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

Whoso List to Hunt

by Sir Thomas Wyatt

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How is love presented in "Whoso List to Hunt" and Sonnet 130, and do they share similar meanings?

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Love is presented differently in both poems. In "Whoso List to Hunt," the deer is a metaphor for the woman that the poet hunts. He has wearied of this hunt, "but as she fleeth afore Fainting I follow" (6-7). The woman he chases is unattainable: " Noli me...

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tangere, for Caesar's I am" (13). This line implies that the woman has already been claimed by a powerful man, perhaps a king. In this sonnet, love with this woman is unattainable by the poet or any man who may also want to court her. It has been said that this sonnet was written about Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII; thus, the reference about belonging to Caesar (Henry VIII) would be apt.

In the second sonnet by Shakespeare, the woman has been attained by the poet, but the poet goes out of his way to deny her attractiveness. In fact, the images of this woman are negative: "Coral is far more red than her lips’ red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun" (2-3). This woman does not have red lips and snowy breasts, typically a sign of beauty. However, the poet believes, "And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare" (13-14). The sonnet ends with the poet in love with the woman he describes. Unlike the others, however, she is not a beauty. This sonnet is not the typical love sonnet proclaiming the beauty of the beloved. The woman, who has been referred to as "The Dark Lady," begins appearing in Sonnets 127–154.

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In Whoso List to Hunt, Sir Thomas Wyatt presents his love as an endless and ultimately fruitless chase. He writes of his doe ("hind"). He is weary from the chase but cannot help himself continuing to follow her, even though she wears a (proverbial) collar that announces "Noli me tangere," meaning "Touch me not" (13). She is unattainable: "wild for to hold, though I seem tame" (14). 

In Sonnet 130, Shakespeare's object of affection is not physically beautiful. As a matter of fact, he goes out of his way to apparently insult her physical attributes. Her hair is not like silk (as goes the cliche), but like wires (4). Her cheeks aren't rosy. Her eyes are ordinary "nothing like the sun" (1). However, to him, she is even more beautiful than "any she belied with false compare" (14), meaning that women who are physically beautiful cannot be compared to her, as her beauty is on a higher plane than theirs. 

The similar meaning lies in Wyatt's words: 

I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain. (7-10)
Both sonnets are about unusual women, with rare qualities that men sense but cannot see. Wyatt says that he pursues this "hind," but realizes that he cannot catch her ("in a net, I seek to hold the wind"), but he knows other men will have as little luck as he. She is, like Shakespeare's love, a woman of hidden power, "rare." She seems tame, but she is wild and ultimately unattainable. 
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