Sir Thomas Wyatt: Poems

Sir Thomas Wyatt: Poems Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Explore the theme of betrayal in Wyatt's work. Refer to at least three sonnets and/or songs.

    Betrayal is a prevalent theme in Wyatt's work. Typically, the narrator is the wronged person and the poem serves to expose betrayals involving affairs of the heart along with political and social treachery. In Wyatt’s work, the fickle nature of women can rear its head at any time and a courtier could be given the cold shoulder on the whim of the king – especially true in Henry VIII’s time.

    For example, in 'They Flee From Me', the narrator details being forsaken both by a woman he loved and by acquaintances who once sought his guidance. Wyatt’s narrators experience lash out from the pain but also dejectedly accept their position. In ‘My Heart I Gave Thee’, the narrator realizes that to pursue the one who wronged him is pointless. Still, the betrayed are not without their cutting words and extreme emotions. ‘Lux! My Fair Falcon’, believed to have been written during Wyatt’s imprisonment, contains vivid imagery (‘like lice away from dead bodies they crawl’) to illustrate the cruelty of betrayal. ‘My Galley Charged’ can be interpreted to consider a larger scope, as the narrator seems to bemoan his lack of faith. Even God abandons him.

  2. 2

    What view of women does Wyatt illustrate in his work? Exemplify your ideas with reference to at least three texts.

    Wyatt seems to use the inconstancy and infidelity of women as a popular theme in his songs, sonnets and epigrams. For example, in ‘Madam, Withouten Many Words’, the narrator almost begs his audience to abandon her feminine trickery and release him if she does not honestly does not care for him. Pursuit of love is a young man’s game, as Wyatt’s narrators have gained wisdom by being burned. In ‘Whoso List To Hunt’, the narrator has lost his taste for the hunt. Here, the woman – strongly believed to be Anne Boleyn, a paramour Wyatt lost to Henry VIII – is symbolized by a hind and is the quarry. But Wyatt warns that though the hind belongs to Caesar, she is not yet tame. There is often a harshness in Wyatt's response to the fickle nature of women. In ‘The Lovely Sparks’, what begins with a flash of passion leaves the narrator blind and helpless.

  3. 3

    How does Wyatt's work exemplify the Tudor age? Look at social as well as political references to the court of Henry VIII.

    The Tudor age, especially under King Henry VIII, was one of upheaval. Wyatt was a part of Henry’s court and was therefore privy to the inner-workings of his monarchy. Henry VIII is remembered mainly for his six tumultuous marriages and his splitting from the Roman Catholic Church. Henry’s whims often made enemies of even his closest consorts – Wyatt included. Poems like 'Whoso List To Hunt?' and 'They Flee From Me' illustrate how dangerous both social and political affiliations could be. The former is rumored to allude to Anne Boleyn as symbolized by a hind that is not tame though it wears a collar proclaiming Caesar as her owner. Allegedly, Wyatt was a lover of Boleyn’s prior to her becoming queen. When she was imprisoned by her husband for adultery, Wyatt was arrested as well. Love is a dangerous game in the Tudor court. ‘They Flee From Me’ is written from the perspective of a person whose former friends have abandoned him. Wyatt, victim to shifting allegiances, could certainly write from experience.

    Henry VIII was also a cultured man, and his court reflected his appreciation for wit. ‘Blame Not My Lute’ cleverly illustrates the difficulty of diplomacy, as the narrator, as a messenger, asks not to be blamed for relaying criticism. ‘Forget Not Yet’ is a plea to see loyalty affirmed, as a courtier must have longed for in the service of a fickle king.

  4. 4

    Compare and contrast 'My Lute, Awake' and 'Blame Not Thy Lute'.

    'My Lute Awake' is filled with discontent and anger towards the audience and their rejection of the narrator. Reference to the song being directed to a former lover, but perhaps also offering social comment on relationships within the court may be anticipated. Similarly, 'Blame Not My Lute' also reflects on on the affairs of court as well as the affairs of the heart. The differences between the two texts could include reference to the futility which seems to be experienced by the narrator in the former text, in contrast with the more assertive and determined conclusions of the latter.

  5. 5

    Wyatt has been condemned as simply a poor translator of the works of others. Refute this sentiment with specific textual reference.

    Wyatt’s reverence for Petrarch’s work is eclipsed by his own point of view. Wyatt does not merely translate the Italian’s poems, he transforms them into his own work and uses them to illustrate contemporary themes by altering style, tone and emphasis. For example, Petrarch’s poem that ‘Whoso List To Hunt?’ is translated from must have struck a chord with Wyatt. In his adaptation, Wyatt changes details and language in order to communicate his frustrations over losing Anne Boleyn through the hind’s diamond collar.

    Wyatt’s use of another man’s work to express opinions that would not be welcomed in a court ruled by a king quick to imprison those who disagree is particularly cunning. It is rumored his dissatisfaction with the relationships with the women in his life were also detailed in ‘My Heart I Gave Thee’, ‘Farewell, Love’ and ‘Divers Doth Use’. As an ambassador and diplomat, ‘My Galley Charged’ must have also had a resonance with Wyatt. As a courtier, he often travelled overseas on behalf of the king and the turbulence of the sea can be interpreted as a metaphor for the sometimes-troubling personal and professional entanglements of the Tudor court.

  6. 6

    Select four sonnets to illustrate Wyatt's skill in using the form to portray the issues and concerns of his age.

    Wyatt helped introduce the sonnet to English poetry by adapting Italian poet Petrarch's work. Petrarch's sonnets typically detail a romance. In his work, Wyatt was able to convey contemporary issues under the guise of translation. The themes of forsaken love, political intrigue, the challenges of the social climate and the fatal consequences of displeasing the monarch populate Wyatt's sonnets. 'Whoso List To Hunt?', 'Farewell, Love', 'My Heart I Gave Thee' and 'I Find No Peace' all reference the displeasure of an ended affair. Both 'Whoso List to Hunt?' and 'Farewell, Love' contain jaded narrators who no longer wish to pursue the love of a fickle woman. 'I Find No Peace' takes this theme to extremes, as the narrator rails against the torturous conditions of his affair, but also is powerless to break free. His pleasure is paradoxically responsible for his pain. Relationships in the Tudor court were often fraught with peril. 'My Heart I Gave Thee' can be interpreted as a cry from a spurned lover but can also be read as a courtier expressing frustration at being forsaken by his lord despite his loyalty. The sonnet's terse style and vagueness concerning the audience of the poem (i.e., no references to a 'lady') leaves the sonnet open to multiple interpretations.

  7. 7

    Wyatt often uses literary devices such as personification, symbolism, metaphor and simile. Citing specific examples from at least three poems, analyze Wyatt's use of these techniques.

    Wyatt's usage of a range of literary devices cements his poetic legacy. Often Wyatt employed these devices to express the dangers of court life through less direct means. For example, in 'Whoso List to Hunt?', Wyatt symbolizes an untamed woman (thought to be Anne Boleyn) through the diamond-collared hind. The hind is a creation of Petrarch, as Wyatt's work is a translation of one of the Italian poet's sonnets. But just as adaptation helps Wyatt hide his truths behind the words of others, the symbolism of the hind allows him to voice his judgment through less direct terms. Here, the symbolism is not just an example of literary prowess, but also a mode self-preservation.

    'The Lively Sparks' contains several types of light to symbolize a woman's affections and its effect on the narrator. Her love begins as beautiful sparks, then becomes aggressive sunbeams, then dangerous lightning and finally blinding blaze. The stronger their relationship, the more damage she inflicts on the narrator.

    Wyatt's superior wit is on display in several of his sonnets. In 'My Heart I Gave Thee', there is a striking metaphor in the closing couplet:

    'For he that believeth bearing in hand,

    Plougheth in water and soweth in the sand'

    The pointlessness of pursuing a love that cannot be is beautifully drawn in these lines. Another example of metaphor is the stormy sea in 'My Galley Charged', representing lost faith and the tumultuous life of a diplomat for a fickle monarch.

    The simile 'Like lice away from dead bodies they crawl' from 'Lux! My Fair Falcon' is a particularly vivid image that evokes Wyatt's disgust of betrayal. His narrator is the dead body in question, and his abandoning friends are the lice. He may be powerless but his friends are mere parasites.

    Wyatt personifies Love in 'Farewell, Love' by capitalizing the word in the opening line. He abandons her for the loftier company of Seneca and Plato and orders her to 'trouble younger hearts'. Personifying Love operates much like the symbolism of the hind. Wyatt can direct his ire towards an embodiment of the emotion and not name the real person (who would perhaps be known throughout court). Wyatt sidesteps shame with his wit.

  8. 8

    Wyatt's narrators often have a matured point of view. Using specific examples, discuss three poems that feature the voice of wisdom.

    The narrators in 'Whoso List to Hunt?', 'Divers Doth Use', and 'A Renouncing of Love' have similar points of view regarding love. In 'Whoso List to Hunt?', the narrator has lost his taste for the hunt. He is wearied and knows that to pursue the hind is a 'vail travail'. The narrator likens the pursuit to catching wind in a net; he knows it will amount to nothing. He warns that though the hind wears a collar proclaiming her property of Caesar, she is still wild. The narrator appears to be speaking from experience.

    In 'Divers Doth Use', the narrator criticizes men who react childishly to a woman's fickleness. He rails against those who wail and wallow in sorrow. And he also chastises those who hypocritically defame a woman's proclivity towards infidelity while on the prowl for other women. Instead, the narrator chooses to accept women's nature and let the bitterness pass.

    Wyatt takes this position a step further in 'A Renouncing of Love (Farewell, Love)'. He personifies Love and orders her to bother younger men. The narrator is wiser now and seeks out the company of Seneca and Plato rather than that of a woman who would betray him. Wyatt exalts scholarship as worthwhile and pure.