Whoso List to Hunt by Thomas Wyatt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. 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.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

Summary

The poem “Whoso list to hunt” begins with a question in which the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt asks the readers who enjoys the hunt as the poet knows of a female deer (hind). He moreover states that he is no longer chasing the deer as all his earlier efforts went in vain and he feels himself to be very tired after chasing the deer for so long. He is now at the end of the party which is trying to hunt the dear; but at the same time, he states that even though he is tired to carry on with the hunt anymore; his thoughts are always concentrated on the deer even though he feels exhausted. Next the poet makes a comparison where he states that that as it is futile to catch wind in a net similar is this hunt of the “hind.” In other words, the hunt seems to be fruitless. The poem ends with the diamond lettering around the neck of the hind which asks not to touch her as she belongs to Caesar and that though she seems tame, she is actually wild.

Analysis

Sir Thomas Wyatt’s “Whoso list to hunt,” is usually thought to be a translation of Petrarch’s Canzoniere 190. Sir Thomas Wyatt is a Petrarchan sonneteer. Usually the Petrarchan lover is in love with the beloved who is unattainable because of she is higher up in the social ladder and the lover does not dare to reach the beloved and silently carries on loving him. The unattainability of the beloved makes the lover speak of the beloved’s beauty and intellect in eloquent terms as does Wyatt in her sonnets. At the same time, the sonnets are also a beautiful rendition of the social and cultural set up of the then times.

The poem opens with the notion of hunting which is a favourite pastime during the times of Henry VIII. In the poem the beloved is compared to the hind or the deer and she seems to be unattainable as she has the cunningness in her to dodge all the hunters and roam freely in the forest. The imagery of hunting brings to mind the medieval pastime of the royal families who used to go for hunting expeditions. These hunting expeditions are means not only to pass one’s time, but also to provide entertainment. But in the poem when Sir Thomas Wyatt uses the analogy of hunting, he is not referring to his love as a pastime or that of entertainment; but is presenting it to be a serious affair in which he has been unsuccessful till now and therefore thinks that he should not carry further with active hunting for the time being because he is exhausted. His exhaustion makes him feel that he should leave the pursuit of the hind/ beloved; but at the same time his heart is not allowing him to do so. In other words, it can be said that the poet lover is caught between his heart and his head. His head – rational self – tells him to stop his pursuit; whereas his emotional self says that he should not leave the band of hunters as he is in love with the hind/ beloved.

This dichotomy of the poet –lover’s self is well presented in a lyrical fashion in the sonnet leading to the readers able to figure out the ways in which the poet is in pain as he can neither attain the beloved, nor leave his pursuit. He is in a kind of a hesitant moment when he feels that the hunt will necessarily end up in a failure; and yet he cannot leave the hunt as his emotions does not allow him to do so.

The comparison of his pursuit of the beloved with the image of catching wind in net talks about the futility of his efforts. The readers are made to feel the pain and the anguish of the lover. The intensity of feelings of the lover and the cunningness of the hind with which she is dodging the lover makes the reader figure out the poet-hunter-lover’s helplessness. It is this helplessness which is further enhanced when the poet lover mentions the bejeweled collar that is there around the hind’s neck which states in Latin “Noli Me Tangere” which means “Touch me not.” This Latin phrase refers to the words spoken by Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the Bible. Further it states that the name of the owner of the hind is also mentioned there as it says – “For Caesar’s I am.” The hind or the beloved in the poem is Anne Boleyn with whom the poet was in love with and who was married to King Henry VIII. As the poet-lover could no longer vie for Anne Boleyn’s affections therefore he talks about the futility of his pursuit/hunt. Moreover, by referring to King Henry VIII as Caesar, he is giving a tribute to the king for his greatness and bravery, charisma as well as political acumen. Thus the sonnet is not only a lyrical representation of the futility of poet lover’s love for his beloved, but also a tribute to King Henry VIII.


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