Sir Thomas Wyatt Questions and Answers

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Can you help me interpret "Tagus, Farewell" by Sir Thomas Wyatt?

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Sir Thomas is sailing out the Tagus River that runs through Lisbon, Portugal. Portugal was then under Spanish dominion, and Sir Thomas has just fulfilled a diplomatic mission for King Henry VIII as the king's ambassador to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain. Charles is Europe's most powerful ruler, so this was a stressful assignment.

Sir Thomas knew full well the precariousness of life and favor at the Tudor court, as he had witnessed the rise, fall, and execution of his friend Ann Boleyn. Thomas himself had been a favorite at court and then had spent time in the Tower of London like so many other courtiers.

His poem ends with a call for aid on his voyage to London, the town that Brutus dreamed of, and pleads that his loyalty and love to king and country are his sole reasons for living. This can be read as betraying a sense of anxiety over not just the voyage, but also of his reception at court.

His reference to the legendary tale of the Trojan founding of London reflects his classical education, and Sir Thomas Wyatt along with Sir Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, are remembered as having introduced the sonnet to England. Wyatt was influenced by Renaissance humanism and especially by the sonnets of Francesco Petrarca.

Note that his subject matter is legendary history, a city, loyalty, the two rivers, the sun, the moon, the symbolic wings. There is no Christian imagery, and everything he mentions would be quite at home in classical Roman poetry.

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This is a poem in which Sir Thomas Wyatt, after having worked in Spain for a long time on behalf of England, says farwell to Spain by addressing the river Tagus, on which he is sailing out of the country and back to England. This short poem focuses on the way in which it is his loyalty to King and country that impels him to leave his post and Spain:

My king, my country, alone for whom I live,

Of mighty love the wings for this me give.

Note the way that Wyatt declares his loyalty and love for both his King and homeland, and it is this love that gives him the "wings" he needs to journey back to England. The poem contains many allusions, such as the reference to Brutus, who was supposedly a descendent of Aeneas who had a dream from the Goddess Diana which sent him to Albion to found a city, which became London.

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