Summarize the poem "They Flee from Me" by Thomas Wyatt.      

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Sir Thomas Wyatt has the distinction of having his name related to Anne Boleyn as a potential lover, being imprisoned in the tower, yet surviving.   Wyatt was reintroduced to King Henry VIII’s court.  He became an ambassador to France.  His marriage was unhappy because of his wife’s infidelity.  From his affair, a son was born. 

In his spare time, Wyatt wrote his poetry.  “They Flee from Me” portrays an older Don Juan who suffers from rebuffs by his lovers.  He faces his rejection with great sadness. 

The poem is narrated in first person point of view.  The narrator is possibly the poet himself.  This man lives in a male dominated society. The men held all of the power.  Understanding a woman’s refusal of his attention was difficult for the speaker to understand.

Promiscuity was the name of the game in Henry’s court.  Men were married but usually had mulitiple affairs or a mistress.  Women also had affairs inside the confines of marriage.  Often, the women suffered for their sexual trysts with their heads or by abandonment by their husbands. 

The setting of the story is the bed chamber of the speaker.  Apparently, there has been a constant flow of women into his bed.  Now, no one comes. 

1st stanza

The women who lovingly visited his chamber now hurry away from the speaker.  They came to him barefooted.  There were various types: gentle, tame, and meek.  These same women are now wild and no longer remember him.  At one time, they endangered themselves to share his bed and eat from his hand.  Sadly for the speaker, they seek change.

2nd stanza

Thanked be to fortune it hath been otherwise,

Twenty times better; but once in special…

The speaker thanks his good luck in having had these experiences that were wonderful.  However, he remembers one encounter that was extremely special to him.  This lady was dressed in a thin covering that exposed her to the speaker.  When she took off her gown, the woman hugged the man close to her and kissed him softly.  She said to him, “Dear heart, how like you this?”

3rd stanza

This memory was not a dream.  Everything has changed.  She has forsaken the narrator despite his gentle treatment of her.  This lady has dismissed him because she enjoys new things and lovers.    Apparently, this woman is fickle and prefers to bed men that she fancies.  The speaker has lost his place in her life.  He would like to think that it is his gentle nature that has turned her aside. 

Thematically, there are a number of issues that Wyatt alludes to in his poem.  Sexuality and his sexual encounters are at the center of the poem.  He also reminiscences about abandonment and the women that once came to him that are nowhere to be found.  In fact, he feels as though they run from him when he is enters the room. 

In addition, the speaker lives in a time when men were the ones who usually chose their lovers.  Caught in a new circumstance, the speaker finds himself in a quandary about what has happened to his love life. 


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