The Tudor court was filled with change. Henry VIII's reign was in a time of great political, social, national and international upheaval. Wyatt was central to all of these areas as a lover, a courtier, an ambassador and a diplomat. Wyatt seems to have concluded that change is inevitable, as illustrated in 'Divers Doth Use’, but also that change without direction can be dangerous, if not deadly, as in ‘My Galley Charged’. Wyatt suggests that change is natural and inevitable but nonetheless dangerous, and sometimes fatal.
Music and Song
Several of Wyatt’s greatest works are songs. As a popular court entertainment, and a fashionable way to demonstrate one’s verbal wit and musical prowess, Wyatt made much use of the ballad and the rondeau to show his skill and to deliver his opinion on issues of the day. Music was an integral part of the court of Henry VIII – Henry himself was an accomplished musician and singer, composing and performing his own ballads and songs. The songs that best express Wyatt’s sentiments would be the ballads ‘They Flee From Me’ and ‘Blame Not My Lute’, which typify Wyatt's varying position in the court. Songs such as ‘Madam, Withouten Many Words’ and ‘Forget Not Yet’ have a tone of hostility built within the traditional form of amusement.
Many of Wyatt’s works record the setting and pastimes of the Tudor court within their messages surrounding human behavior. ‘Whoso List To Hunt?’, despite being a translation of a sonnet by Petrarch, encompasses the Tudor age in its metaphor of deer hunting as a comparison to the pursuit of a lady. Such close parallels have been drawn with the poem and Wyatt’s challenging relationship with Anne Boleyn, who was subsequently courted and married by King Henry VIII, that the poem could be said to exemplify the age. Similarly, the metaphor of falconry used in ‘Lux! My Fair Falcon’ serves to utilize a popular pastime of the age with a popular issue of changing political and social loyalties.
The theme of rejection, by peers, lovers and even his king, is seen throughout Wyatt’s work. ‘Lux! My Fair Falcon’ illustrates the frustration brought about when a challenge to a relationship leads to abandonment. The narrator observes the loyal falcon, wishing that other associates of the court would be so steadfast. In ‘Divers Doth Use’, the narrator reflects on the ways in which men cope with rejection; choosing himself not to be daunted by the fickle nature of women.
A popular theme for courtly poetry, forsaken love is often a surface theme in Wyatt’s works, though sometimes it is used to cover a deeper political sentiment. Poems which refer to abandoned lovers would be ‘Madam, Withouten Many Words’, And Wilt Thou Leave Me Thus?’, ‘Farewell, Love’, ‘What no, Perdie!’ and ‘My Heart I Gave Thee’. What typifies these poems is the traditional regretful sentiment of lost love mingled with elements of cynicism and even anger. Wyatt’s love poems have a bitter edge, which makes his work distinct from that of his predecessors, like Petrarch, and his successors, like Shakespeare. Petrarch’s sonnets have elegance, Shakespeare’s have wit, Wyatt’s have dynamism and vitality.
Loyalty and Betrayal
Wyatt appears to have had a strong sense of justice with regard to relationships. His work contains criticism and condemnation of the treachery of those around him. His translations of sonnets such as ‘Whoso List To Hunt?’, ‘They Flee From Me’ and ‘Forget Not Yet’ are used to present his frustration and condemnation of the transitory, sometimes even fatal, implications of the bonds which are made, and broken, within the court. A common theme of the spurned lover exists through Petrarch’s work, and to some extent Wyatt utilizes this theme in poems such as ‘My Heart I Gave Thee’ and songs such as ‘Madam, Withouten Many Words’. Often his acknowledgement of betrayal can work on several levels, with criticism being implied of not just his lady, but also his peers and his king.
Sir Thomas Wyatt: Poems Questions and Answers
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