A Poem by Thomas Wyatt (1503?-1542)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings..© 2010
......."Whoso List to Hunt" is an alternate title for Thomas Wyatt's "The Lover Despairing to Attain Unto His Lady's Grace Relinquisheth the Pursuit." The longer title says that a lover pursuing a woman gives up the chase because he despairs of winning her favor.
.......Whoso List to Hunt is a sonnet, a lyric poem with fourteen lines and a specific rhyme scheme.
.......Richard Tottel published Whoso List to Hunt in London in 1557 in an anthology entitled Songes and Sonettes Written by the Ryght honorable Lord Henry Howard, late Earle of Surrey, and others. The volume contained a total of two hundred seventy-one poems.
.......The poem has a rhyme scheme of abba abba cbbc bb. The meter is iambic pentameter, a pattern in which a line has five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllablesten syllables in all. However, several lines in "Whoso List to Hunt" have extra syllables. Lines 2 and 3 reveal the predominant iambic-pentameter pattern:.....1............2...............3.............4............5
But AS..|..for ME,..|..hé LAS,..|..I may..|..no more.
The VAIN..|..tra VAIL..|..hath WEAR..|..ied ME..|..so SOREBackground and Summary of the Poem
.......Thomas Wyatt's father was a member of the Privy Council of England's King Henry VIII. This factalong with Thomas's good looks, sociability, and knowledge of foreign languages and musicenabled him to make inroads at the king's court. He served Henry in various roles, most notably as a diplomat in France and
Italy. In the latter country, he became interested in the sonnets of Petrarch. The sonnetsonetto in Italianwas a type of poem that had not yet been introduced to England. After returning home, Wyatt translated many of Petrarch's sonnets into English and began writing his own sonnets.
.......Yet I find it difficult to take my mind off the deer, and as she continues to run I follow. But I weaken; my enthusiasm is gone. Consequently, I am quitting the chase since trying to catch the deer is as futile as trying to catch the wind in a net. I advise others to quit the chase too, lest their time is wasted. Be aware that the hind wears a necklace encrusted with diamonds that spell out a warning that no hunter dares to touch her, for she belongs to the ruler of the land and she is wild even though she seems tame.
Text of the Poem
.......Following is the 1557 text of the poem, followed by explanatory notes.
Whoso List to Hunt
By Thomas Wyatt
Whoso1list2to hunt, I know where is an hind,3
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Who list her hunt,8I put him out of doubt,
Noli me tangere,10for Caesar's11I am,
1....Whoso: Whosoever, whoever.
.......The speaker chases a woman whom he cannotand must notcatch, for she is a prize of the ruler of the land. If the speaker continues to pursue her, he will incur the wrath of the ruler and probably lose his head. In real life, King Henry VIII accused Wyatt of committing adultery with his wife, Ann Boleyn (apparently the hind in the poem), and imprisoned him in the Tower of London in 1536. The charges against him were dismissed. Ironically, it was Ann Boleyn who lost her head in the same year as Wyatt's imprisonment after she fell out of favor with the king.
Bowing to Absolute Power
.......There comes a time when the wisest course in a struggle to achieve a goal is to cease striving. Such is the case with the author of "Whoso List to Hunt," Thomas Wyatt. When pursuing Ann Boleyn, he encounters an all-powerful rival, King Henry VIII. What the headstrong Henry wants, he gets. Wyatt well knows that defying the headstrong Henry can only result in an appointment with an executioner. Consequently, he yields to the king. Wyatt's poem is an allegory that explains the futility of opposing an irresistible force.
.......The poem can stand as a metaphor for the frustration a person experiences after circumstances prevent him or her from achieving a goal. This is a timeless theme that occurs frequently in literature. In Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, for example, the title character's ridiculously long nose prevents
him from competing for the hand of the woman he loves. In the story of Tantalus in Greek mythology, the gods of Olympus cast Tantalus, a Lydian king, into Hades for offending them. There, he stands in a pool of water. Above him is a fruit tree. Whenever he tries to quench his thirst by stooping to drink from the pool, the water recedes. Whenever he tries to satisfy his hunger with fruit from the
tree, the wind blows the fruit out of his reach. Tantalus is thus doomed to spending eternity in frustration.
Examples of figures of speech in the poem are the following:Line 1:...Metaphor: comparison of a woman to a hind (female deer)
Line 1: ..Alliteration: Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind
Line 3: ..Alliteration: so sore
Line 5:...Alliteration: Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Line 8:...Metaphor: comparison of the task of catching and winning the woman to catching wind with a net.
Line 14:.Paradox: And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.Study Questions and Writing Topics
1...Write a sonnet on a topic of your choice.
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