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

Whoso List to Hunt

by Sir Thomas Wyatt

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What is the double meaning of the deer allusion in the poem?

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In the poem "Whoso List to Hunt", the writer, Sir Thomas Wyatt, describes a hunt in which he is pursuing a deer, only to discover that the object of the chase is off-limits to him because she belongs to the owner of the land.  Critics generally agree that the poem is an allegory whereby the deer represents Anne Boleyn, who reputedly had been an object of the poet's desire. 

In the first four lines of the poem, Wyatt says that he knows where there is "an hind," or a female deer, if anyone is interested in hunting.  He describes himself, however, as being "of them that farthest cometh behind," having been been beaten out in his pursuit by others.  In the following four lines, the poet says that although he cannot have the deer, he cannot forget her, stating, "...may I by no means my wearied mind draw from the deer."  Still, he cannot catch her.

In lines 9-14, Wyatt reveals that really, he cannot have the deer, nor can anyone else, as she is the property of someone already.  She wears around her neck, engraved in diamonds, the words "Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am."  In a clear presentation of the central symbol in the allegory, the image of a deer with a diamond collar extends to that of a woman with diamonds around her neck, the diamonds indicating ownership, by the King.  Although historically it is believed that Wyatt wished to pursue Anne Boleyn, when she was claimed by King Henry VIII, she was clearly no longer available, and his suit ended in failure.  The meaning of the words on the diamonds around the deer's neck, Latin for "Do not touch me," are significant.  The deer, symbolizing the beautiful Anne Boleyn, belongs to Caesar, or the King, and is off-limits to everyone else.  Wyatt closes the poem with a warning perhaps made by the deer herself, that although she "seem(s) tame," she is a wild one.

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