Week 386: They Flee From Me That Sometime Did Me Seek, by Sir Thomas Wyatt

I was surprised to find that I hadn’t featured this week’s poem before: I must have thought it was too well known, but really it’s one of those poems that can’t be too well known, so it’s time to make amends. When so much of what passes for poetry is merely an exercise in the conventions of the age, to come across the true living voice is always startling.

Sir Thomas Wyatt (1593-1542) figures as a character in Hilary Mantel’s excellent ‘Wolf Hall’ trilogy.

They Flee From Me That Sometime Did Me Seek

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 themself 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;
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, ‘Dear heart, how like you this’.

It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
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 so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Week 62: Quondam Was I, by Sir Thomas Wyatt

This bitter poem of betrayed love may not have quite the same force as Wyatt’s masterpiece, ‘They Flee From Me That Sometime Did Me Seek’, or Donne’s ‘The Apparition’ (let’s face it, Elizabethan poets didn’t have much luck when it came to finding a nice steady girl) but it shares the same quality of a speaking voice, direct and passionate, straining at the seams of the convention that contains it.

Quondam Was I

Quondam was I in my lady’s grace,
I think as well as now be you;
And when that you have trad the trace,
Then shall you know my words be true
That quondam was I.

Quondam was I. She said forever:
That lasted but a short while;
Promise made not to dissever.
I thought she laugh’d – she did but smile,
Then quondam was I.

Quondam was I: he that full oft lay
In her arms with kisses many one.
It is enough that this I may say
Though among the moo now I be gone,
Yet quondam was I.

Quondam was I. Yet she will you tell
That since the hour she first was born
She never loved none half so well
As you. But what altho she had sworn,
Sure quondam was I.

Sir Thomas Wyatt