Sir Thomas Wyatt’s “They Flee from Me”:Typical Elizabethan Love - lyric

Imbibed with the spirit of the renaissance Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey initiate the cult of writings sonnets and love – lyrics in England. They, particularly Wyatt, express their sense of ecstasy or agony caused by their requited or unrequited love in their songs and sonnets. In the light of this Renaissance background, let us examine Wyatt’s poem “They Flee from Me” (1557) which is the perplexed observations of a man whose romantic popularity has passed, perhaps because he was too kind and attentive to the woman who previously loved him. It also unfolds the poet’s mild satire and cynicism, directed against the practice of loveless lovemaking on the part of some women belonging to high society in the 15th century England.

Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poetry is known for plain language and focus on romantic love about romantic love and “They Flee from Me” beings with Wyatt’s rumination of his earlier days in the company of some so-called aristocratic ladies who did theatrically make love with him only to deceive him subsequently. These women appeared to be docile, calm and of noble birth. But contrary to their appearance, they did grow wild, violent, hostile, vindictive and vicious in no time. And what made them so furious was their inability to entrap the poet. In a word, not love but lust was their only goal with which they used to visit the ‘chamber’ of the poet with naked foot. They tried their best to cast a seductive spell upon the poet only to bring him under the fold. But when the poet made them disappointed, they revealed their real teeth and claw. The mask of their pseudo- cordiality was taken off very soon –

“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”
But the poet retained his goodness all throughout. The result was that all these women now disappointed by the poet are running after new adventure.

In the second stanza the poet remembered a particular women whose face still flashed in his mind’s eye. The women were dressed in ‘thin array’ and her dress was virtually an instrument for creating temptation in the poet. When she stood before the poet, she did deliberately fasten her gown which was likely to fall from her shoulder. In a passionate manner, she embraced the poet,
“When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
There with all sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, 'Dear heart, how like you this?'” .
The poet said that the incident was not a peace of dream, a bubble of fancy, and a figment of fantasy. On the other hand, it was an experience real, tangible and concrete.

Here the intermingling of ironical and satirical overtone found best expression in the poet’s remark:
 “And I have leave to go of her goodness
 And she also to use newfangleness.”
 The word ‘newfangleness’ deserved proper explanation in this connection. Etymologically the word ‘newfangleness’ meant a new dress or cap. But Wyatt here used the word with a wider connotation, stressing the new manners or postures or gestures adopted by the particular lady to entrap new lovers. Here again the poet said with an ironical slant that he had been kindly served by that lady: “But since that I so kindly am served.” The word ‘kindly’ indirectly suggested that the poet had been unkindly served by that particular lady. And that made the poet desirous to know the present whereabouts of that woman: “I would fain know what she hath deserved.”     

 Ardhendu De