Sir Thomas Wyatt's 'They Flee From Me'

Sir Thomas Wyatt 1503-1542

The First great English poet? The first writer of great English lyric poems?

If you look behind Wyatt, it’s hard to find much that is worth reading between him and Chaucer. Since most modern readers don’t share Chaucer’s assumptions about poetry, Wyatt’s poems do feel like a new start. They are amongst the first English poems that can be read, as poems, by any literate reader for the pleasure they offer.

No matter how conventional or artificial the voice is, reading Wyatt is an encounter with a voice. Reading Wyatt’s collected is a depressing wade through forests of Tudor Pine, but there are gems and this is one of them. The idea that the woman in the second verse is Anne Boleyn is probably a critic’s fantasy.

Recently Wyatt was the subject of two excellent biographies, which complement each other. Nicola Shulman’s ‘Graven with Diamonds’ (2011) is very good on the poems and their place in the Court. Susan Brigden’s ‘Thomas Wyatt, the Heart’s Forest’ (2012) is a fine, detailed scholarly biography.

There will be more Wyatt on The Poetry Voice.