‘They Flee from Me’ is a short lyric poem written by Sir Thomas Wyatt. Some critics have suggested that the poem could be autobiographical and referring to any of Wyatt’s affairs with women of the court of Henry VIII. Nevertheless, the lyrical voice is a dramatic first person that expresses impressions and complaints about a beloved one who left him.
The poem is written in rhyme royal. This form of poetry was introduced by Geoffrey Chaucer, and it consists of a seven-line structure with iambic pentameter and an ABABBCC rhyme scheme. This structure emphasizes the content of the stanzas and deepens the words of the lyrical voice.
They Flee from Me Analysis
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.
The first stanza describes how the lyrical voice’s beloved one no longer pays attention to him. The lyrical voice starts by talking about the constant visits that have ended: “They flee from me that sometime did me seek,/With naked foot stalking in my chamber”. This beloved one is familiar with the lyrical voice because of the frequency of the past visits and the “gentle tame and meek” character. Nevertheless, “now are wild and do not remember”. Not only the visits have stopped, but, also, the character of the lyrical voice’s loved one has changed drastically. There is a significant contrast between the past and the present of the relationship between the lyrical voice and the beloved one. This beloved one appears to be depicted as a deer. The image of the dear, an extended metaphor, is frequently used by Petrarch, an Italian poet who is know for his sonnets. Thus, the beloved one is compared to a deer that risked itself by eating out of the hand of the lyrical voice and grew closer to him. Yet, the dear, the beloved one, forgot all of this and now seeks food elsewhere (“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 therewith all sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, “Dear heart, how like you this?”
The second stanza of ‘They Flee from Me’ depicts the relationship between the lyrical voice and the beloved one in the past. The lyrical voice expresses his thankfulness in the first lines and accentuates this by making a particular use of syntax. In the past, the relationship between these two was “Twenty times better”. Then, the lyrical voice talks about a particular episode (“but once in special”) where “her loose gown from her shoulders did fall”. This scene shows how the beloved one openly seduced him (“sweetly did me kiss,/ And softly said”) rather than the lyrical voice, which appears to be the present situation. These actions made by the beloved one are described vividly and intensely, in order to express the lyrical voice’s pleasurable memories of the past. The end of the stanza quotes the words of the beloved one and how she playfully seduced him in the past. In these lines, the beloved one is not described as a wild animal, but rather as an alluring woman. Hence, the tone of the stanza changes drastically, as the lyrical voice remembers this past situation.
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.
The final stanza of ‘They Flee from Me’ accentuates the change between the past and the present situation with the beloved one. The lyrical voice says that these happy memories of the past were “no dream”, as he was fully awake. He, again, emphasizes on the change in the relationship from the past to the present (“all is turned […] into a strange fashion of forsaking”). The tone of the poem becomes more miserable, as the lyrical voice compares the past to the beloved one’s present behavior (“And I have leave to go of her goodness”). In the final lines, the lyrical voice becomes more sarcastic and suggests that this beloved one left him because he was being too kind, blaming himself for this outcome (“But since that I so kindly am served, / I would fain know what she hath deserved”). These words express resentment and anger from the lyrical voice, and he appeals directly to the reader so as to gain empathy from him/her.
About Sir Thomas Wyatt
Sir Thomas Wyatt was born in 1503 and died in 1542. He was an English politician and lyric poet. Sir Thomas Wyatt is credited for introducing the sonnet form in English literature. Nevertheless, his poems were not published during his lifetime. Tottel’s Miscellany was the first book that featured his poetry and it was published in 1557.
He was born in Kent and followed his father in court after being educated at St John’s College, Cambridge. He was the ambassador to Italy and France during the time of Henry VIII. His travels abroad made him get in touch with other forms of poetry, which he later adapted to the English language. The main example of this is the sonnet form and how he reinterpreted it and used it in the English language. Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poems circulated around the court, despite the fact that they were not published.