‘Whoso List to Hunt, I Know where is an Hind’ by Sir Thomas Wyatt is a fourteen line sonnet in the form popularized by the Italian poet, Francesco Petrarchan. This form usually follows a rhyming pattern of ABBAABBACDECDE. It is common within Petrarchan, or Italian sonnets, to discover that the writer has chosen to alter the last six lines, or sestet. In the case of ‘Whoso List to Hunt…’ Wyatt has alternated the last six lines so that they rhyme in a pattern of DDCEE.
Although there is this obvious change to the pattern, the general structure conforms to the Petrarchan model. The poem can be divided into one set of eight lines, or octave, and as mentioned previously, one concluding set of six lines, or sestet. In addition to the number of, and rhyme scheme, of the lines, the poet has come quite close to sticking to the traditional material pattern of iambic pentameter.
In a Petrarchan sonnet the lines are usually structured in iambic pentameter. This means that there are five beats per line, and each one is composed of an unstressed and stressed syllable, known as an iamb. It is common within Wyatt’s work to find moments in which patterns are disregarded. One type of divergent moment which appears a number of times throughout the text is a trochee. This word is used to refer to moments in which the stressed syllable is first and the unstressed second.
Summary of Whoso List to Hunt, I Know where is an Hind
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he has been hunting a female deer, or “hind,” and he is willing to give up her location. The hunt has started to drive him insane and he needs to live the deer behind. It soon becomes evident the deer is in fact a woman and the speaker: one of her suitors. He follows her wherever she goes and cannot get her out of his mind, no matter how unhealthy the situation is.
By the end of the poem it becomes clear that the reason the deer cannot be caught is that she belongs to Caesar, a likely reference to Henry VIII.
Analysis of Whoso List to Hunt, I Know where is an Hind
Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, alas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Upon beginning this piece, a contemporary reader will encounter a number of words which have fallen out of use. The first of these is “Whoso.” It refers to “anyone” or “whoever.” The speaker is offering anyone listening a tip. He knows the location of a “hind,” or female deer. This speaker is an avid hunter and for some reason, as yet unknown, he willing to give up the location of a potential kill to the listener, if they “list to hunt,” or want to go hunting.
The speaker explains in the next line that although he wants to hunt, he “may no more.” There is something stopping him. The beginning of the third line of this section gives the reader a bit more detail as to what is stopping the speaker. He sees the hunt of this particular “hind” to be a “vain travail.” It is a task which will never be accomplished, there is no point in even attempting to hunt her. He knows this to be the truth from experience.
The hunt has “wearied [him] so sore.” He has done his best in the past to complete this particular hunt but is “of them that farthest cometh behind.” No matter how hard he tries he is in the group of people who come last. The “group” to which he refers is a simple reference to the tradition of hunting among friends and colleagues.
It is at this point in the poem that a reader might begin to expect that the poem is not referencing a deer, but rather a woman. There is someone he has been seeking affection from for a long period of time, without success. It is important to note how the speaker sees this woman. She is nothing more to him than a difficult prize to be won, unusually difficult in this particular case, but he knows if must be possible.
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,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Although the speaker is offering up the deer/woman to someone else, he is unable to stop thinking about her. His “wearied mind” is trapped in endless circles around her. He cannot “Draw from the deer” when all he sees is her fleeing “afore” him. No matter how hard he tries he continues to “follow” along behind her. This is emphasized by his use of the word “Fainting.” So strong is her influence over him that he is unable to stay conscious.
It is clear that the hunt has become something of an obsession and that his choice to give the woman up is in an attempt to free himself from it. The last lines spell out his determination to free himself. He will “leave off” and attempting to catch the woman. It is like seeking to “hold the wind” in one’s “net,” an impossible task.
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.
The next section of the poem which is in the form of a sestet, begins with an echo of the opening line. He speaks to he “Who” may “list her hunt.” The speaker wants to tell this man that he will never be successful, he too will soon understand the hunting of this “hind” to be an impossible task. The new suitor will “spend his time in vain.”
In the few lines he describes the “letters” which are around the woman’s neck. These “plain” letters spell out words with “diamonds.” It is unclear at this point what the words are, but they are there for everyone to see in glittering, expensive detail. They are a tag of sorts for this person.
In the final lines the speaker reveals what is written on the woman’s neck. It says, “Noli me tangere,” which is Latin for, “Do not touch me.” This is a reference to a passage from the Bible in which Jesus, in John 20:17, says, “touch me not” after rising from the dead. It also speaks to the current owner of the woman, Caesar.
The deer cannot be caught due to the sheer power of Caesar’s ownership over her. She is “wild for to hold,” or hard to hold onto, and perhaps dangerous, even if she seems to be “tame.” It has been offered by historians that it is not really Caesar to whom the speaker refers, but Henry VIII, the king of England during this period.