Sir Thomas Wyatt: Poems

Sir Thomas Wyatt: Poems Summary and Analysis of 'Whoso List to Hunt?'


The poem opens with a question to the reader, asking who enjoys the hunt, and pointing out that the poet knows a worthy hind (female deer). He then continues with a contrast to the excitement of line 1 to say that he is regrettably no longer up to the chase.

In line 3 he notes that his efforts have been in vain and he is greatly tired, and that he is now at the back of the hunting party. However, he tells us in line 4 and 5, he cannot draw his tired thoughts away from the deer; as she runs before him he follows exhausted. He gives up due to the futility of trying to hold the wind in a net.

By line 9 he confidently tells those who follow the hunt that, just as for him, the pursuit is fruitless. Picked out plainly in diamond lettering there is a collar around the neck of the hind. The collar says ‘do not touch me, as I belong to Caesar, and I am wild, though I seem tame.’


Wyatt uses the sonnet form, which he introduced to England from the work of Petrarch. The Petrarchan sonnet typically has 14 lines. The first 8 lines, or octet, introduces a problem or issue for contemplation and the remaining six lines, or sestet, offers a resolution or an opinion. Wyatt uses iambic pentameter. This means that there are five pairs of syllables, each with the stress on the second syllable. It is the most common rhythm used in traditional poetry and was used by Shakespeare in his sonnets, poems and plays. Iambic pentameter, though a regular rhythm, was thought to be closest to ordinary speech patterns, so it is an attempt to imitate but also elevate the sounds of everyday conversation.

By opening the poem with a question, the narrator challenges the reader. There is an invitation in his words, and the use of an exclamation mark at the end of the first line implies excitement at the idea. As hunting was a popular pastime in the court of Henry VIII, this suggests a poem along the lines of Henry VIII’s own most famous lyric, ’Pastime With Good Company’. However, problem within the octet is revealed in line 2 as the poet tells us that he is no longer part of the hunt. An exclamation mark is used in line 2, again to emphasize emotion, but this time frustration and regret. This is a passionate yet contradictory introduction.

Line 3 makes use of assonance to reveal the poet’s earlier hunting efforts as ‘vain travail’ which has tired him out to the point of physical pain. We can see that the poem is an extended metaphor for the end of a relationship. The metaphor is an excellent choice in terms of the Tudor court and the possible situation to which it is attributed. The poet is now at the tail end of the pursuit, although, he says in line 5 that his mind has not deviated from the hunt. Wyatt makes use of enjambment (breaking a phrase over more than one line of verse) and caesura (concluding a phrase within the first half of a line of verse) across lines six and seven to highlight the discord represented by the end of the relationship as he subverts and challenges his own chosen structure.

In line 8, the poet uses the concluding line of the octet to stress the futility of his former quest. He uses the metaphor of catching the wind in a net to emphasize the pointlessness of his chase.

The final sestet begins with line 9 reiterating the appeal to those who wish to join the hunt, but he continues in to line 10 to explain that the pursuit will be in vain for them too. Again there is an exclamation mark to indicate an intensity of feeling.

Line 11 continues the extended metaphor as an explanation of why his hunt of this ‘hind’, and that of others who pursue her, is so pointless. She has a bejeweled collar, indicating she already has an owner. Her collar is adorned with the Latin phrase ‘Noli Me tangere’ meaning ‘touch me not’. This expression refers to a phrase spoken by Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the Bible. The design also includes the name of her owner – ‘for Caesar’s I am.’ If we identify the poem as referring to Anne Boleyn, then her new owner would be King Henry VIII; the pair were married around the time when this poem was composed and Wyatt could no longer compete for her affections. By describing Henry using the allusion of Caesar, Wyatt bestows on his monarch the qualities of a reputation of greatness and incisive rule.

Caesar was, like Henry, a leader early in late teens, a handsome and strong young man and was significant in the political and aesthetic changes and developments of his realm. Both were literate, charismatic and influential. However, other less favorable parallels can be drawn. Both Caesar and Henry VIII incurred huge debt during their respective offices. There were many subjects who were held captive, sometimes executed, on charges of treason. Caesar faced questions regarding his sexuality and his unsuitable choices of women. Wyatt may also be alluding to these less appealing aspects of Caesar in his comparison if we see the passion in the poem to be borne of frustration and anger.