Loving in Truth (Sonnet 1) Summary & Analysis

In Short

  • In the poem “Loving in Truth” Sir Philip Sidney wants to express his true love for his ladylove, Penelope Devereux, the daughter of the Earl of Essex, through his verse.
  • But he cannot find suitable words to express his passion of love and to praise his beloved. He wants to borrow words from other poets’ verse, but in vain.
  • Finally, muse (the goddess of poetry) advises him to write poetry by using the feeling of his inner heart.

Loving in Truth – Explanation

Lines 1–4

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, pity grace obtain, —

The poet’s love for his beloved, Penelope Devereux is pure and true. But that love is unreciprocated by his lady. So, he wants to represent his feeling of love in his verse. The poet thinks that his efforts (my pain) to win some favour of his beloved might give her pleasure. He also hopes that she might want to read his verse out of the pleasure she takes in his pain. In this way, she might learn the poet’s pain (in not winning her love). It would make her heart soft and she might show sympathy for the poet. Thus, the poet wants to win the heart of his lady.

Lines 5–8

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 sun burnt brain.

The poet searches for appropriate words to depict the saddest face of him. Here the poet highlights his pain by using the phrase ‘the blackest face of woe’. He is in misery for his love. His brain seems to have become barren because of his passion of love and his inability to find exact expressions for his love. Actually, the poet wants to provide intellectual pleasure to his ladylove and convince her (her wits to entertain) through his verse. He hopes others’ writing might help him in this purpose. So, he studies many books of other poets in order to find suitable words to describe his feelings. And if he finds the appropriate words there, those would be like fresh and fruitful showers upon his unfertile sun-burnt brain.

Lines 9–12

But words came halting forth, wanting Invention’s stay:
Invention, Nature’s child, fled step dame Study’s blows;
And others’ feet still seemed but strangers in my way.
Thus great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,

Here the poet shows that his poetic words and expressions do not come continuously. They are halting. Poetic inspiration is a natural product and cannot be produced by study. It is, therefore, called Nature’s child who is tortured by study, the stepmother. Even the words which are suitable for others seem strange to the poet because of his unoriginality. Now the poet is like a helpless child who cannot be able to express his pain during the time of delivery. The poet is feeling anguished to express his passion.

Lines 13–14

Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite
“Fool”, said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart, and write”.

The poet’s pen is like a truant (a run-away school boy). The Pen runs away due to the lack of his poetic inspiration. Being hopeless he is biting his pen. At the same time he beats himself in anger. Finally, Muse, his goddess calls him fool and advises him to use his own words from his heart to write poetry. Only then, it would be genuine and original.

Loving in Truth – A Critical Commentary

Philip Sidney’s famous poem “Loving in truth” is Sonnet 1 of his popular sonnet sequence “Astrophel and Stella”. It is a series of 108 sonnets published in 1591. This sonnet sequence which owe to Petrarch and Ronsard in tone and style places Sidney as the greatest Elizabethan sonneteer except Shakespeare.

Sidney uses the word “Astrophel” to denote himself. The Greek word “astrophel” means star- lover and “Stella” is a Latin word means star. The sonnet “Loving in Truth” is an expression of the sonneteer’s unrequited love. The sonnet is very autobiographical. Here the poet expresses his passion of love for his beloved Penelope Devereux. He wants to use his verse as an expression of his love. But he does not find proper words and poetic expression to write verse. He wants to borrow words and poetic inspiration from other writers to represent his pain. But poetry is an art of spontaneity. It is not possible by copying others. So, the poet’s effort fails. At last, he realizes that true poetry originates from one’s inner feelings. Here the poet highlights the power of emotion as the source of poetry.

“Loving in truth” resembles a Petrarchan sonnet. The theme of the sonnet is love which is a characteristic feature of Petrarchan sonnet. The first 8 lines make the octave (octet). It depicts the poet’s deep love for his lady. It also shows the poet’s efforts to entertain his lady by writing verse. The last 6 lines form the sestet. It highlights the poet’s failure. Here the poet realizes that true poetic inspiration comes from inside one’s heart and emotion is the mother of poetry. The poem is rhyming as ABAB ABAB CDCD EE. “Loving in truth” has been written in iambic hexameter (except line 4) instead of iambic pentameter which is the usual measure of the sonnet. Here Sidney shows an unestablished form of sonnet.

Sidney’s use of rhetoric decorates the poem beautifully. The first line of the poem ‘loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show’ is an example of hyperbaton. The second line is an instance of epigram. The poet uses climax in the third and fourth line —

‘Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, pity grace obtain.’

We see the use of paronomasia in the seventh and eighth lines. Here the poet also uses metaphor where the brain has been said to be sun burnt. In the tenth line there are personifications where Nature and Study have been presented as human beings. It also shows the use of metaphor where the relation between nature and invention has been compared to the relation between mother and child. On the other side, the relation between invention and study has been compared to the relation between child and stepmother. In the last line, the poet represents his painful process of writing by using metaphor. Here, he compares his pain to the birth pangs of a mother. Philip Sydney’s Sonnet 1 ‘Loving in truth’ is thus enriched with figure of speech. And all these aspects make it a great sonnet.

Loving in Truth – Themes


Sir Philip Sidney’s poem “Loving in Truth” (Sonnet 1) from “Astrophel and Stella” has love as its main theme. Though it is not a typical Petrarchan sonnet in its metrical pattern, in its theme of love it resembles works of Petrarch and Ronsard. The poet-speaker here expresses not only his deep passion of love for his beloved Penelope Devereux but also his feeling of pain as his love is unreciprocated by his lady. In order to entertain his lady he is ready to bear even more pain. The poet seems to be leaving no stones unturned to get her attention and favour. That is where his efforts of writing a poem comes forth. He hopes that his pain would give her pleasure and make her interested to read his verse, and that way he would finally be able to win her heart.

Genuineness of Art

Sidney also highlights the theme of genuineness of poetry, or any art form for that matter. The speaker is trying hard to express his love for his mistress in his verse but finds it difficult to find suitable words to convey his feelings and emotions. He is so engrossed in love with his ladylove and also having such pain in the lack of her attention that his brain has become barren and he tries to borrow words from other poets’ works. Finally, he realises though that poetry comes from one’s inner mind. You cannot succeed in any creative work by solely imitating others. It needs true poetic inspiration to write a poem and the words should come rather spontaneously from your heart.

Written by , Last updated on December 20, 2022