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Sir Thomas Wyatt's "They Flee from Me"

Updated on March 12, 2018
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "They Flee from Me"

Sir Thomas Wyatt's "They Flee from Me" features three septains (seven line stanzas), each with the rime scheme, ABACCDD.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The speaker reports his having fallen from favor with certain women, especially one that he remembers fondly. The speaker offers no reason for losing the attention of these woman; he seems confused but at the same time, he wants to report faithfully the situation. Likely, the speaker just wants to allow his listeners/reader to draw their own conclusions.

They Flee from Me

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, “Dear heart, how like you this?”

It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also, to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

Reading of "They Flee from Me"

Commentary

The speaker in Wyatt's most anthologized poem dramatizes the nature of regret after having fallen from favor.

First Septain: Eager Now to Avoid Him

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.

The speaker observes that the women who used to be eager for the speaker's attention now ignore him; they seem to be eager now to avoid him as they "flee from [him.]" The speaker implies that these women would slip into his bedroom, likely hoping to engage him sexually.

The speaker describes the women as "gentle, tame, and meek" in their behavior back when they also seemed to be "stalking" him. But now those same woman dart from him and are "now wild and do not remember" that they would go out of their way to be near him. The women would defy "danger" for just a crumb of his attention. Now they "range" or run wildly about searching for attention in other places, probably from other men.

The speaker is working to cover his resentment by noting the changes in these women's behavior, and he, thus, paints them as somewhat psychologically unbalanced in their vacillation of feeling for the speaker. This speaker, however, never offers any reason—nor does he even speculate about it—that the women who so ardently sought him now fervently disregard him.

Second Septain: After Having Been Sought After

Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, “Dear heart, how like you this?”

The speaker, then in rather humble but telling reference, asserts that luckily he did have the opportunity to experience the result of the earlier behavior of being sought after, and on at least twenty occasions successfully bedded the particular huntress.

The speaker especially remembers one time when the scantily clad seductress with "her loose gown" falling "from her shoulders" grabbed him and kissed him and "softly said, 'Dear heart, how like you this?'" The speaker remembers this instance with great passion and thanks "fortune" for allowing him at least this much.

Third Septain: A Seduction Scene

It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also, to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

The speaker then oddly professes that the seduction scene he has just dramatized was not a dream; it happened when he was wide awake. However, then everything changed, and the speaker blames his own "gentleness" for the "strange fashion of forsaking." He is forsaken, it seems, because of the woman's "goodness."

The woman has the audacity to take the initiative in the seduction but then just abandon him; he allows that such behavior is "newfangleness," which would likely herald the expression, "woman these days." But the speaker, allowing that he was "so kindly . . . served," wonders what the woman "hath deserved." He wonders if she remembers the incident with as much pleasure as he does.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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