Valentine's Day a disappointment? Here's a poem to assuage those lover's blues (scroll down for poem). Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542), Renaissance courtier and poet, lived a truncated but exciting 39 years. He was in and out of favor with Henry VIII, traveled abroad as a diplomat, imported Petrarch's sonnets to England in his dossier, survived two sojourns in the Tower, and witnessed the execution of Anne Boleyn (a rumored lover of Wyatt's) from his cell window. "They Flee From Me" is the kvetch of a spurned swain, yet Wyatt also seems to boast of his bedchamber skills (women ate out of his hand) and past rakishness, and in the second stanza he paints a pretty vignette of a "special" lover's efforts to seduce him, quoting her timelessly sexy line: "Dear heart, how like you this?"
To modern ears, the poet's arch lyricism can seem Humbert-Humbertian, but if "They Flee From Me" was in fact inspired by Boleyn's choosing the newfangled king over the poet-courtier's gentleness, she was no more than four years younger than Wyatt, and might have been older (her birthdate is estimated in the range of 1499-1507).
The poem's bitter conclusion projects a triumphant "you'll get yours" sentiment. Just the antidote one needs if the night of hearts and flowers didn't bring the right pair of naked feet stalking into your chamber.
They Flee From Me
by Sir Thomas Wyatt
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.
Thanked be to fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, "Dear heart, how like you this?"
It was no dream; I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also, to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.
Listen to this poem