Thursday, March 11, 2021

Thomas Wyatt



Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
  But as for me, alas, I may no more.
  The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
  I am of them that farthest come behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
  Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
  Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt
  As well as I may spend his time in vain;
  And, graven with diamonds, in letters plain
There is written her fair neck round about:
  Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am
  And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

-Sir Thomas Wyatt

The very first sonnet in that Oxford Book of [English-language] Sonnets.

For the moment this is standing in for the fact that I finished rereading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. While nobody really knows for sure who slept with whom in the 1500s, the hind of this poem is generally taken to be Anne Boleyn. Mantel certainly assumes this poem is about Anne, and alludes to it, though she also has Wyatt tell Thomas Cromwell he had not slept with her. In fact, for Hilary Mantel, Anne Boleyn is still a virgin the first time she sleeps with Henry.

If indeed this poem is about Anne Boleyn, then Caesar is Henry the VIIIth. Noli me tangere is 'Hands off!' or more literally, 'Don't touch me.'

I am intending to try to say something about Wolf Hall, which I reread recently because Brona is hosting a readalong.


  1. the start of a new age in poetry; Surrey was jealous and tried to follow suit, not too successfully... have you read Geo. Saintsbury on the Elizabethans?

    1. It is pretty much the whole start of the love sonnet in English thing. Hence #1 in the book.

      I've never read anything by Saintsbury, though I know of him. Is he good?

    2. he's a bit.. well, a lot conservative, but he really knew his stuff and was a dynamite writer, imo of course...

  2. Love that Thomas Wyatt sonnet! :D

    1. It's a fun one, and the history only adds to it.

  3. I only know of Wyatt from the Mantel Cromwell novels (which I loved).

    1. I haven't read much of him--only a few that are in anthologies. And this one is generally there, because it's so caught up in the whole Tudor thing.

  4. I nearly included this one in my Wolf Hall post, but decided to go for the one about a scorned lover, and where he may or may not have referred to Anne as a mule!

    1. Anne Boleyn doesn't come off that well in Mantel, but if Ye Old Mule is Anne, well, ouch! Wyatt was feeling a little unhappy...

  5. Darn! I missed a good readalong. But I'm probably over-promised already. Thanks for the poem though! I have you and Cirtnecce to thank for continually helping me with my near-failed poetry quest!

    1. We'll get you to read more poetry one way or another!

    Formal, quaint, precise, and trim,
    You begin your steps demurely-
    There's a spirit almost prim
    In the feet that move so surely.
    So discreetly, to the chime
    Of the music that so sweetly
    Marks the time.
    But the chords begin to tinkle
    And your feet they flash and flicker-
    Flash and flutter to a tricksy
    Fickle meter;
    And you foot it like a pixie-
    Only fleeter!
    Not our current, dowdy
    "Turkey trots" and rowdy
    For they made you overseas
    In politer times than these
    In an age when grace could please,
    Ere St. Vitus
    Clutched and shook us, spine and knees;
    Loosed a plague of jerks to smite us!
    -Don Marquis

    1. Ha! That's great. The only Marquis I've read are the archy and mehitabel ones.