Friday, February 27, 2009

TC: Writing: Dangerous—(2) Thomas Wyatt

Thomas Wyatt: Dangerous

Sir Thomas Wyatt was born at Allington Castle, Kent, in 1503, the son of Henry Wyatt and Anne Skinner. He was educated at St. John's College Cambridge, became a diplomat in the service of Henry VIII about 1526 and travelled to Italy first in 1527. After a brief imprisonment in 1536 for his affair with Anne Boleyn, the king's second wife who was executed for treason, Wyatt went to Spain as English ambassador to Charles V from 1537 to 1539. In 1541, after the fall of Thomas Cromwell, Wyatt was arrested again and charged with treason but his release followed shortly. He died October 11, 1542, and was buried at Sherborne.

In this letter to Henry VIII (pictured below), conveyed secretly from France via the Tudor spymaster Thomas Cromwell (whose imminent fall would soon once again bring the poet/spy Wyatt into mortal danger), Thomas Wyatt—at this time engaged in the perilous enterprise of crafting to prevent an alliance between France and the Spanish Empire—reports on his adventures in following, intercepting and gaining an interview with the French king Francis I at Blois. It is a matter of fast horses, hard riding, tenuous meta-diplomatic encounters and dangerous conversations-by-indirection: all business-as-usual for Wyatt in his precarious trade as a poet in (and sometimes out of) service to Empire.

Francis I

Thomas Cromwell

In the sonnet below, freely adapted from Petrarch, Wyatt plays dangerously, by subversive indirection through multiple subtexts, upon his dangerous contention with Henry VIII for the affections of Anne Boleyn.

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.


Nora said...

I know this puts me in smack dab in the middle of some odd Venn diagram overlap of nerdy and inane, but I squealed like a schoolgirl every time Thomas Wyatt appeared onscreen in Showtime's Tudors miniseries.

tc said...

"We didn't get too far on that bodice-ripper," quoth the house movie critic from the deep backdrop.

"There was also 'That Other Boleyn Girl', but we didn't get too far into that one either."

(Few of the dashing courtier gents of the early Tudor Period seem to have had that particular complaint, however, from what the film suggests.)