Thomas Wyatt's "Whoso List to Hunt " is a Petrarchan sonnet; it has fourteen lines, and a rhyme scheme of ABBA-ABBA-CDDC-EE. Compare to Shakespeare's later sonnets, and you will note that the rhyme scheme differs. Wyatt's sonnet is an early example of the genre in English; he is writing...
Thomas Wyatt's "Whoso List to Hunt" is a Petrarchan sonnet; it has fourteen lines, and a rhyme scheme of ABBA-ABBA-CDDC-EE. Compare to Shakespeare's later sonnets, and you will note that the rhyme scheme differs. Wyatt's sonnet is an early example of the genre in English; he is writing some fifty years before Shakespeare.
Wyatt uses various literary devices in this sonnet. He uses aureate diction, or the introduction of phrases from a "higher" language, to elevate the poem: "hélas," "noli me tangere." In the second instance, the use of this Latin phrase also supports the extended metaphor of the sonnet as a whole. Sonnets were typically love poems, and in this poem, the deer is used as a metaphorical representation of a woman who has escaped the speaker's grasp and his affections. When the speaker finds his deer, around "her fair neck" is written, "noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am." This is an allusion to Solinus' remarks that Caesar would have his white stags engraved with the command, "Do not touch me, for I belong to Caesar." Because "Caesar" can be understood to mean "king" (compare the German kaiser), this allusion helps the reader to understand that the deer has been claimed by a king, or a more important man, and is now beyond the reach of the speaker.
In many ways, this metaphor is not very flattering to either king, speaker, or lady, as it suggests that the lady in question is little more than a beautiful animal to be chased by those who "list to hunt." However, the theme of courtship as a hunt recurs in Tudor poetry and would continue thereafter. In this poem, however, we know that the hunt is ultimately a lost cause for the speaker, "sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind." This metaphor creates a vivid image of the impossibility of the situation, as we picture the speaker attempting to capture air in a holed net—obviously doomed to failure. The triumph in the initial apostrophe, a call to "whoso list to hunt," has faded to resignation at the sight of the words around the deer's neck, the evidence of a higher claim.