Where does creativity come from? Even the greatest artists have no idea. One day it flows, the next it freezes over. Plato spoke of the poet’s “enthusiasmos,” a religious exultation of such revolutionary frenzy that the dour philosopher banned art from his orderly republic. Yet when the muse fails to descend, the poet is just another bread-queuing proletarian. So what do we do when we want to write but can’t find the words?
For an answer, we can always turn to Sidney’s poem “Loving in Truth,” the first in his sonnet sequence “Astrophel and Stella.” Their names tell us the story of their relationship. “Astro” is from the Greek for “star,” while “phel” or “phil” means love (as in the name “Philadelphia”), so he is literally a “star lover.” He orbits round and round the radiant Stella, whose name is derived from the Latin for star. Together, the poet and his beloved express the Greco-Roman harmony of feeling and form: the classical sensibility revived in the Renaissance.