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

11 May

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?
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