arouse interest in readers’ mind.

The Muse’s Advice

Although the contemporary poets considered imitation and effort highly important for poetic creation Sidney preferred imagination and originality for the same. It is for this that he brings in the Muse that stands for inspiration and acts as a guiding light. At a time when the lover, entrusted with the responsibility of writing a poem to please his beloved, falls into predicament and confusion, the Muse comes to his rescue. She advises him: “Look in thy heart, and write.” In other words, he should for his subject matter explore the experience that has been stored in his mind and should deal with his own feelings. If he does this his poems will be free from artificiality and they will be natural, spontaneous and original. It is in this way that the clash between invention and study, between imagination and effort, between nature and art (i.e. artifice) is resolved, and the lover is freed from worry and tension, and the doorway to true composition is opened before him.

Some Striking Features

Sidney’s Sonnet No.1 (‘Loving in Truth’) exhibits some striking features. The first such feature is the lover’s begging of pity from the beloved to obtain her favour. The long-drawn process and the indirect way of revealing his real intention to her deserve high praise. The second feature that draws our attention is the dramatization of the strained relationship lying between invention and study, the former fleeing in fear of the step-dame’s blows. The third such feature is the picture of an uninspired poet struggling in vain to compose a poem. This has been made highly interesting through his comparison to a woman in an advanced state of pregnancy suffering from acute labour pain yet unable to deliver the child and to a composer holding for long between his rows of teeth a pen from which inspiration to create a poem has fled like a truant child. The last such feature is the sudden appearance of the Muse to rescue the lover from his difficulty and confusion arising out of his attempt to entertain the wito of his beloved by writing a poem placing himself solely on the study and imitation of others’ material.


The poem is rich in respect of imagery. The ‘blackest face of woe’ is an example of visual imagery, Kinesthetic imagery is employed when the lover is shown oft turning others’ leaves. The same sort of imagery is used when words come ‘halting forth’ requiring invention’s stay’ (=crutches). They convey a sense of movement. Invention, a son of Nature, fleeing away for fear of ‘step-dame Study’s blows’ is another imagery in which kinesthetic and visual elements are rolled into one. ‘Showers’ falling from ‘leaves’ on the dry ‘brain’ is another beautiful visual-cum-kinesthetic imagery. A walker accustomed to amble on a lonely path gets startled hearing the sound of ‘feet’ of ‘strangers’ is a nice example of aural imagery. A woman ‘great with child’ and suffering in a “helpless’ way in her ‘throes’ is an impressive visual imagery. The lover ‘biting’ his pen from which ideas have fled like a ‘truant’ child and ‘beating’ himself in anger is another remarkable visual imagery.

Figures of Speech

More remarkable than imagery is the striking range of figures that Sidney has put to use in this poem. The expression the ‘blackest face of woe’ is an example of personification. The phrase ‘some fresh and fruitful showers’ is metaphoric in nature, for the adjectives ‘fresh and fruitful’ which properly belong to the field of ideas are applied to ‘showers’ to which they are not literally applicable. It is done obviously because of the implied comparison between ‘ideas’ and ‘showers’, both having the power of satisfying the need of a person. The phrase ‘sunburnt brain’ is, again, an example of metaphor, for here the word ‘sunburnt’ which properly belongs to a type of soil is applied to ‘brain’ because of an implied comparison between ‘soil’ and ‘brain’ both being squeezed dry of a sustaining juice. ‘Invention’, ‘Nature’ and ‘Study’ (a son, a lawful mother and a step-mother respectively) are, again, examples of personification. The extract

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

Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain”

may be taken as an excellent case of periphrases. The lover’s statement- Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes–is metaphoric in nature, for here the lover who has conceived of a poetic idea vet is unable to produce it for want of ‘inventions fine’ and ‘fit words’ is rightly compared to a woman suffering from labour pain yet unable to give delivery to her child. The expression truant pen’ is also an example of metaphor for the word ‘truant’ (used as an adjective in the sense of wandering or idle), which properly belongs to an undutiful type of school-child, is applied to ‘pen’ to which it is not literally applicable. Yet the same is done for an implied comparison between truant’ and ‘pen’, both being shirking in their duties. Finally, there is pun in ‘biting’ and ‘beating’ because of their similarity of sound but difference in meaning.

As a Sonnet

‘Loving in truth’ is modelled on a Petrarchan sonnet. It deals with a single subject (the poet’s unrealized love for Penelope) and consists of fourteen lines. Like the above, it is divisible into two parts-the octave (the first eight lines) and the sestet (the last six lines). In the octave the lover tells of his intention of entertaining the wits of his beloved and in the sestet he points out the difficulties that he faces to fulfill his intention. But its difference from a Petranchan sonnet is also noticeable. It does not observe the rhyme scheme of such a sonnet. Whereas a Petrarchan sonnet strictly uses abba abba in the octave, Sidney uses abab abab as its rhyme scheme. Again, most Petrarchan sonnets use cde cde (or its variant) in the sestet, but Sidney uses cd cd ee in the same. No Petrarchan sestet ends with a (rhymed) couplet, but Sidney’s sonnet terminates with a rhymed pair. Again, unlike other sonnets which are written in iambic pentameter. Sidney’s present sonnet is written in iambic hexameter. Finally, the English poet uses a volta in the last line and thereby completely reverses the tone of the sestet and we see how the lover is rescued out of his confusion and difficulty by its use. Because of the presence of all these elements Sidney sonnet cannot be said to be strictly Petrarchan in nature.

A Great Attainment of the Age

There are lines in the poem that are obscure in meaning and unsmooth in expression. For these his short life and frequent engagement in public employment are more responsible than any inherent lack of poetic genius. The most striking feature of the poem is the way the poet resolves his difficulty arising out of his intention of pleasing his mistress through a poem that he proposed to write after the study and imitation & others’ poetic creations. He realizes finally that if invention and sincerity were the cream of a poetic composition whether by for it will be for him to look at his heart than futilely turning over others’ pages for an idea, an imagery or a figure of speech. His ultimate recognition that spontaneity, sincerity and first-hand experience are more important for the success of a poem than study and imitation is as much a lesson for himself as for the later practitioners of poetry irrespective of age. Despite some heaviness of expression, obscurity in meaning and metrical infelicity, the poem is a great attainment of the age because of its theme (i.e. the way of pleasing a mistress) and wonderful figures of speech that come almost in a torrent.

Leave a Comment