279. Sonnets by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1530s-1540s)

“Farewell Love, and all thy laws forever,

Thy baited hooks shall tangle me no more;

….

Therefore farewell, go trouble younger hearts,

And in me claim no more authority;

With idle youth go use thy property,

And thereon spend thy many brittle darts.

For hitherto though I have lost all my time,

Me lusteth no longer rotten boughs to climb”

Farewell, Love, lines 1-2, 9-14

What makes Wyatt’s poetry interesting is what is known about his own life in their context. Courtier and diplomat in the court of Henry VIII, he was imprisoned in the Tower accused along with others of adultery with the Queen, Anne Boleyn. He narrowly escaped execution on this charge, and restored to favour, but arrested again five years later suspected of treason. Again he was pardoned but apparently Henry has his eye on Wyatt’s wife, which might have proved dangerous had not Wyatt obligingly died of a fever in 1542, aged 39.

Source : A small selection of Wyatt’s poems are included in The Norton Anthology of English Literature (7th ed., volume 1) which is good enough for me.

The poems I read fall into two categories : his rejected loves and his precarious position in court. The former provide the evidence to suspect his feelings for Anne Boleyn, which may have been at one time been reciprocated

” ….. but once in special,

In thin array, after a pleasant guise,

When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,

And she me caught in her arms long and small,

Therewithal sweetly did me kiss

And softly said, “Dear heart, how like you this?”

They flee from me, lines 9-14

but were more often a memory of sorrow and embitterment.

“And I have leave to go, …

But since that I am so kindely served,

I fain would know what she hath deserved”

They flee from me, lines 18-21.

He even warns others away, knowing of Henry’s interest in her:

“Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,

But as for me, alas, I may no more,

The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,

I am of them that farthest cometh behind.

Yet may I, by no means, my wearied mind

Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore,

Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,

Since in a net, I seek to hold the wind.

Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,

As well as I, may spend his time in vain.

And graven with diamonds in letters plain

There is written, her fair neck round about,

“Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,

And wild for to hold, though I seem tame”

“Whoso list to hunt”

His situation in the court is sometimes a source of fear (understandable given his arrests)

“My galley charged with forgetfulness,

Through sharp seas, in winter nights doth pass

‘Tween rock and rock’ and eke mine enemy, alas,

That is my lord, steereth with cruelness”

My Galley, lines 1-4

and at least one point where he has been banished to his estate in Kent, he purports to be in relief no longer to have to toady to Henry.

“Say he is rude that cannot lie and feign,

The lecher a lover, and tyranny

To be the right of a prince’s reign.

I cannot, I: no, no, it will not be.

Mine own John Poins, lines 73-76

I am no expert in grasping poetry’s meaning at first reading, so I fare better reading a small selection several times and with each revisit, understanding better.

Personal rating:  6/10

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