The Courtier Poets: Sir Thomas Wyatt

Updated on April 8, 2018
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I can't seem to stop writing poetry or reading poetry. I think it is safe to say I love poetry and I love sharing great poetry with others.

A Courtier, Diplomat, Soldier, and Poet

Sir Thomas Wyatt was a prominent courtier in the court of Henry VIII. Wyatt's service was respected by Henry and he was knighted due to his diplomatic work in Spain and France during his service.

Wyatt was born at Allington in Kent, his father's castle, in 1503. His father was Sir Henry who served the tutors and was in favor during the rule of Henry VII and Henry VIII.

Wyatt first appeared in court in 1516 during the christening of Princess Mary.

He finished a Masters in Arts at St. John's College in Cambridge in 1520 the same year he married Elizabeth Brooke, the daughter of Lord Cobham.

His first son, Thomas, was born in 1521.

He accompanied Sir Thomas Cheney, in 1526, on a diplomatic mission to the embassy in France. While in France he discovered new french forms, such as the Rondeau, that he practiced throughout his life.

The next year he accompanied Sir John Russell on another diplomatic mission to Rome. He built a passion for Petrarch, especially Petrarch's Love Sonnets, and began the first english translation to find circulation in England.

This was England's first introduction to Italian Sonnet. Courtier poets from the late 1500's till the 1600's practiced Italian Sonnet, especially love sonnet, as a fine craft.

He presented Queen Katherine, in 1528, with a prose translation of Petrarch's "Quiet of Mind." He introduced Terza Rima, another Italian form, in his Satires.

He served as Marshall of Calais, Sheriff of Kent, and as an ambassador to Spain.

He wrote his psalms when Cromwell, in 1540, was executed for treason. Cromwell was an advisor and friend. He was imprisoned in the tower for a short time, a consequence of his friendship, where he wrote his "Oration."

After his pardon in 1542 he was elected to the parliament for Kent and was promoted to vice-admiral of the fleet.

He became ill after a diplomatic job in Spain and died shortly afterward. He had written 250 poems on top of his essays and translations.

In The Lions Den

Sir Thomas Wyatt seemed to find himself in the lion's den. According to stories of his life he encountered his first lion as a child and his second, the King of England.

Similar to characters in Greek Mythology, he was confronted with his families pet lion when a toddler. The story never gives an ending. The assumption is that he lived and lion died.

His second encounter with a lion was over a woman, Anne Bolyn. He had a quiet affair with Anne Bolyn prior to his appointment to court with Henry VIII.

Following the rules of court etiquette and politics he confronted the King when the King announced his relationship with Anne. He also held strong feelings about monogamy after he disowned his wife for having a daughter due to an affair.

Shortly after his confession Sir Thomas Wyatt was imprisoned in the tower again. Some argue though that his imprisonment was not due to his confession to the King but was due to a squabble between him and the Duke of Suffolk.

Once again the imprisonment was only for a few years and he found himself being knighted under King Henry VIII shortly afterwards.

"Such is the course that nature's kind hath wrought"

Such is the course that nature's kind hath wrought,

That snakes have time to cast away their stings.

Ainst chained prisoners what need defense be sought?

The fierce lion will hurt no yelden things.

Why should such spite be nursed then in thy thought,

Sith all these powers are pressed under thy wings

And eke thou seest, and reason thee hath taught,

What mischief malice many ways it brings?

Consider eke that spite availeth naught:

Therefore this song thy fault to thee it sings.

Displease thee not for saying thus my thought,

Nor hate thou him from whom no hate forth springs,

Nor furies that in hell be execrable,

For that they hate, are made most miserable.

A Look At Sir Thomas Wyatt's use of Sonnet

Europe embraced Petrarchism. Petrarch's sonnets have two Italian Quatrains abba abba followed by either a ceded or a cdcdcd. Petrarch's sonnets moved Italian poetry away from Epic storytelling to the art of the Lyric. He uses his sonnets to express his love of Laura through a discussion of her as ideal woman.

Sir Thomas Wyatt was moved by Italian poetry and loved the Petrarchan Sonnet.

Wyatt followed the conventions of the Petrarchan lover to a point. Where Petrarch was concerned with the love of the ideal woman Wyatt was more concerned with the despair one feels in the search. He addresses the beauty and purity of the women he discusses and then uses the sonnet to describe the unworthiness of the author for such beauty.

"Such is the course that nature's kind hath wrought" is not your typical Petrarchan Sonnet. Wyatt uses abab abab abab cc in his fourteen lines and follows a strict iambic pentameter throughout.

Except for line six where we find a possible spondee followed by a pyrrhic foot. This change in meter is where Wyatt points out the turn around in the sonnet. He uses this change in meter along with his use of caesura, a natural pause usually found midline, to help keep the lyrical sound of the poem.

Wyatt uses the meter of the sonnet to add conflict to his theme and ultimately to add power to his message.

The theme of "Such is the course that nature's kind hath wrought" is a discussion of letting go of hatred and unkind thoughts. He discusses with the reader how nothing comes of holding onto these negative emotions.

The turn about brings a possible lover into the scene, indirectly. He does not mention this lover but he makes the reader believe that if one is to be worthy of purity and idealism one has to give up these emotions.

I chose this sonnet due to his breaking away from the Petrarchan style of sonnet writing and a timely theme.

When reading Sir Thomas Wyatt the reader must keep in mind that he was not only trying to embrace Italian form but use them as an expression of his voice.

"Process of time worth such wonder"

Process of time worth such wonder,

That water which is of kind so soft

Doth pierce that marble stone asunder,

By little drops falling from aloft.

And yet an heart that seems so tender

Receiveth no drop of the stilling tears,

That always still cause me to render

The vain plaint that sounds not in her ears.

So cruel, alas, is naught alive,

So fierce, so froward, so out of frame;

But some way, some time, may so contrive

By means the wild to temper and tame.

And I that always have sought, and seek

Each place, each time for some lucky day,

This fierce tiger less I find her meek

And more denied the longer I pray.

The lion in his raging furor

Forbears that suet meekness for his boot;

And thou, alas, in extreme dolor

The heart so low thou treads under thy foot.

Each free thing, lo! how thou dost exceed,

And hides it under so humble a face;

And yet the humble to help at need,

Naught helpeth time, humbleness, nor place.

In Conclusion

A Courtier, Diplomat, Soldier, and Poet, Wyatt stands the test of time.

Through his travels and his desire to share new creative outlets through poetry Wyatt spawned a new love of the lyrical in Europe.

Though most of his poetry was not published until after his death he was still able to make his place in the courts among the aristocracy.

He remained humble through all his work and was seen as a shining light in European poetry.


"Five Courtier Poets of the English Renaissance," Blender M., Robert, Washington Square Press, 1969.

© 2018 Jamie Lee Hamann


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