Sir Phillip Sidney on Writer’s Block, Renaissance Style
In sonnet one of Astrophil and Stella (1591) by sixteenth-century courtier and author, Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), the poem’s speaker (Astrophil) struggles for ‘fit words’ to convey his heartache to his lover. In the closing couplet, the speaker’s muse weighs in with sound advice for anyone with writer’s block, particularly anyone feeling constrained by conventions or the looming shadows of other authors.
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 maker 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 wit to entertain,
Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burned brain.
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,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,
“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write.”