Summarize the poem "They Flee from Me" by Thomas Wyatt.

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Sir Thomas Wyatt has the distinction of having his name related to Anne Boleyn as a potential lover, being imprisoned in the tower, yet surviving.   Wyatt was reintroduced to King Henry VIII’s court.  He became an ambassador to France.  His marriage was unhappy because of his wife’s infidelity.  From his affair, a son was born. 

In his spare time, Wyatt wrote his poetry.  “They Flee from Me” portrays an older Don Juan who suffers from rebuffs by his lovers.  He faces his rejection with great sadness. 

The poem is narrated in first person point of view.  The narrator is possibly the poet himself.  This man lives in a male dominated society. The men held all of the power.  Understanding a woman’s refusal of his attention was difficult for the speaker to understand.

Promiscuity was the name of the game in Henry’s court.  Men were married but usually had mulitiple affairs or a mistress.  Women also had affairs inside the confines of marriage.  Often, the women suffered for their sexual trysts with their heads or by abandonment by their husbands. 

The setting of the story is the bed chamber of the speaker.  Apparently, there has been a constant flow of women into his bed.  Now, no one comes. 

1st stanza

The women who lovingly visited his chamber now hurry away from the speaker.  They came to him barefooted.  There were various types: gentle, tame, and meek.  These same women are now wild and no longer remember him.  At one time, they endangered themselves to share his bed and eat from his hand.  Sadly for the speaker, they seek change.

2nd stanza

Thanked be to fortune it hath been otherwise,

Twenty times better; but once in special…

The speaker thanks his good luck in having had these experiences that were wonderful.  However, he remembers one encounter that was extremely special to him.  This lady was dressed in a thin covering that exposed her to the speaker.  When she took off her gown, the woman hugged the man close to her and kissed him softly.  She said to him, “Dear heart, how like you this?”

3rd stanza

This memory was not a dream.  Everything has changed.  She has forsaken the narrator despite his gentle treatment of her.  This lady has dismissed him because she enjoys new things and lovers.    Apparently, this woman is fickle and prefers to bed men that she fancies.  The speaker has lost his place in her life.  He would like to think that it is his gentle nature that has turned her aside. 

Thematically, there are a number of issues that Wyatt alludes to in his poem.  Sexuality and his sexual encounters are at the center of the poem.  He also reminiscences about abandonment and the women that once came to him that are nowhere to be found.  In fact, he feels as though they run from him when he is enters the room. 

In addition, the speaker lives in a time when men were the ones who usually chose their lovers.  Caught in a new circumstance, the speaker finds himself in a quandary about what has happened to his love life. 

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Explain the poem "They Flee From Me" by Thomas Wyatt illustrating what might be an effective thesis for an essay.

Sir Thomas Wyatt lived in the times of Henry VIII.  The life at court was somewhat promiscuous.  Henry the king did not set a very good example.  Even when he was happily married, his shenanigans usually cost someone his/her head. 

Not to be outdone in trysts, Wyatt was equally sexually driven.  He divorced his first wife for adultery.  He was imprisoned for arguing with one of the king's favorites.  Then, it was rumored that Wyatt had been one of Anne Boleyn's lovers [Doubtful, he was not stupid.], and was in the Tower and saw Boleyn executed.  That might get a person's attention.

This sets the scene for his poem "They Flee From Me." Published after his death, the poem tackles the subject of sex outside of marriage.  The narrator is probably the poet himself speaking about the sexual nature of life at King Henry's court.

Actually, the poet tells the reader less than nothing about himself.  The conclusions that can be drawn are that he is confused about why he no longer has a woman in his bed.  He has been quite the lover, but now he is  intrigued by this one particular woman who is likes she has left him as well.

Ruminating about all of his sexual encounters, he especially was taken by one memory  that was immensely pleasurable.

When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
And therewith all sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, "Dear heart, how like you this?"

When this beautiful woman loved him, it was no dream. She has forsaken him and looks to others for her pleasure.  

His primary quandary is where have these women gone. Once his paramours stalked him, ate with him, loved him. Now, they only want change.  Why they no longer come to him disturbs him greatly.  

To write about this poem in a critical analysis, one might use these statements as potential arguments:

  • Thomas Wyatt in his poem "They Flee From Me" speaks to lovers who have been left behind.
  • The poem "They Flee From Me" by Thomas Wyatt represents the inherent sexuality found in the court of King Henry VIII.
  • The poem "They Flee From Me" by Wyatt portrays women as sexual objects.

Any of these sentences could be used as a foundation for a critical analysis of the poem.

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Please explain the poem "They Flee From Me" by Thomas Wyatt.

 Sir Thomas Wyatt was a part of the court of King Henry VIII.  Those were dangerous times.  Wyatt was jailed for sleeping with Anne Boleyn, the infamous queen whomHenry beheaded.  He was proven innocent. 

Wyatt's poem published in 1557 (after his death), tackles this subject of sex out of wedlock. The narration employs the first person speaker who has engaged in this entertainment. Through the perspective of this speaker, "They Flee from Me" reflects on the sexual culture of Henry VIII's court. The sexual activity in Henry’s court was indiscriminate and rampant. It did not matter if either party was married unless a person was caught.

The form of the poem is called rhyme royal which means that each stanza has seven lines and follows an exact rhyme scheme.  It is written in iambic pentameter.  The rhyme scheme is ABABBCC. There are three rhyme royals in this poem. Each stanza has a specific purpose:

  • He has had many lovers, but for some reason they do not come to him anymore.
  • There was a special love that seems to haunt him.
  • She was real to him, but now he must let her go.

The speaker has been quite the lover. He is older now and possibly less desirable than he had been. This is a sixteenth century “Don Juan.” Apparently, he never locks his door because many ladies have entered in to this man’s bedroom.

This is an unusual poem for the time period because normally the man is in charge and is the great lover of women.  In this reverse poem, the ladies have dumped the man.  He is hurt and having a hard time knowing how to handle this rejection.

I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek

That now are wild and do not remember

That sometime they put themselves in danger …

And now they range

Busily seeking with a continual change.

The narrator has beautiful memories of all the lovely ladies that have entered his bed chamber. They do not come to him but seek their pleasure in other places.  Now these women forget the danger and behave rashly.

He has a special memory of one lady whom he remembers passionately kissed him and tried to please him in every way. This was not a dream.  He cannot sleep for wondering why she now behaves in such an odd way.  Because he is such a gentleman, he wishes that he could give her what she deserves.  It is unclear if he is being truthful or sarcastic. 

It is hard to judge the speaker because he gives the reader no information about himself.  Since he was supposedly involved with Anne Boleyn, it might be his incarceration in the tower that has turned the ladies away from him. In addition, this lovely lady that he wonders about may be Boleyn herself. Of course, this is just speculation.

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