Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That the 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 sunburned 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."
Sir Philip Sidney's sonnet about trying to win his love's attention with his writing should be familiar to anyone who has ever struggled with writer's block or dating anxiety. For those who over-think every little thing, this should be all too familiar.
As he notes in the first line, he truly is in love, and wants nothing more than to show that love in verse, hoping that painting a poetic picture of his pain will persuade his love to pleasure. Hopefully, seeing this pain will make her read, then she'll know his pain, and hopefully that knowledge will lead to pity, and in her pity, she may extend her grace, a loving hand his way. Getting ahead of ourselves a bit, eh?
His mind presumably blocked by thoughts of love, he tried desperately for the words to show his woe ("to paint the blackest face of woe") and studied the works of other authors. Turning through the works of others, looking for inspiration. It's familiar to me, as well as to anyone else who has ever picked up a pen in hopes of capturing some small observation or subtle shade of emotion. I particularly like the hope that "thence would flow some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburned brain." I can really feel my scalp tingle at the phrase "sunburned brain."
Of course, though, you cannot force creativity, here shown as "Invention" which artfully dodges "Study's blows." No matter how much you study the work of great poets, invention comes from within, not from the footsteps of others (as evidenced by how mediocre a poet I am!). Pregnant ("with great child to speak") with ideas, but feeling completely "helpless" Sidney bites his "truant pen" and beats himself up over his own failings. At that point, his Muse, who I assume is either the actual woman he loves, or his imagining of her, calls him a fool and tells him to write from the heart.
Part of the great irony of this is that the struggle he feels is made so real and easy with which to sympathize by what he ended up writing. He does, in a way, "paint the face of blackest woe" because we feel acutely his frustration at being unable to write a poem that will woo his love. All he needed to do was look inward (which he apparently did). Despite the somewhat archaic language, I find this poem to be a good representation of the frustration of writing and of trying to make your feelings reach someone else, and all the nervous energy entailed within.