Lines 1-6 (sestet)
The narrator speaks directly to a person he has had a close relationship with. He explains that he gave his heart to be protected, not hurt. He says he brought his heart and worshipped the receiver, not to be given up but to be rewarded again.
He makes clear that he was happy to remain the servant of his audience, but did not wish to be repaid for his devotion in the way that he has.
Lines 7-14 (octet)
In the light of what he sees as his poor treatment, and as there seems to be no reason for him to continue, the narrator tells the audience not to be unhappy, but that he will take back his emotion and his passion. The audience seems to pretend that they have no responsibility, but the narrator says he must leave as the audience is ‘fire’ to the narrator – a destructive and violent force. He says that trying to please the audience is like plowing water or planting in sand.
The sonnet format and the theme of deception by someone close suggests that the poem may be directed to an unfaithful lover. However, there are also ideas within the poem which allude to another type of relationship - a loyal courtier to his mercurial king. It is possible to read the poem as operating on both of these levels; indeed, if the latter interpretation is accurate, it would have been necessary to couch the ideas in terms of the former, more traditional storyline.
Wyatt was very sparse in his use of punctuation, and much of what is utilized in his poems now has been added through history in an attempt to clarify meaning. This means that some punctuation we read in his poems today could obscure Wyatt’s original intent. He did, however, utilize the full stop. In this sonnet, there are many short sentences. The organization of the sentiments within the poem makes the tone terse, almost businesslike. The rescinding of his affection is structured like a resignation from a job rather than the ending of an affair. Each statement in the sestet consists of a sentence across two lines. The words are organized peremptorily, seeming as a clearly planned and structured withdrawal or retreat. Wyatt’s skills as a negotiator and diplomat seem to provide the structure of the sentiment here. This style can be seen as an innovative way to represent the feelings of the wronged lover. However, it is also possible to see the sonnet as a message from a disgruntled diplomat such as Wyatt to the volatile and temperamental King Henry VIII.
Wyatt had been part of Henry’s court since childhood. His father before him served at court, and Wyatt was proud of his country and its monarchy. He would have been pained at some of the decisions that Henry made – from vacillating foreign allegiances to his command of all of the ladies at court, even to the imprisonment of Wyatt himself for charges which seem instigated by rumor and gossip. Wyatt would have hoped that he would be protected as a subject loyal to his king, but was ‘forsaken’ several times, as illustrated in the wavering popularity Wyatt enjoyed at court. He was imprisoned and sent abroad for long periods at the king’s whim. Wyatt’s loyalty, however, did not waver. He was indeed ‘content thy servant to remain’.
When the phrase ‘parting from the fire’ is analyzed, it is feasible to see the fire as a metaphor for the heat of passion, or even sin, which would accompany an affair. However, Wyatt was often in the firing line during tough political negotiations at home and abroad. He was also aware of the futility and ambiguity of some of Henry’s political strategies, which would seem to be confirmed by the fruitless metaphors of plowing water and sowing seeds in sand, which conclude the poem.