The poet first bids goodbye forever to Love personified and its rules. He states that the ‘baited hooks’ will no longer ensnare him. He is called away from Love by Seneca and Plato to the real riches of wit and intellect.
He gives the reason for this change of heart in line 5 and 6, as he sees that when he made ignorant mistakes, the cruel words of Love pricked him, and instructed him instead in pointless lessons that he no longer cares for. In line 8 he says that he has escaped since freedom is his lever. Another interpretation of this line utilizes preferable as the meaning for 'lever'; Wyatt is saying freedom is preferable to love.
In the final sestet, the poet takes his leave of Love, directing it to ‘younger hearts’. He claims that Love no longer has any authority over him, and suggests it takes its offerings to the young and lazy. In line 12 he suggests that Love uses up its fragile arrows, as although he has lost time over Love, he will no longer climb rotten branches to reach his goal.
It is important to remember that Wyatt’s use of punctuation was limited and sporadic. He did not capitalize to indicate personification, so later editors capitalized ‘Love’. It is still likely, however, that love is being personified here. In renouncing the ‘laws’ of love, the poet is rejecting the rules of court and society as well as the emotional effects of intense relationships. The metaphor of ‘baited hooks’ works as an allegory for fishing, but also presents as an oxymoron in the ‘bait’ being the pleasure and the ‘hook’ being the painful consequence of the former.
By the third line, the poet tells us that he is now drawn to more cerebral concerns, namely studying the philosophies of Plato and Seneca. Seneca was commonly studied at universities in Tudor times. A Stoic, Seneca asserted that there were three choices of how to live; a life of theory, a life of politics and a life of pleasure. Here the poet is advocating leaving pleasure behind to focus on a more ‘perfect wealth’ of education and politics. It is possible to read ‘perfect’ as a verb as well as a noun; and this interpretation would imply that the poet is to devote his time to greater study and self-improvement.
He explains in line 5 how he was forced into ‘blind error’, implying that he has been blinded by love to make poor choices. The reader may be reminded of the lines from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice –
‘But love is blind and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit’ (Act II Scene 6)
However, Shakespeare did not compose these lines until 1596. It is likely that the theory of blinding love had circulated in popular consciousness before Shakespeare immortalized the words.
The narrator was pricked by the cruel insults and feels he was instructed in things he now considers pointless. In line 8 the narrator explains that he has escaped, devoting himself to freedom which extracts him from the bonds of love. He tells love to seek out ’younger hearts’, indicating more naïve and innocent lovers who have yet to develop the cynicism he now feels.
He is relieved by line 10, as he realizes that Love no longer has power and authority over him. He directs Love to the young who are less busy on other affairs (we know Wyatt himself had an extensive political portfolio as part of the court) and to share the wealth of love with them. He suggests Love uses its ‘brittle darts’ on these more vulnerable prey as, although he has lost time in his pointless dalliance with Love, he has learned to not pursue a pointless objective, which is illustrated in the metaphor forming the last line of the poem – ‘Me list no longer rotten boughs to clime.’
The poet’s message may intentionally be being conveyed to others at court, pointing out that the various relationships and complications within the social environment of the court often distracted officials from their true courtly duties. The point may perhaps even have been directed at Henry VIII himself, as indeed his sexual desires and changes of attentions led to deaths, charges of treason and even major changes of law to facilitate the king’s desires.