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.

John Donne's 'Song'

John Donne (1572-1631)

 Really John? Not one woman, anywhere?

I think most of Donne’s poems were published posthumously, and it may be that Donne never intended this particular piece to be printed. But it was, and I think it’s a fine example of a writing problem.

It’s easy to imagine someone who is hurt, feeling betrayed, confused and humiliated by someone he or she had trusted.  You wouldn’t expect them to be thinking clearly for a while.  They might say things they’d later regret.

It’s also easy to imagine someone in that situation turning to poetry as a form of catharsis.

But when you’ve expressed your bitterness and confusion, after you lashed out at whoever hurt you, what do you do with the end product?

Show it to a few friends, who understand your situation and sympathize, without taking your exaggerations seriously or as representing what you normally believe?

Show it to the individual who hurt you? As a form of revenge?

Publish it?

The modern fashion for selfie poems would seem to approve the last choice. But once the poem is published and available to strangers, it shifts the way it asks to be read. It goes from being a private, contingent howl, a statement of an emotion the poet should grow out of, to a public statement of considered fact that’s going to be around long after the emotion that inspired it has been reconsidered.

And once published readers have every right to feel that there is something wrong with this poem. The beautiful opening line, the obvious metrical control, the inventive images, the obvious skill of the maker, all seem strange vehicles for such an obviously out of control argument. 


Liam Guilar's 'Lute Recitals'

The Poetry Voice is fifty! And here is something different to celebrate.

This poem was inspired by a contrast; Allan Alexander’s ‘Castles In the Sky’, a Cd that alterted me to the pleasures of the lute, and a bizarre conversation with a lutenist, who derided ‘Castles in the Sky’ for not being ‘Authentic’. Apparently everything has to be ‘authentic’. I started wondering what an authentic Dowland performance would have been like.

The music i’m playing in the background is Allan’s ‘Dance of the Washerwoman’….his guitar arrangement of a Renaissance lute piece.

‘Lute Recitals’ first appeared in the journal 'Southerly' and then in my book, "I'll Howl before you bury me'.

Sam Daniel's from 'To Delia'. The first sonnet.

Samuel Daniel (1562-1619). The first sonnet in the sequence ‘To Delia’.

It’s been estimated that between 1530 and 1650 in Italy, France, Germany and Britain some 3,000 writers produced about 200,000 sonnets. Most of these are conventional and uninteresting. While ‘To Delia’ isn’t equal to the standard set by Sidney, most of the sonnets in it are well-written, intelligent but conventional Tudor Pine: the lover discovers there’s only so many ways in which he can bemoan his lover’s indifference and exhausts them and the reader’s patience.

But I think this first sonnet has one of the best opening images of any sonnet or poem: ‘Unto the boundless ocean of your beauty/runs this poor river…’

Sonnet 1 from Sir Philip Sidney's 'Aristophil and Stella'

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) was so many things to his contemporaries. To history he is one of the first major poets of the Tudor ‘Renaissance’. Aristophil and Stella is one of the first sonnet sequences in English, and may well be the best of them.

Despite Sidney’s claims in his Defence that poetry was moral and lead to virtue, Aristophil and Stella is the story of an (?unrequited?) adulterous passion. After Sidney’s early death, Penelope Rich was happy to admit that she was ‘Stella’.

This is the first sonnet of the sequence, with its famous final line.