illustrated portrait of Anne Boleyn, the subject of Wyatt's poem

Whoso List to Hunt

by Sir Thomas Wyatt

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Who might "list to hunt"? Who is the poet addressing in "Whoso List to Hunt"?

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This poem can be viewed as directly allegorical or an extended metaphor. In either case, the hunter, or "Whoso List to Hunt," might be any man who is courting a woman, or pursuing a romantic relationship with a woman who is difficult to attain, or the players may have been Wyatt, Anne Boleyn, and Henry VIII.

The woman is compared to a wild deer who continuously out-paces her pursuer, while the man is compared to a hunter who is growing more and more exhausted with the chase. Despite his exhaustion, however, the man presses onward and continues his pursuit, declaring, "Fainting, I follow." Ultimately, however, the hunter must abandon his pursuit because he finds that the deer, or woman, is the property of another man (she bears a collar that says, in Latin, "Touch me not"). Despite that she has been claimed by another man, the author gives the deer a distinct personality, as she tells him at the end that she cannot really be tamed because she is wild, "And wild for to hold, though I seem tame."

Some scholars believe this poem may have been a direct allegory for Henry the VIII's relationship with Anne Boleyn. Wyatt may have been in love with Anne Boleyn as well, a wild and flamboyant spirit, but he had to abandon his pursuit of her when King Henry VIII claimed her as his own.

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