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The Poets

June 16, 2009

Whoso List to Hunt: A Wyatt Sonnet


She must have been some kind of Helen, this Anne Boleyn. The court of King Henry VIII- at least the men of it- seem to have been entirely enamored by her beauty (a beauty that brought many of them into sharp competition for her hand). Among the would-be suitors was the courtly poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt. The beauty of this Helen produced within him something akin to obsessive desires. Indeed, because the king himself both pursued and ultimately married Boleyn, Wyatt’s obsessive desires were dangerous ones (it’s rumored that he and her were secretly involved).


Whoso List to Hunt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, 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.


Of the Poem:

Coming to terms with Wyatt’s English terms:

-Whoso list: whoever wishes
-hind: female deer
-hélas: alas
-vain travail: futile labor
-deer: playing on the word "dear"
-Sithens: since
-Noli me tangere: "touch me not"


****************

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind

Whoso list to hunt essentially means ‘whoever wishes’ to hunt. The hind, or deer, of the hunt is an obvious reference to Anne Boleyn. The pursuit of her has wearied our poet to the point that he seems to have had enough, and, because so many other suitors seem ahead of him on the chase (particularly Henry himself), he seems to give it up:

But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.

and

... as she fleeth afore / Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore ...

Wyatt also seems to warn other suitors of the futility of the hunt:

Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.

However, and most important, was the danger of pursuing her at all. The poet elaborates on a diamond necklace worn by the deer.

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.


Inscribed on it was a phase (or rather warning): Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am. Noli me tangere is Latin for “touch me not” (the exact same phrase employed by the Vulgate when a resurrected Christ warned Mary that he had not yet ascended to the father- John 20:17). Clearly Caesar is king Henry VIII, hence the warning: Do Not Touch - Property of the King.

The warning went unheard. Eventually several men (along with our poet and Anne herself) were arrested and charged with adultery- some with treason! Wyatt escaped judgment, but others suffered a grisly execution, as did Queen Anne.

I read this poem a while ago and instantly liked it- especially after having learned a little bit about the poem's background, and more so about the poet himself.

Hope you enjoy it as well.

5 comments:

Doug P. Baker said...

I love how the image of the deer and the hunt is carried through in the whole poem, not just used as a passing image. A very moving sonnet!

Patrick said...

Nice work, John. I like you're analysis and I'll be checking in to read more. Looks like your blog is just getting started.

Gemma said...

Thanks so much! Your analysis has helped me a lot!

goti B said...

the most beautiful thing with the sonnet is that Sir Wyatt has very beautifully taken his freedom to impersonate Anne Boyle as an hind(he does not use 'deer')and remarks the futility of the chase by mentioning 'noli me tangere' ........

Anonymous said...

If you really like this poem, you may want to read a translation of poem number 190 in Petrarch's Canzoniere.

As of April 9th, 2010