c.1520Marriage to Elizabeth Brooke; they separated after having one son (born c.1521) 1524Clerk of the King’s Jewels 1525Esquire of the King’s Body 1526Member of diplomatic mission to France 1527Diplomatic mission to the Papal court in Rome, Venice and Ferrara 1528Presented Katherine of Aragon with Quyete of Mynde, translated by himself from a Latin version of a Plutarch text 1529-High Marshall of Calais; commissioner of the peace 1532for Essex; becoming friendly with Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son who was to become Henry VIII’s chief minister
‘Wyatt, like the other court writers, was merely supplying material for social occasions’ (H. A. Mason, quoted by Greenblatt). ‘We are having a little music after supper…all the confessional or autobiographical tone of the songs falls away’ (C. S. Lewis, quoted by Greenblatt). ‘Entertainments in the court of Henry VIII were perhaps less lighthearted than Lewis’s charming account suggests; conversation with the king himself must have been like small talk with Stalin’ (Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning).
‘A code that associated gentlemanly conduct with masculine assertiveness existed alongside the client courtier’s need for deference, flexibility, and, on occasion, tolerance of humiliation. […] Service to the king involved attendance at court, traditionally perceived as a place of idleness, vice and insecurity […] associated with women and a threatening effeminacy.’ ‘Accomplished performance in the various pastimes of the court was a necessary prelude to promotion in the royal service. […] Courtly lyrics may be understood [in the context] of a need to assert masculine credentials in aggression and competitive display. Like tournaments, balets [verses] were designed as much to vaunt the machismo and display the skill of the writer, as to please and divert an ostensibly female audience’ (Elizabeth Heale, Wyatt, Surrey and Early Tudor Poetry).
‘Through a discourse of misogyny, balet-making, singing, the exchanges of erotic dalliance could be wrested to assert a male solidarity and scorn of women. The threat of dishonour could be commuted from royal service to amorous service, bringing with it the the imagined possibility of retaliation and the returned insult. Desires and resentments aroused by the fickle favours of monarchs could be explored and expressed in balets in terms of a feminized Dame Fortune, or fickle mistress. By strenuously asserting his own masculine trustiness in the face of a feminized treachery and betrayal, the courtier could display his own reliability and virtue … a poetic discourse of misogyny could displace into safer forms the frustrations and resentments of courtly life.’ ‘Wyatt’s poetry can be understood in terms of its negotiation between what was conceived of as the dangerous charisma of a riggish [promiscuous] court, and a defensive rhetoric of male self- determination and honour.’ (Heale)
1533Joined the court of Anne Boleyn 1534Imprisoned in the Fleet for affray in which a sergeant was killed 1536Imprisoned in the Tower along with those accused of adultery with Anne Boleyn, where he probably witnessed her execution; released (also probably) thanks to Thomas Cromwell, and sent temporarily to Allington 1537About this time Elizabeth Darrell, former maid-of-honour to Katherine of Aragon, became his mistress; they had one known son
If waker care, if sodayne pale Coulo r if many sighes w t litle speche to playne now ioy, now woo, if they my chere distayne for hope of smalle if muche to fere therfor To hast to slake my passe lesse or more by [?be] signe of love then do I love agayne if thow aske whome, sure sins I did refrayne brunetmy welth such her y t did set o r country in a rore Thunfayned chere of phillis hath y e place y t brunet had she hath and ever shal she from my self now hath me in her grace She hath in hand my witt my will and all my hert alone wel worthie she doth staye w t out whose helpe skant do I live a daye ‘If waker care’ (Scribal hand, revised by Wyatt ‘Book of Sir Thomas Wyatt, BL, Egerton MS 2711)
1537-Ambassador to Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V; 1540allegations of treason made against Wyatt 1540Thomas Cromwell executed (‘The pillar perished is’ probably written in response); allegations revived and Wyatt imprisoned in Tower; pardoned after intervention by Queen Katherine (Howard) on condition that he take back his wife 1542 Following rapid rehabilitation, Wyatt resumed his courtly career; contracted a fever after going to meet a Spanish envoy at Falmouth, and died October 1642
Reherse here the lawe of wordes. Declare, my lords, I beseke you, the meaninge thereof. This includythe that wordes maliciouslie spoken or trayterously agaynste the kynges persone shuld be taken for treasone […] For in some lyttell thynge may apere the truthe which I dare saye you seke for your consciens sake. And besydys that, yt is a smale thynge in alteringe of one syllable ether with penne or worde that may mayk in the conceavinge of the truthe myche matter or error. For in thys thynge ‘I fere’, or ‘I truste’, semethe but one smale syllable chaynged, and yet it makethe a great dyfferaunce […] yea and the settinge of the wordes one in an others place may mayke greate dyfferaunce, tho the wordes were all one – as a ‘myll horse’ and ‘a horse myll’. ‘Defence’ To the Iudges after the Indictement and the evidence, summer 1641)
‘It may be good’ It may be good like it who list but I do dowbt who can me blame for oft assured yet have I myst and now again I fere the same The wyndy wordes the Ies quaynt game of soden chaunge maketh me agast for dred to fall I stond not fast Alas I tred an endles maze that seketh to accorde two contraries and hope still & nothing hase imprisoned in libertes as oon unhard & and still that cries alwaies thursty & yet nothing I tast for dred to fall I stond not fast Assured I dowbt I be not sure and should I trust to suche suretie that oft hath put the prouff in ure and never hath founde it trusty nay sir In faith it were great foly and yet my liff thus I do wast for dred to fall I stond not fast The Lover taught, mistrusteth Allurements IT may be good, like it who list; But I do doubt: who can me blame? For oft assured, yet have I mist; And now again I fear the same. The words that from your mouth last came Of sudden change, make me aghast; For dread to fall, I stand not fast. Alas, I tread an endless maze, That seek t’ accord two contraries; And hope thus still, and nothing hase, Imprisoned in liberties; As one unheard, and still that cries; Always thirsty, and nought doth taste; For dread to fall, I stand not fast. Assured, I doubt I be not sure; Should I then trust unto such surety; That oft hath put the proof in ure, And never yet have found it trusty? Nay, sir, in faith, it were great folly: And yet my life thus do I waste; For dread to fall, I stand not fast.
Tagus, fare well, that westward with thy stremis, Turns up the grayns of gold already tryd : With spurr and sayle for I go seke the Temis, Gaynward the sonne that showth her welthi pryd : And to the town which Brutus sowght by dremis. Like bendyd mone doth lend her lusty syd : My Kyng my Contry alone for whome I lyve : Of myghty love the winges for this me gyve. (Egerton MS, Wyatt’s hand) Tagus, farewell, that westward with thy streams, Turns up the grains of gold already tried, With spur and sail for I go seek the Thames, Gainward the sun that shew’th her wealthy pride, And, to the town which Brutus sought by dreams, Like bended moon doth lend her lusty side. My king, my country, alone for whom I live, Of mighty love the wings for this me give. (Complete Poems, ed. Rebholz)
Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca) (1304-74) Rime Sparse (‘scattered rhymes’) or Il Canzoniere (‘the songbook’) The Rime consist of a series of 366 poems, of which 317 are sonnets, written over 40 years
‘Imitation’ as a literary form came out of the rediscovery of the classics, resurrecting them by imitating and responding to them; ‘what Petrarch chose to do as a poet was to write verse … that demanded to be subread, verse bearing within it the latent presence of an ancient author’; ‘it is an intimate, delicate, and subtle conversation with a voice of the ancient past’. It involves recognition of ‘otherness’, a discovery that cultural styles alter with time, like languages (Thomas M. Greene, The Light in Troy). ‘A proper imitator should take care that what he writes resemble the original without reproducing it. The resemblance should not be that of a portrait to the sitter … but it should be the resemblance of a son to his father’ (letter of Petrarch). ‘Imitation at its most powerful requires a profound act of self- knowledge and then a creative act of self-definition’ (Greene).
Geoffrey Chaucer reading his poems to Richard II and his court (Frontispiece to Troilus and Criseyde; Corpus Christi, Cambridge, MS 61, c. 1415) In Troilus Chaucer translated and imitated Petrarch’s sonnet 132, but didn’t use the sonnet form; like the rest of the poem it’s in rhyme royal, the form used by Wyatt for ‘They flee from me’.
Wyatt’s metrical intentions remain one of the most enduring of prosodic mysteries, and I have no solution to offer. Derek Attridge, The Rhythms of English Poetry (1982) Wyatt’s revisions of his poems in the Egerton MS […] suggest his priorities in composition: first, sense or meaning; second, rhyme; third, the iambic pentameter line; and finally, the line of five feet. Wyatt, I think, regards precision, clarity, or concentration of meaning as of primary importance. R. A. Rebholz, introduction to Sir Thomas Wyatt: the Complete Poems (Penguin, 1978) Disruption of an iambic meter [is] attainable in several ways: extra stresses in the line, missing stresses in the line, or extra unstressed syllables […]. The general principles of rhythm apply: as long as the reader’s perceptual frame, “the metrical set,” is not broken, considerable variation is possible; […] so long as the iambic metrical set is preserved, they are perceived as complications, not violations. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (2012)
Poetic forms and genres ‘Balets’ or lyric verse Sonnets Rondeaux Epigrams Strambotti Ballades Epistolary satires ‘Mine own John Poins’ ‘My mother’s maids when they did sew and spin’ ‘“A spending hand that alway poureth out”’ Penitential Psalms
The pillar perished is whereto I lent The strongest stay of mine unquiet mind; The like of it no man again can find – From east to west still seeking though he went – To mine unhap for hap away hath rent Of all my joy the very bark and rind, And I, alas, by chance am thus assigned Dearly to mourn till death do it relent, But since that thus it is by destiny, What can I more but have a woeful heart, My pen in plaint, my voice in woeful cry, My mind in woe, my body full of smart, And I myself myself always to hate Till dreadfull death do cease my dolefull state? Broken are the high Column and green Laurel that gave shade to my weary cares; I have lost what I do not hope to find again, from Boreas to Auster or from the Indian to the Moorish Sea. You have taken from me, O Death, my double treasure that made me live glad and walk proudly; neither land nor empire can restore it, not orient gem, nor the power of gold. But, since this is the intent of destiny, what can I do except have my soul sad, my eyes always wet, and my face bent down? Oh our life that is so beautiful to see, how easily it loses on one morning what has been acquired with great difficulty over many years! (Petrarch, Rime 269, trans. Robert M. Durling) Sonnet generally regarded as written on the death of Thomas Cromwell, in imitation of Petrarch’s poem on the deaths of his patron Giovanni Colonna and ‘Laura’
Stand whoso list upon the slipper top Of court’s estates, and let me here rejoice And use me quiet without let or stop, Unknown in court that hath such brackish joys. In hidden place so let my days forth pass That, when my years be done withouten noise, I may die aged after the common trace. For him death grip’th right hard by the crop That is much known of other, and of himself, alas, Doth die unknown, dazed, with dreadful face. Chorus of Citizens of Mycenae. Let him stand who will, in pride of power, on empire’s slippery height; let me be filled with sweet repose; in humble station fixed, let me enjoy untroubled ease, and to my fellow citizens unknown, let my life’s stream flow in silence. So when my days have passed noiselessly away, lowly may I die and full of years. On him does death lie heavily, who, but too well known to all, dies to himself unknown. Seneca, Thyestes, trans. Frank Justus Miller
Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind, But as for me, helas, I may no more. The vain travail hath wearied me so sore, I am of them that farthest cometh 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 Sithens 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.’ A white doe on the green grass appeared to me, with two golden horns, between two rivers, in the shade of a laurel, when the sun was rising in the unripe season. Her look was so sweet and proud that to follow her I left every task, like the miser who as he seeks treasure sweetens his trouble with delight. ‘Let no one touch me,’ she bore written with diamonds and topazes around her lovely neck. ‘It has pleased my Caesar to make me free.’ And the sun had already turned at midday; my eyes were tired by looking but not sated, when I fell into the water, and she disappeared. (Petrarch, Rime 190, trans. Robert M. Durling)
Hans Holbein the Younger, Noli me Tangere (1524)
They flee from me that sometime did me seek With naked foot stalking in my chamber. I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek That now are wild and do not remember That sometime they put themself in danger To take bread at my hand; and now they range Busily seeking with a continual change. Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise Twenty times better, but once in special, In thin array after a pleasant guise, When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall And she caught me in her arms long and small, Therewithal sweetly did me kiss And softly said, ‘Dear heart, how like you this?’ It was no dream: I lay broad waking. But all is turned thorough my gentleness Into a strange fashion of forsaking. And I have leave to go of her goodness And she also to use newfangleness. But since that I so kindly am served I would fain know what she hath deserved.
Mine own John Poins, since ye delight to know The cause why that homeward I me draw, (And flee the press of courts, whereso they go, Rather than to live thrall under the awe Of lordly looks) wrapped within my cloak, To will and lust learning to set a law; It is not for because I scorn or mock The power of them, to whom Fortune hath lent Charge over us, of right to strike the stroke. But true it is that I have always meant Less to esteem them than the common sort, Of outward things that judge in their intent Without regard what doth inward resort. […] The friendly foe, with his double face Say he is gentle and courteous therewithal; And say that favel hath a goodly grace In eloquence; and cruelty to name Zeal of justice, and change in time and place; And he that suffereth offence without blame Call him pitiful, and him true and plain That raileth reckless to every man's shame; Say he is rude that cannot lie and feign, The lecher a lover, and tyranny To be the right of a prince's reign. I cannot, I: no, no, it will not be. This is the cause that I could never yet Hang on their sleeves that weigh, as thou mayst see, A chip of chance more than a pound of wit. This maketh me at home to hunt and to hawk, And in foul weather at my book to sit; In frost and snow then with my bow to stalk; No man doth mark whereso I ride or go: In lusty leas at liberty I walk. And of these news I feel nor weal nor woe, Save that a clog doth hang yet at my heel. No force for that, for it is ordered so, That I may leap both hedge and dyke full well. I am not now in France, to judge the wine, With sav’ry sauce the delicates to feel; Nor yet in Spain, where one must him incline Rather than to be, outwardly to seem: I meddle not with wits that be so fine. […] But here I am in Kent and Christendom Among the Muses, where I read and rhyme; Where if thou list, my Poins, for to come, Thou shalt be judge how I do spend my time.