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.