Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As much as Wyatt’s personae complain about female behavior, his poems often reflect more poignantly on male attitudes and actions. In a promiscuous court such as Henry VIII’s, in which the men and women all seem to indulge in rather loose expression of sexual desires, why is it that men react so vehemently and emotionally, so irrationally, to infidelity, especially given their own participation in and enjoyment of this state of affairs?

In writing about love, a great many poets suggest that behavior in romantic situations has much to do with who lovers imagine their beloveds to be. Such a powerful emotion as love often leads people to create elaborate, imaginative conceptions of others, conceptions that are not usually very truthful or accurate. When a lover discovers that his beloved is not the person he imagined her to be, the consequent disillusionment can lead to bitter reactions. Witness, for example, the disillusionment of the speaker in William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 147 (“My love is as a fever, longing still”): “For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright,/ Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.” This bitter derision of the beloved seems an echo of the kind of responses of which Wyatt’s speaker complains.

Yet one might ask whether the attitude of Wyatt’s persona is any better. In subtle ways, Wyatt suggests that this man’s manner of dealing with infidelity is also literary—that is, that his manner mimics...

(The entire section is 431 words.)