Composed of five stanzas with seven lines each, “It was my choice, it was no chance” is one of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poems that was probably written as a song to be accompanied by lute. In many ways a companion piece to the more familiar song “Blame not my lute,” “It was my choice, it was no chance” plays on the conventional themes of early Renaissance poetry in England. The persona, a young lover wooing a reluctant mistress, faces the specter of rejection. He carries out his attempts to persuade her to favor his suit with varying degrees of logic and fancy.
In the traditional scenario, the lover usually sees his mistress as a cruel temptress who simultaneously lures and ignores her courtier despite the fact that she has no intentions of returning his affections; furthermore, any dalliance in which she might engage with him will be fraught with inconstancy and infidelity. Wyatt supplies a twist on the usual theme, however, by having fate, rather than the woman herself, present the only real possibility of rejecting his love and, even more significantly, by seeing truth and trust as the only way to achieve a lasting love. In this way, the persona, though he affirms the role of the mistress in his unrequited bondage, softens the “attack” on the mistress and thereby places her at a disadvantage by denying her the possibility of a defensive reaction.
The poem begins with the persona’s admission that he has willingly given his heart to his lady. He therefore rationalizes that she will accept his love, which has been patiently waiting in her “hold” for so long. He cannot fathom how she could reject a love so freely given and now, paradoxically, so closely “bound” to her. Only “Fortune,” he feels, has the ability to reject his rightful love. This is true only because, as the ancients believed, Fortune becomes jealous of the lovers since their love, no matter how brief, is more powerful than either “right or might.” He wonders then what benefit can exist in the rightness of their love if Fortune chooses to frown on them: It will be to no avail.
Questioning this situation, he examines what happens if lovers simply “trust to chance and go by guess” and finds that, if chance does not smile on this kind of lover, his only recourse is to petition “Uncertain hope” for reparation. Others, more skeptical or more naïve, may, on the contrary, assure the lover that he can take his suit to the “higher court” of fantasy where he may make an appeal for his release. Neither of these options is very promising.
However, fantasy, to the persona, indicates the possibility of choice. He can say this with some certainty as he has had personal experience with it: Fantasy stimulated him to fall in love in the first place. He also knows, though, that fantasy breeds a love that is unstable and quickly lost, having no “faster knot.” Attempting to maintain a love that must please both changeable “Fancy” and weak “Fortune” is too constraining and unnatural, and it is virtually impossible, so he seeks a surer way, a way that is not doomed to fail. He finds the right way in truth and trust.
Forms and Devices
Composed of plain words and no visual imagery, “It was my choice, it was no chance” definitely fits C. S. Lewis’s often quoted description of Wyatt’s poetry as “lean and sinewy.” While the poem does not contain sensuous imagery, Wyatt does not altogether abandon conventional poetic technique in the poem. He relies on metaphor to carry much of its meaning. The pervasive metaphor of the poem turns on the idea of an imprisoned, “bound” lover who seeks justice: the acceptance of his love that has patiently endured bondage. Wyatt continues this legal metaphor in the third stanza when he speaks of the lover who, having trusted chance, now “may well go sue/ Uncertain hope for his redress” or perhaps “mayst appeal for” his “release/ To fantasy.” A brief metaphor, connected with the binding of the lover but unrelated to the legal metaphor, is the slipknot of fanciful love found only in stanza 4. Other words in the poem, such as “choice,” “just,” “sufferance,” “right or might,” “power,” “abuse,” “vaileth,” and “prevail,” though they are not specifically connected to the metaphor, serve to reinforce the atmosphere of litigation and deliberation. Even the final search for truth echoes the legal terms, since the purpose of every trial supposedly is to find the truth. Here, the truth is what ultimately will free the imprisoned lover. This legal metaphor is particularly apt for a poet who uses logic and rhetorical methods of persuasion to convince his lady: Justice demands that she should love him and thus free him from his state of imprisonment. The metaphor is also particularly appropriate if one considers that the word “court” can mean the court of law in which trials are held, and it can also mean to woo.
Several clues lead scholars to believe that this poem was originally written to be set to music. Frequently anthologized next to a song that has an extant melody, “Blame not my lute,” “It was my choice, it was no chance” is structured in much the same way, with the final line of each stanza repeated as the first two or three words of the first line of the next stanza, very much like a refrain. The emphasis on rhyme, as well as the inverted syntax necessitated by that emphasis, may also point to a musical setting for this poem.
The meter, on the other hand, though it does not negate the possibility that the poem was written as a song, is not highly regular as might be expected of a song. This poem appears to be written in what C. S. Lewis called the “native meter” that he felt to be the prevailing meter of fifteenth century poetry rather than the smoother iambic pentameter. Composed predominantly of four stresses per line despite the number of syllables in the line, this type of meter, like verse written during the alliterative revival of the fourteenth century, uses alliteration to mark the stresses and a caesura (a break in the middle of the line) to form word groups. These features are perhaps most clear in the first line of the poem (“It was my choice, it was no chance”) with its eight syllables and four stresses: The obvious caesura is indicated by the comma that breaks the line into two repetitive clauses, the only difference between them being the final word of each clause (“choice” and “chance”), which repeat the initial consonant sound.