Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday poetry - Sir Thomas Wyatt

I've made a start on the poetry anthology I picked up off the shelf last weekend as I was dusting. I've made my way from Chaucer to the 16th century. Sir Thomas Wyatt has always been a favourite of mine. He had such a thwarted, melancholy life & these feelings come through strongly in his poetry. I think you can see it in this lovely Holbein drawing too. Look at those sad eyes & droopy moustache. He was a courtier at Henry VIII's Court & some say he was in love with Anne Boleyn until the King took an interest & Wyatt had to step aside. One of my favourite sonnets of his, not in this anthology, is said to be about their relationship. It ends,

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.'

Noli me tangere (Touch me not) because Caesar (Henry) has claimed Anne for his own. Wyatt was caught up in the events surrounding Anne's downfall in 1536 & was imprisoned in the Tower when Anne, her brother, George, & the other men accused of being her lovers, were executed. Wyatt was lucky to escape with his life but the experience haunted him for the rest of his short life. He died of a fever in 1542.

This poem from G B Harrison's Book of English Poetry is sad, resigned but also angry about the end of a love affair.

And wilt thou leave me thus?
Say nay, say nay, for shame!
To save thee from the blame
Of all my grief and grame.
And wilt thou leave me thus?
Say nay, say nay.

And wilt thou leave me thus,
That hath loved thee so long
In wealth and woe among:
And is thy heart so strong
As for to leave me thus?
Say nay, say nay.

And wilt thou leave me thus,
That hath given thee my heart
Never for to depart
Neither for pain nor smart:
And wilt thou leave me thus?
Say nay, say nay.

And wilt thou leave me thus
And have no more pity
Of him that loveth thee?
Alas, thy cruelty!
And wilt thou leave me thus?
Say nay, say nay.


  1. I love Wyatt's poetry and this sent me straight bcd to my own collection which is never far away from me. My personal favourite is the one that begins

    Forget not yet the tried intent
    Of such a truth as I have meant:
    My great travail so gladly spent
    Forget not yet.

    Thank you for bringing him to mind this morning.

  2. I've always felt so sorry for Thomas Wyatt. What a brutal time he lived in. And to be in love with someone the king wanted! I'm off to look up his poems again, too... Thanks! :)

  3. Annie, I also love The Lover Complaineth the Unkindness of His Love (although nearly all his poems could be called that!). I think of it as the Lute poem. It begins,
    My lute, awake, perform the last
    Labout that thou and I shall waste,
    And end that I have now begun,
    And when this song is sung and past,
    My lute, be still, for I have done.

    Penny, I feel sorry for him too. He wasn't a happy man & was unhappy in love too.