The Poem

“Divers Doth Use” is a sonnet in the Italian, or Petrarchan, form, rhymed abbaabba, cddcee, and thus structured as an octave and a sestet, rather than in the four quatrains of the English, or Shakespearean, sonnet. As in many of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s shorter lyrics, the subject here is the ending of romantic relationships in the context of a sophisticated Renaissance court whose sexual mores are promiscuous and whose social manners are often modeled after those found in poetry. The first-person voice in the poem, whether Wyatt’s or that of an imaginary persona, speaks of typical male responses to female infidelity and offers, in contrast to those responses, his own attitude, which, he claims, is stalwart and stoic.

The octave opens with the speaker deriding diverse men whom he either knows firsthand or has heard about who behave childishly and poetically in the face of their beloveds’ unfaithfulness: men who weep and moan endlessly—“never for to lin [cease]” (line 3)—not in order to effect any change in their situations but, paradoxically, in order to alleviate their woe. In other words, they weep to appease their weeping: not a particularly mature or effective response. Such ostentatious expressions of woe are mere affectations.

There are other men, the poem continues, who behave viciously, by insulting their former lovers as false (that is, as promiscuous), but then quickly redirect their passions and love...

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Forms and Devices

The language of the poem is strikingly straightforward. The meter, while fairly regular iambic pentameter, creates a rhythm that seems conversational and familiar rather than formal. The speaker seems to talk to his audience directly, as if to an intimate acquaintance. This sense of familiarity, of ordinary talk, comes also from the poem’s relative lack of metaphoric imagery.

The only suggestion of metaphor in the poem comes in line 12, with the word “feed”: “Nor call her false that falsely did me feed.” Wyatt here suggests a conceit (the Elizabethan term for metaphoric imagery) that is prevalent elsewhere in his poetry: the comparison of a romantic affair to the relationship between a wild deer and one who feeds, and thus domesticates, the animal. Except for this one metaphor, the language of the poem is remarkably prosaic and direct. This serves to make the single metaphor stand out, and calls attention to the fact that this speaker, too, despite his denials, is thinking of his romantic involvements in a literary or poetic way. This literary approach to experience is clearest in the final couplet.

The chief literary device of the last two lines is the proverb, a device that reduces human behavior and experience to a witty, often memorable sententious saying. Poets often use such sayings in juxtaposition to their own perceptions of experience, sometimes simply to revivify the wisdom of popular aphorisms, sometimes to suggest their insufficiency or the banality of their wisdom. Wyatt’s last line, “Often change doth please a woman’s mind,” derives from a popular misogynistic proverb: “Winter winds and women’s minds change oft.” Wyatt’s paraphrase creates an equally memorable and sententious expression of this idea. The question this device invites at the end of the poem is whether this reaction to infidelity is more valid or more positive than those the speaker derides.