Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The underlying theme of “In mourning wise” is a sense of loss in the face of the death of human beings. Such death may be through official execution, as in the case of the characters in this poem, but, ultimately, all human death is a cause for solemn reflection. Rochford and the others have been executed, Wyatt reflects, but the death they endure through judicial violence is the fate that all human beings inevitably experience as part of the course of nature. Death is death, the poem implies, and while these men have been justly punished for their crimes, still their deaths and the loss that they bring are an occasion for sorrow.

A second, interlocking theme is that the deaths of Rochford and the others were unnecessary, since they were caused by bad judgment on the part of the condemned or perhaps, the poem suggests, through the conspiracies of the Tudor court. In either event, death has come sooner than it would normally. The underlying theme of the poem refers to the wheel of fortune, a commonplace of English Renaissance literature that carries individuals into prominence, fame, and power only to cast them down into obscurity, shame, and impotence. Such has been the fate of the characters in Wyatt’s poem and such, the poet well knows from personal experience, could be the fate of any attendant of the Tudor dynasty. The ancient biblical adage “trust not in princes” was never more true than at the court of Henry VIII.


(The entire section is 502 words.)