illustrated portrait of Anne Boleyn, the subject of Wyatt's poem

Whoso List to Hunt

by Sir Thomas Wyatt

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How does "Whoso List to Hunt" portray courtly love?

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In "Whoso List to Hunt," the deer (or hind), representing a woman whom the speaker is pursuing, is inaccessible, which reflects the elevated status of women which "courtly love" embodies.

Courtly love has origins dating back to the twelfth century, in a treatise written by Andreas Capellanus titled The Art of Courtly Love. Generally speaking, courtly love describes a set of behaviors which provide elevated status to a woman by a man seeking her favor. This romantic engagement typically fell outside the boundaries of marriage or even sexual encounters and instead reflected the chivalrous attempts of a man (often a knight) to woo and win the affections of a lady.

In "Whoso List to Hunt," the hind is an extended metaphor demonstrating the impossibility of capturing this woman's affections. After an extended "hunt," the speaker is "wearied" beyond measure and cannot continue. Still, he cannot keep his "wearied mind" from turning once more to the thing which is the great goal of his pursuits. The woman wears a caution around her neck: "Noli me tangere," or "touch me not." Though the speaker has tirelessly pursued this woman, trying to capture her affections proves as elusive as trying to "hold the wind," giving the lady a sense of power in this pursuit. The speaker's tone is full of adoration and reverence, which also demonstrates qualities of courtly love.

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