English Literature
Whoso List to Hunt

Whoso List to Hunt

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The Revolutionary Petrarchan Sonnet of Sir Thomas Wyatt: Examining 'Whoso List to Hunt'

Sir Thomas Wyatt's renowned poem, 'Whoso List to Hunt', is considered one of the first Petrarchan sonnets written in English. It is a controversial and scandalous piece, as the author was not only a prisoner and a knight, but also a rival for the love of the King. In this article, we will closely examine this famous poem, delving into its themes and contextual significance.

'Whoso List to Hunt': A Summary

The Petrarchan sonnet, predating the popular Elizabethan sonnet popularized by William Shakespeare, consists of 14 lines split into two stanzas. The first stanza, an octave (8 lines), follows a rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA, and the second stanza, a sestet (6 lines), follows a rhyme scheme of CDECDE. This traditional form is evident in Wyatt's 'Whoso List to Hunt', which is essentially a love poem.

In the poem, the speaker compares their pursuit of romantic desire to a hunt for a deer. This extended metaphor runs throughout the piece, as the speaker expresses weariness and frustration with their fruitless efforts. The speaker is so determined to catch the deer that they are unable to tear themselves away from the pursuit.

The speaker warns others that they too will find little success in trying to catch the deer, comparing it to attempting to capture the wind in a net. However, the final sestet reveals a twist, as it is revealed that the deer wears a diamond necklace with the words "do not touch me, for I belong to Caesar" etched into it. This alludes to a warning against pursuing someone who belongs to someone else.

The poem is heavily influenced by 'Sonnet 190' (1530s) by Francesco Petrarch, which also deals with unrequited love. However, while Petrarch's speaker is content to see the woman as a dream vision, Wyatt's poem focuses on the emotional and physical toll of the pursuit. The tone of the poem is exasperated and desperate, with the speaker acknowledging that whoever wishes to hunt the deer will only "spend his time in vain."

About Sir Thomas Wyatt

Sir Thomas Wyatt, born in Kent, England in 1503, was a renowned English poet who introduced the sonnet into English literature. After receiving an education at Cambridge, he became a member of King Henry VIII's court, known for his mastery of language and music, as well as his good looks.

Wyatt's association with the Boleyn family sparked rumors of an affair with Anne Boleyn, which proved dangerous when King Henry VIII desired to marry her. As a result, Wyatt was imprisoned in 1536. However, he was knighted a year later and sent on diplomatic missions abroad, possibly to keep him away from Anne. He passed away in October 1542.

'Whoso List to Hunt': a Poem

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 mindDraw from the deer, but as she fleeth aforeFainting 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 plainThere is written, her fair neck round about:Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

'Whoso List to Hunt': Themes and Analysis

The central theme of the poem is unrequited love, depicted through the violent pursuit of the deer. Despite its romantic undertones, the tone of the piece is not romantic, but instead exasperated and desperate. The metaphor of the hunt represents the speaker's frustration with their pursuit, as well as the warning against pursuing someone who belongs to someone else.

The Hunt for Love in 'Whoso List to Hunt' Poem by Thomas Wyatt

The speaker in 'Whoso List to Hunt' compares love to a violent hunt for a deer, expressing their desire for the object of their affection. However, this metaphor can be seen as problematic, blurring the lines between love and violence. The speaker's relentless pursuit of the deer reveals their desperation and obsession, leaving the prey with little say in the matter. In the poem, the speaker finds themselves behind their fellow hunters, exhausted and worn out by their fruitless chase.

The Role of Gender in 'Whoso List to Hunt'

The first section of the poem seems to reinforce traditional gender roles, with the speaker being a man in pursuit of a woman who does not wish for their attention. This portrayal presents the woman as a trophy, something to be possessed by the speaker.

The poem 'Whoso List to Hunt' by Sir Thomas Wyatt, written during the time of the English Reformation, presents a powerful message on the pursuit of love. The speaker's desperation and frustration are evident as they reject the traditional idea of love where the man is the hunter and the woman is the prey. The poem ends with a cautionary reminder that the object of their desire may seem tamed but is ultimately untouchable.

An Introduction to Sonnets: The Octave and Sestet

Sonnets, a popular form of poetry during the 16th century, follow a strict structure with a set rhyme scheme. The 14-line poem is divided into two sections, the octave and sestet, each serving a specific purpose in conveying the central theme of the poem. 'Whoso List to Hunt' is a perfect example of a sonnet, with its use of the octave and sestet to present the concept of a hunt for love.

The Octave and Sestet in Sonnets

The octave, made up of 8 lines, introduces the main idea or problem, while the sestet, made up of 6 lines, offers a resolution or further development of the idea. This structure allows for a clear and concise presentation of the theme, with the use of repetition in the rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA for the octave and CDD CEE for the sestet.

Wyatt's Use of Rhyme Scheme in 'Whoso List to Hunt'

Sir Thomas Wyatt's poem follows the traditional Petrarchan sonnet form, with the use of iambic pentameter, a popular meter in English sonnets. The rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA in the octave emphasizes the speaker's obsessive pursuit of love, while the sestet's rhyme scheme of CDD CEE further reinforces the theme.

The Themes of 'Whoso List to Hunt'

The poem addresses themes of love and gender, using the metaphor of a hunt to symbolize the speaker's pursuit of a woman. The tone of the poem is desperate and passionate, highlighting the speaker's intense longing for the object of their affection.

Fascinating Facts about 'Whoso List to Hunt'

  • 'Whoso List to Hunt' is considered one of the earliest English sonnets, written by Sir Thomas Wyatt in the early 16th century.
  • It is believed that Petrarch's sonnet 190 served as the inspiration for Wyatt's poem, evident in the title.
  • The use of simplistic and monosyllabic words in the poem reflects its significance as one of the first English sonnets.

In conclusion, 'Whoso List to Hunt' is a prime example of a Petrarchan sonnet, with its use of the octave and sestet to convey the speaker's passionate pursuit of love. The poem's themes of love and gender remain relevant today, making it a timeless piece of literature.

The Art of Sonnets: Understanding the Structure and Themes of Sir Thomas Wyatt's 'Whoso List to Hunt'

Sonnets have long been a cherished form of poetry, known for their structured flow and rhyming patterns. The use of an octave and sestet is crucial in crafting a sonnet, with the former setting the tone and the latter providing resolution or further development. A prime example of this is found in Sir Thomas Wyatt's 'Whoso List to Hunt', a Petrarchan sonnet that expertly utilizes the traditional elements of a sonnet while exploring themes of love and gender.

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