They Flee From Me
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 themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Busily seeking with a continual change.
Thanked be 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,
And therewithal sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, ‘Dear heart, how like you this?’
It was no dream; I lay broad awaking.
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 kindely so am served,
I would fain know what she hath deserved.
There is so much to admire in this poem that I don’t know where to begin.
Wyatt lived from 1503 to 1542, dying from illness at age 39.
“Wyatt fell violently in love with Anne Boleyn in the early-to-mid 1520’s” (Wikipedia), which led to complications. “They Flee” is written in iambic pentameter in odd seven line stanzas.
The rhyme scheme is: ababbcc, which is not, in any sense, broken by punctuation into stanza & refrain, except for the concluding two line couplet. Regular meter and rhyme can easily combine to produce a monotonous effect, Wyatt avoids that by using this seven line stanza and frequent enjambment, (a full stop within a line), thus creating a sound structure that is pure lilt and flow. By using formalities, and archaic syntax, placing the direct object ahead of the verb as in “did me seek”, “she me caught”, Wyatt is able to portray a resentment that seethes within the
constraints of social laws and conventions; like a man trying to control his anger by straightening his tie.