The first five lines present the musician and his lute preparing to perform their last, wasted, effort. The song will be cyclical – ending as it begins – and when the song is finished, he commands his lute to stop, as he has given up.
The musician explains that to be heard when there is no audience is like trying to engrave marble with lead. Similarly, he says, he cannot pierce his lady’s heart. He asks whether he should complain or rejoice, but decides against these as he is resigned to his fate.
The rocks that continually repulse the waves are not as cruel as the woman who constantly rejects his love and attention. Now he is past caring and repeats his refrain of resignation – ‘I have done’.
The narrator speaks directly to his lady, saying that her rejection of him will be avenged as she trivializes his genuine suffering. He tells her she is not alone, and that she is free to continue her torture of others, although him, and his lute, have quit.
Again directly to the lady, the narrator predicts that she may lie old and wrinkled through cold winter nights, complaining to the moon. Then, the wishes she now keeps secret will not have an audience, for he will have given up.
Then, he says, she may perhaps be remorseful of the time she spent and lost making others fall for her. Then, she will learn that beauty is temporary, and will desire, and hope, as he has.
The narrator now directs his attentions back to his lute, telling it that this is their last pointless task together and that they will end as they began; with the song over, the lute is still and the song is ended.
This song is written in quintains – five-line verses. Each is concluded with a sentiment of resignation. This lute song is more typical of the content and intention of the courtly lute song; it was alternately titled ‘The Lover Complaineth the Unkindness of His Love’ which was a subject typical of poetry and music from this time.
The first five lines express the futility of the song in that the effort of the narrator and his lute will be in vain; his song will not win her back and he has given up the pursuit. The simile of her heart being like marble indicates the stony nature of the lady, but also presents an amusing parody of the blazon form of poetry, made popular in France in the 1530’s by Clement Marot. This form strove to identify the attributes of a desirable woman, from head to toe, through comparisons that exaggerated her grace and beauty. The skin of a woman was variously compared in the blazon form to alabaster or marble. In this song, however, Wyatt stresses the impenetrable nature of the marble as an obstacle to attaining the lady’s affection, rather than a physical quality worthy of admiration. His response to her stony reception is also a deviation from the norm of the genre. The narrator does not plan to spend the rest of his life wallowing in the torment of rejection – he repeats the line which completed the first quintain: ‘for I have done’; he has given up on the fruitless pursuit.
The comparison of his rejection being more cruel than the repeated rejection of the sea by the rocks is a passionate yet violent image. If he has rejected her punishment of him, then the narrator has broken a natural cycle akin to the tides. He says he is ‘past remedy’ meaning beyond cure, beyond hope or, more likely, beyond playing the role of wounded lover. Instead, he bares his emotions for the perusal of an audience. His conclusion here involves his instrument – ‘my lute and I have done’ - suggesting that the poet will sing this tale no more.
The narrator speaks directly to his audience, noting that the cruel lady has a ‘spoil’ of ‘simple hearts’. Her inconstancy and infidelity is stressed here, and these were certainly issues that Wyatt himself experienced in his marriage to Elizabeth Brooke and in his liaison with Anne Boleyn. His melancholy tone has dropped by this point, and there is a definite edge of bitterness and vengeance.