In the first verse the narrator calls upon the audience not to hold his lute responsible for the sound that it makes. The narrator explains that the lute is controlled by him, it has no independent thought and its voice is dictated by the player. Although some of the sentiments expressed may seem unusual, and contain words and ideas that are surprising in such a song, the narrator repeats that the lute is not culpable for the message presented.
The narrator continues to plead the innocence of the lute, explaining that ‘he’ is forced by circumstances to play the tune the narrator engineers to accompany his words. He appeals that although the song may appear simple and affect those who have been deceptive, the lute is not to blame.
The lute and its strings are not able to refuse the will of the player, and he then requests that the audience does not seek to break the lute strings if they are unsatisfied with the message delivers. The narrator tells the audience to seek some other revenge. The words - which show the ill feeling at the rejection by the audience - are made by the narrator; this message is not known to the lute.
Ill will creates ill will, the narrator says, and transformations bring about more of the same. Also, ill-placed trust should be highlighted and the source of the betrayal and deception should be broadcast. Then the narrator points out that as the deception was at the whim of the audience, the song will reveal how honest the audience is, but it will not be the lute’s fault.
The audience should blame herself for her offenses, as the fault is hers and she deserves to pay for her actions. If she were to amend her errors, then the ill-will would be over and the lute would again be in tune. Until then, however, the lute is at the command of the player’s hand and his fingers dictate the tune; the lute is not liable.
The narrator gives his leave unknowingly, as although the audience has carelessly and cruelly broken his strings, the narrator has found new strings for his lute, and if this trivial song should embarrass the listener, the lute is not to blame.
The song has been alternately titled ‘The Lover’s Lute Cannot be Blamed Though it Sing of His Lady’s Unkindness’, indicating that the song is about a betrayed lover voicing his disappointment and frustration through song. However, as the verse continues, it is possible to see a more political angle to this piece.
Interestingly, the lute is personified as ‘he’, rather than referred to as ‘it’. This gives the lute a human appearance, and suggests that the ‘instrument’ of such a message may have human qualities. This could allude to the idea that messages are often communicated in the court of Henry VIII, and the messenger is not to blame for the content of the communication. As a diplomat and an ambassador for the king, Wyatt and others were often part of negotiations and consultations on behalf of the king which they may not have been comfortable, or even in agreement, with. This interpretation adds a gritty edge to a delicate courtly ditty, which is perhaps why the song has endured in various anthologies rather than being lost in the mists of time, as have other such ditties. ‘Blame Not My Lute’ is a brave and impetuous appeal, on one level from a spurned lover, on another from a fearful and challenged courtier.
The song is composed of six septets, or seven-line stanzas. Each has a rhyme scheme ABABCCD. The final live of each stanza is the refrain, the repeated phrase which is the key message of the song – ‘Blame not my Lute!’
The first stanza explains that the lute is not to blame for the song, as it is the musician who manipulates and dictates its tune who is responsible for the ditty's meaning. The audience is alerted to the fact that the words of the song may be ‘strange’ – that is, not usual for such a song. The lute is not responsible for this variation, so, by implication, the narrator is. Here the narrator is asserting early on that it is his sentiment and no-one else’s which is being expressed. This could be seen as indicating to the ‘player’, the ‘musician’, that it is he, not his instrument, who should take the responsibility for his intended message. Henry VIII was an accomplished musician, even writing ballads of his own. It could be said that Wyatt is attempting to highlight the criticism that diplomats and others in the king’s service were subject to, particularly on the various foreign missions organized to facilitate Henry’s six marriages in the quest for a male heir.
The second stanza draws attention to the falseness of some of the audience, and that the narrator, not the lute, intends this. This indicates that the intent to draw attention to this deception is deliberate on the part of the narrator: quite an assertive statement.
There is physicality in the third stanza as the narrator explains that the lute strings are at his bidding. Line 16 – ‘But as I strike they must obey’ is a brutal image. The appeal to the audience not to break the lute strings in anger at their message is similarly violent. Again the narrator reminds us that he is responsible for the uncomfortable message.
In the fourth verse the narrator says that the directness and distress that his message brings is directly related to the wrongdoing of the audience – be that his lady or his king. Line 22 states ‘Spite asketh spite, and changing change,’.
By the fifth verse, the narrator makes it clear that the blame for the unpleasant message lies with the audience. The repetition of blame enhances this point. We see the word used twice in lines 29 and 30:
‘Blame but thyself that has misdone,
And well deserved to have blame;’
‘Blame’ is repeated nine times within the song as a whole. As the major message of the refrain, the audience is directed to attribute responsibility for the distress caused by one to another. The audience is directed in the sixth verse to alter their course of action, in order to combat ‘evil’. This is a powerful word, used to emphasize the intensity of feeling which surrounds betrayal and rejection.
The seventh and final verse is triumphant, rather than regretful. We would expect the narrator to remain consumed by his loss, were Wyatt following the convention of the narrator as unrequited lover. However, this narrator tells us that he has moved on from the destructive experience, and has repaired the damage done. There is a caesura used in this verse, followed by enjambment in lines 36-37. These techniques illustrate a break with the form, symbolizing the break from the traditional ending. The narrator has overcome the destruction waged by his audience, where the audience may remain embarrassed by their actions.