Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Whoso List to Hunt

King Henry and Anne Boleyn Deer shooting in Wi...

King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn on a deer hunt; Image via Wikipedia

The more I read about Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Whoso List to Hunt, the more I love it!

I’m a fan of the Anne Boleyn story anyway. I enjoy almost anything about her, and knowing that this poem is supposedly about her makes it especially enticing! Whoso List to Hunt is an adaptation of Petrarch’s Rime 190, but it is much, much different.

In Petrarch’s Rime 190, the speaker sees a beautiful deer and pursues her. The poem ends with the narrator falling in the stream and the doe being gone when he comes back up. He also notes that she’s wearing topaz and diamonds.

In Wyatt’s version, his “doe” (or supposedly, Anne Boleyn) is dressed with diamonds only, a point addressed in this analysis in the Guardian. Topaz represents chastity. This doe has entertained suitors, it sounds like, and has maybe even entertained the speaker before, and therefore she is not worthy of the topaz.

But she’s not entertaining suitors anymore. She is owned, as this analysis points out, by the owner of the land. Women are property, don’t forget, and once the lord of the land, King Henry VIII, claimed his prize, no one else was allowed (or would dare) to touch her.

The point of the speaker’s chase is moot, he says, using this line: “Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.” Pursuing her may be his desire, but it will get him nowhere.

The final couplet is “‘Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am, And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.” In other words, Don’t touch me. I belong to King Henry. And even though you think I am but a meek doe, I am entirely too much of an animal for you to handle.

Anne Boleyn’s fire is captivating to me; her determination to get the throne was unstoppable, and she was undeterred by her critics. It’s good to be favored by the most powerful man in the country, but when he changes his mind and the dictator-king becomes paranoid, falls in love with his mistresses and blames his one-time love for not producing a son, it’s horrendous. And he disposed of her the way we today would ditch spoiled leftovers. Her ambition cost Boleyn her life.

Whoso List to Hunt is about a time before Boleyn experienced real nastiness, when she was just becoming out of reach for other men and was the apple of the king’s eye. Boleyn’s story was tragic; she wasn’t innocent, of course, but she was chewed up and spit out. She produced England’s greatest queen, and yet she did not get to see her progeny succeed. She is one of the reasons I adore British royalty, history and literature. So thank you, Sir Thomas Wyatt, for this lovelorn reminder of Boleyn’s beauty and vulnerability.


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Madam, Withouten Many Words

Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger, son of Sir Thoma...

Image by lisby1 via Flickr

Here’s my synopsis of this poem:

Lady, I love you. Are we gonna hook up or what?

Classy. Of course, Sir Thomas Wyatt‘s version of Madam, Withouten Many Words is much more beautiful. His poem was inspired by the Italian poet Dragonetto Bonifacio’s Madonna Non So Dir Tante Parole. My understanding is that Bonifacio’s poem was the source, and that Wyatt’s version was not a direct translation.

This analysis of the poem delves into the meaning of some of the words (“oons” being one that it obsolete today but could have meant something like “sometime” or “once and for all”), and this one speculates that this poem might have been about Anne Boleyn — “choose me or King Henry!” I don’t think that’s the case for two reasons: I think I would have found more speculation online about that and I think it would have been written as an original rather than as a poem similar to that of the Italian poet. But I love the Boleyn story, so I enjoy going along with that, even though I don’t believe it’s the case!

How would you respond if you were the lady? The poem isn’t that romantic. It sounds a little more … er, horny … than romantic. Or maybe, read another way, the man is tired of being strung along. (We women do that to men sometimes, and they could potentially be blameless for this sort of put-up-or-shut-up request.) But some brilliant writer has already thought of all this and wrote the following response. (You can also read Bonifacio’s version at the same link.) Clever!

1 Comment

Posted by on May 21, 2011 in Sir Thomas Wyatt


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sir Thomas Wyatt’s My Galley

Storm at sea

Image via Wikipedia

Sir Thomas Wyatt‘s My Galley is translated from Petrarch‘s poem 189 from Rime. It is a ship struggling during a terrible storm at sea, a metaphor for depression — a mind struggling to right itself. The imagery is incredible, and it’s a beautifully written sonnet. Rhyme scheme is ABBA ACCA DEED FF.

One analysis I read (linked below) said this poem was about a man who had rejected God, and this battery at sea was the consequence (because, of course, God controls the sea and the weather). It also said the author was contemplating suicide as the only way out of this misery.

The word choices are violent and emotional:

  • sharp seas
  • mine enemy
  • steereth with cruelness
  • rain of tears
  • cloud of dark disdain
  • despairing of the port

One line (“every oar a thought in readiness”) is beautiful to me because of the way the analysis below described it: That the author was trying to think his way out of this turmoil, like oars trying to right the ship, and yet he could not. Anyone who has ever been depressed or experienced hopelessness knows that trying to get oneself out of it using logical thought is useless.

The end of the poem indicates that the author doesn’t even remember why he’s experiencing this trauma, and also that he has no guide (like the stars) for getting him to safety.

You can read the poem and a good analysis of it here.


I have had more thoughts on this poem since I published this post a few hours ago. A God that would beat a nonbeliever to death or near-death using the ocean as a weapon would be an angry, unforgiving and vengeful God. Is that what the English in the 16th century thought of God? Or was that just for poetic effect? Or was it an overreaction of fear on the author’s part of what would happen if he did reject God? I am curious about this and really don’t know where to look to find out what religious people thought back then. Was God a controlling and malicious God or a loving and understanding one? Please comment if you have an answer or theory.

1 Comment

Posted by on May 15, 2011 in Sir Thomas Wyatt


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Farewell, Love

Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder‘s sonnet, Farewell, Love, expresses what many of us have felt at one time or another. The long and short of it is: Love, you’re too stressful, and I’m done with you!

The Norton Anthology editors point out that Wyatt’s sonnets are usually “doleful,” and this is a perfect example. (We’ll get to his perkier ballets or dance-songs in future posts.) In Farewell, Love, he rejects love “forever.” Look at his beautiful language that makes love sound as physically painful as it feels to him emotionally:

  • “Thy baited hooks shall tangle me no more”
  • “Thy sharp repulse, that pricketh aye so sore”
  • “And thereon spend thy many brittle darts.”
I enjoyed the following statement:
Senec and Plato call me from thy lore,
To perfect wealthy my wit for to endeavor.
In other words, the world’s best philosophers agree that love is not the means to a healthy and balanced life.

One analysis I read said the last line “Me lusteth no longer rotten boughs to climb” was a reference to chivalry and the expectation that he can’t consummate his passion. That is, he’s no longer interested in chasing dead ends.

You can read the entire poem here, or you can listen to it read here:


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wyatt and Surrey’s translation of Petrarch’s Rime 140

Thomas Wyatt the Elder died this year (Portrai...

Image via Wikipedia

Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, both translated the same poem, sonnet 140 from Petrarch‘s Rime.

Both Wyatt and Surrey had terrifically interesting lives and were very wrapped up with British royalty. Wyatt was rumored to have had an affair with Anne Boleyn before her marriage to King Henry VIII, and he was imprisoned twice by the tyrant for alleged treason. His connections got him out both times. Henry supposedly planned to marry Wyatt’s wife (she would have been Wife #6) even though Wyatt was still married to her. (That guy could get away with ANYthing!)

Surrey was actually executed by Henry’s order. Oh, if only Surrey’s execution-by-decapitation date had been set for 10 days later, no telling what masterpieces he might have created. The young man (only 29 or 30) was sentenced to a beheading by King Henry VIII, who died Jan. 28, 1547, nine days after Surrey’s execution. Surrey’s father’s execution date was scheduled for Jan. 29, 1547; he outlived Henry VIII and therefore was blessed with a stay of execution.

Back to the poetry translation: It takes much more educated minds than mine to dissect the differences between Wyatt’s and Surrey’s versions. This article explains that Wyatt’s verse was much rougher and more forced than Surrey’s smooth rhyme. Wyatt also veered from Petrarch’s rhyme scheme. However, Wyatt and Surrey are known as “Fathers of the English Sonnet.” According to Wikipedia, Wyatt introduced the sonnet into English and Surrey gave the English the rhyming meter and the division into quatrains that now characterizes Shakespearean sonnets.

In Surrey’s translation, love seems to me to be the poet’s ruler. Listen to these words he chooses:

  • Love, that doth reign
  • within my captive breast
  • clad in the arms
  • he fought
And in Wyatt’s, it seems that love is more the poet’s guest:
  • love that in my thought doth harbor
  • keep his residence
  • campeth
Another difference is that Wyatt maintains the question at the end, as Petrarch asked it. Wyatt’s version is:
What may I do, when my master feareth,
But in the field with him to live and die?
Surrey removes the question posed by Petrarch and instead declared:
For my lord’s guilt thus faultless bide I pain,
Yet from my lord shall not my foot remove

This link provides both translations side by side, along with Petrarch’s original and with a literal translation of Petrarch’s original. What do you see as the differences?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A post about excuses … lots of ‘why nots’

Day 92- A First Love

Image by Jinx! via Flickr

I’m going to be dead honest for a moment. I love this blog. That is, I love the concept of it. The doing of it is difficult for me.

I love British literature. I was in the library yesterday yearning to read all the books before me (Life in Medieval England, The Complete History of Great Britain, Kings and Queens, etc.) and realizing I don’t have enough time in my life to read them all. Why, why, why, don’t I have enough time? I don’t have kids. I don’t have a job that’s so demanding that I don’t have time for myself. But what I do have is a ton of interests. I love to do volunteer work. I love to watch TV. I love to go out to eat. I love keeping in touch with people, which means time on the phone, on e-mail and on Facebook. I love to cook. So paring it down to read what I want in British lit doesn’t come easily.

But the point of this blog was to make me sit down and do it. Read it, absorb it and write about it. I do read it and I tend to absorb it. My stopping point comes with the writing about it. I feel paralyzed by fear that I didn’t read enough or read it thoroughly or understand it properly, and I can’t possibly put something out there that makes me look stupid, right? Except the fact that I post once every 2 to 3 months and yet continue the facade of “Day 19” accomplishes that mission all on its own….

It is one of the things that will make me die unhappy, that is, having not absorbed a satisfactory amount of British lit before my day is up. I can’t let myself die feeling lost without having this simple feat accomplished. Because I have so many other things I want to do — after this, I want to go after the anthology of American literature, plus there’s a million other books out there I want to attack.

So I will take comfort in the fact that I don’t have enough readers to judge my lack of British history knowledge or my shallow understanding of literary theory. I will post, by God, whether it’s good or not, and relish in my plan of making British literature as much a part of my life as I truly want it to be.

Do you hear that, Sir Thomas Wyatt? You’re next!

Editor’s note: This post was written on my original blog one year ago. I have not posted since then. This is another of my failures. I have had tons of drama the past year that I have allowed to become an excuse for not writing. I’m trying to stop this continuing failure and get back into my book! Any encouragement is welcome; apparently, I don’t do well trying to take on such a monumental task in a vacuum.


Tags: , , , , , ,

John Skelton

Cardinal Wolsey, the principal designer of the...

Image via Wikipedia

Poetry is difficult for me. I like it, but if I miss the point, I really miss the point. And without the other context around it, like you’d have with a short story or novel, I find myself often — yes — missing the point.

John Skelton is the poet I was to read for this entry. I’m pretty sure I missed the point on all his poems. But he was quite an interesting guy. He tutored King Henry VIII when the king was a young boy, he served as clergy for a time, and he was known as a practical joker. He goaded Cardinal Wolsey with his satiric attacks on the clergy and government, leading Wolsey to imprison Skelton a time or two.

His poems imitated medieval satire and his “open satires” were written in short rhymed lines. The Skeltonic lines would have two to five beats, ending in rhyme, and going on until Skelton himself ran out of good rhyming words to keep moving forward with.

Mannerly Margery Milk and Ale was the first of his I read. It looks like it would probably be pretty funny if I understood it. It is partly spoken by a clerk and partly sung by Margery and a bass. The Norton intro to it even says it has an ironic ending. The best I can figure is that Margery is fussing at this man for most of the poem and then tells him to wed her. Not sure I got that right.

To Mistress Margaret Hussey is an ode to the lady in the title, who is both gentle and strong. She’s patient and kind and happy. It looks to me like this poem employs the Skeltonic line mentioned earlier: The rhyme scheme is basically AAABBBCCCDD throughout.

Lullay, Lullay, Like a Child is a lullaby parody. At first it’s very sweet, with baby in mom’s lap, but by the end, it sounds like she’s rocking to sleep an intoxicated, snoring man. The rhyme scheme is ABABBCCDD.

Colin Clout is a much longer poem that takes shots at Cardinal Wolsey. The book includes only an excerpt.  In the excerpt is Skelton’s commentary on his style of poetry:

For though my rhyme be ragged,
Tattered and jagged,
Rudely rain-beaten,
Rusty and moth-eaten
If ye take well therewith
It hath in it some pith.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,