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     Thomas Wytt's Poetry (Part II)

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    Abdul-Settar Abdul-Latif
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    PostSubject: Thomas Wytt's Poetry (Part II)   Fri Feb 08, 2008 4:27 am

    Over the top… maybe… at whatever level, it is surely the case that for Wyatt Petrarch offered an erotic psychology useful for constructing his own erotic persona as part of the courtly game. But what Wyatt was writing about was more than a game, it was arguably an emotional trauma to which the poetic persona lent distance. We can be more emphatic than Roger Day in Block I and point to the tensions caused on the one hand by Wyatt’s hatred of his wife; and on the other by his desertion in favour of the king by Anne Boleyn, a desertion that rendered her unattainable and at the same time dealt the poet a psychic shock which led him to ascribe Anne’s "betrayal" to treachery and lust. Like Petrarch infatuated with Laura, but from a bleaker and more pessimistic point of view, Wyatt was trapped by an erotic compulsion from which he could break not himself free. What is interesting is how Wyatt, whose attitude to his "beloved" was predominantly anger and scorn, does not simply imitate or copy Petrarch but creatively transforms his model in a way that reflects his different perception of the beloved and, as Day emphasises, conveys a sense of Tudor political realities and the requirements and evasions of survival at court.
    The Wyatt poems in the hand out associated with this lecture hopefully exemplify aspects of the discussion so far. You may, for instance, be especially interested to see how close Wyatt can be to Petrarch, even to the imitation of a rhyme scheme, and yet give a poem a different tone; compare "Some fowls there be…" with Petrarch’s Rime 19, "Son animali al mondo"; but for Wyatt’s portrayal of women in general and Anne Boleyn in particular you need to look closely at Ballade XXXVII, "They flee from me, that sometime did me seek" and the complex "Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind" (Sonnet VII). If the Ballade, which describes a relationship with a woman who made advances to the lover, but deserted him in favour of novelty, involves the dissolution of semi-erotic reminiscence into irony, aggression and bitterness, in the process turning women into animals, and depicting gender relationships as a power contest, a play of domination and submission, stands as a good illustration of the way in which Petrarchism can depict not just the conventional thinking of courtly love, but power games in a setting where political danger adds a threatening frisson, "Whoso list to hunt" shows Wyatt replacing Petrarch’s idealisation of the beloved with debased alternatives. Fox sees this as a poem that is almost as much about political protest as a failed affair. It has a direct Petrarchan model, but it transforms its archetype in a way that replaces images of spring freshness with sordid antitheses and obscene allusions. Petrarch’s mistress is a "white doe on the green grass… with two golden horns, between two rivers, in the shade of a laurel" seen "when the sun was rising in the unripe season" — Wyatt’s "beloved" is a hind that men are hunting. Petrarch’s mistress has diamonds and topazes around her lovely neck; Wyatt eliminates the topazes and substitutes "graven" for "written"; the message on Laura’s collar is "nessun mi tochi… libera farmi al mio Cesare parve" (let no one touch me… it hath pleased my Caesar to make me free) suggesting that Laura’s chastity means she belongs to God; Wyatt’s "Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am/ And wild for to hold, though I seem tame" transmutes an emblem of steadfastness and chastity into one of cupidity. Wyatt reverts to the original scripture which Petrarch alludes to, evoking the warning of Christ to Mary Magdalene, parodically comparing Christ’s holiness with the polluted mistress, a possession of a king, not of a God. Wyatt’s poetry is a good illustration of the way in which renaissance and humanist values enabled poets to express a "heightened awareness of subjectivity and individuality", yet we should note Norbrook’s ironic comment on this poem that its shows how the humanist idea of man as a free individual depended on renaissance woman being considerably less free. We might comment also that in this persona, Wyatt was not simply imitating Petrarchan style and subject matter, he was inverting its content and subjecting its assumptions about women to a bitter interrogation.

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