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Sir Thomas Wyatt's "They Flee From Me"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Introduction and Excerpt from "They Flee from Me"

Sir Thomas Wyatt's "They Flee from Me," written circa 1535, features three septets (seven line stanzas), each with the rime scheme, ABACCDD. Written during the pre-Elizabethan English period, the poem effuses the technical and artistic flavor of the times, including the rhythmic iambic pentameter

The speaker reports his having fallen out of favor with certain women, especially one that he remembers fondly. The speaker offers no reason for losing the attention of these woman; he seems confused but at the same time, he wants to report faithfully the situation. Likely, the speaker just wants to allow his listeners/reader to draw their own conclusions.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Excerpt from "They Flee from Me"

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. . . .

To read the entire poem, please visit "They Flee from Me" at Poetry Foundation.

Commentary

The speaker in Wyatt's most anthologized poem dramatizes the nature of regret after having fallen from favor.

First Septet: Eager Now to Avoid Him

The speaker observes that the women who used to be eager for the speaker's attention now ignore him; they seem to be eager now to avoid him as they "flee from [him]." The speaker implies that these women would slip into his bedroom, likely hoping to engage him sexually. He describes the women as "gentle, tame, and meek" in their behavior back when they also seemed to be "stalking" him. But now those same woman dart from him and are "now wild and do not remember" that they would go out of their way to be near him.

The women would defy "danger" for just a crumb of his attention. Now they "range" or run wildly about searching for attention in other places, probably from other men. The speaker is working to cover his resentment by noting the changes in these women's behavior, and he, thus, paints them as somewhat psychologically unbalanced in their vacillation of feeling for the speaker. This speaker, however, never offers any reason—nor does he even speculate about it—that the women who so ardently sought him now fervently disregard him.

Poets often skirt the issue of reason for the behavior or experiences they are dramatizing because quite often reasons for behavior can become lame excuses. But more importantly, poets usually are more interested and invested in the acts themselves than what motives them. Motives are hidden; acts are out in the open for all to see, observe, muse on, and evaluate.

Second Septet: After Having Been Sought After

The speaker, then in a rather humble but telling reference, asserts that luckily he did have the opportunity to experience the result of the earlier behavior of being sought after, and on at least twenty occasions successfully bedded the particular huntress. He especially remembers one time when the scantily clad seductress with "her loose gown" falling "from her shoulders" grabbed him and kissed him and "softly said, 'Dear heart, how like you this?'" The man remembers this instance with great passion and thanks "fortune" for allowing him to experience at least that much.

Third Septet A Seduction Scene

The confused, bewildered lover then oddly professes that the seduction scene he has just dramatized was not a dream; it actually happened when he was definitely wide awake. However, then everything changed, and the speaker blames his own "gentleness" for the "strange fashion of forsaking." He is forsaken, it seems, because of the woman's "goodness."

The woman has the audacity to take the initiative in the seduction but then just abandons him; he allows that such behavior is "newfangleness," which would likely herald the expression, "women these days!" But the speaker, allowing that he was "so kindly . . . served," wonders what the woman "hath deserved." He wonders if she remembers the incident with as much pleasure as he does. Thus, a rather melancholy situation ends on a pleasant note, despite earlier complaints.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Anne Boleyn

Sir Thomas, the Sonnet, and Anne Boleyn

Sir Thomas Wyatt lived from 1503 to 1542, dying at the young age of 39. He is often credited as one of the first poets to introduce the sonnet into English; thus, his influence likely helped shape the form that the Shakespeare writer, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, employed so deftly in his 154-sonnet sequence.

Although the scholarship remains inconclusive, it has been suggested the Sir Thomas and Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, had been lovers before Henry selected the young woman for his wife. That opinion is likely based on several of his poems and some obscure Catholic treatises. The facts will probably remain illusive, but the drama of such a love affair has been too tempting to be denied. Thus, many movies have portrayed Sir Thomas and Anne as lovers.

The following video features scenes from The Tudors, a TV series that premiered on April 1, 2007, and continued for four seasons until 2010. The clip features excerpts from three of Wyatt's poems, including "They Flee from Me."

Sir Thomas & Anne Boleyn

© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes

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