The narrator expresses his despair with diametrically opposed concepts. He is unable to rest, and yet he has no fight left in him. He is optimistic yet afraid, he is ablaze yet frozen. He is soaring, yet cannot take off; he has nothing, yet he holds the whole world. Though there are no locks strong enough to imprison him, he cannot escape. The narrator feels he has no control over whether he lives or dies. He can see without his eyes, and complains without a tongue. He says he wishes to expire, and yet demands strength. By line 11 he reveals a less paradoxical contrast: that he loves another therefore must not love himself. He revels in the joy of the sadness and discomfort of this love, and although the situation is almost like a living death, the cause of his pain is his greatest pleasure.
The confusion, ambiguity and vacillation of feelings and emotions connected with love is the subject of this sonnet, which is a translation of Petrarch’s sonnet 104. The poem is built from opposite sentiments and ideas to reflect the full range of feeling that love can provoke. While it seems that this relationship is an impossible affair that leads him to the brink of despair, the poet also seems intoxicated by it. The opening image of war and peace also reminds us of Wyatt’s diplomatic and ambassadorial duties, the vast changes in allegiance that he saw within his term of office and the challenges of the international political arena at this time.
The metaphors used highlight the physical extremes such as burning and freezing to connote the psychological consequences of the dramatic emotions involved. Love in the tudor court was often fraught with social implications, particularly as the king himself was involved in numerous precarious romantic relationships. But, the idea of being incarcerated despite the fact that no bonds could hold him reminds us that the resultant torture is one which the narrator is willingly subjecting himself to. Alas, he derives pleasure from the situation that directly causes his pain.
Line 11 is interesting as these two ideas are not usually mutually exclusive: it is possible to love another and oneself. However, Wyatt is perhaps indicating that the relationship is one dictated by the heart rather than the head; though the love feels right, the narrator cannot quiet his mind to the unsettling knowledge that his love is not a practical or logical choice. If he is prepared to put himself in danger for his love, he must not care enough about himself to prevent his own destruction. In the final rhyming couplet, the narrator makes it clear that he understand that that which gives him the most pleasure is that which causes him the most peril.