Sir Thomas Wyatt

Biographical Information

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Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) Wyatt lived primarily under the unstable reign of King Henry VIII. In 1536 Wyatt witnessed the beheading of Anne Boleyn from his prison in the Tower of London. (See “V. Innocentia Veritas Biat Fides,” p.58) Four years later he witnessed the death of Thomas Cromwell with whom he had been close. His death is thought to inspire “The pillar perished is whereto I lent” (p.62), a translated Petrarch poem. One year later he was imprisoned on accounts of suspected treason. While he was let free, he contracted a fever soon thereafter, resulting in his death in 1542.

In translating from a number of Italian originals (including Ariosto and Petrarch) [Wyatt] regained for English poetry something of the cosmopolitan scope it had enjoyed in Chaucer's time. In pioneering the development of the English sonnet, he carried out a labour whose significance is at once apparent, even if later sonneteers such as Sidney and Spenser based their work less on the foundations laid by Wyatt than on a fresh recourse to foreign models.
— James Reeves

Poems


Wyatt’s poems seems to shift from the affairs of love to a theme much more absorbed in political corruption, social satire and cautionary tales. For example, at least two are popularly believed to have been written after the death of a friend or former love-interest, “V. Innocentia Veritas Biat Fides,” (p.58) and “The pillar perished is whereto I lent” (p. 62) Other notable poems include a satire on high society (perhaps an inspiration to other satirists such as Alexander Pope) beginning “Mine own John Poins, since ye delight to know” (p.53) This poem addresses a “John Poins” (l.1) indicating that this, like “ My mother’s maids, when they did sew and spin,” (p. 55) and “Sights are my food, drink are my tears;” (p. 63) is written as a correspondence.

The Cream of the Crop:
"V. Innocenta Veritas Biat Fides": This poem is significantly darker and more pessimistic than some of his love poems. As opposed to an inward conflict, Wyatt paints an ominous scene of Tudor London, with the words “circa regna tonat,” repeated at the end of each stanza. Translated, this means “It thunders around the kingdom.” There is a sense of unrest and hopelessness.

"My mother’s maids, when they did sew and spin": (p.55-8) This poem uses the almost parable-like tale of a mouse in search of a better life to illustrate humanity’s tendency to “seek the best / and find error as they stray!” (l.70-1) The abab rhyme-scheme and apparent lack of meter makes this a free-verse poem.

Suggested Further Readings


Reeves, James. "Sir Thomas Wyatt: Overview." Reference Guide to English Literature. Ed. D. L. Kirkpatrick. 2nd ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1991. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 19 Jan. 2011.

Sources


1. Abrams et. al., The Norton Anthology of English Literature; Jokinen, Luminarium (http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/wyattbio.htm); Saunders, A Biographical Dictionary.
2. Reeves, James. "Sir Thomas Wyatt: Overview." Reference Guide to English Literature. Ed. D. L. Kirkpatrick. 2nd ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1991. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 19 Jan. 2011.
3. Ward, Adrian O. "Proverbs and Political Anxiety in the Poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey." English Studies 81.5 (Oct. 2000): 456-471. Rpt. in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 121. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 19 Jan. 2011.
4. Braden, Gordon. "Wyatt and Petrarch: Italian fashion at the Court of Henry VIII." Annali d'Italianistica 22 (2004): 237. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 19 Jan. 2011.
5. Image: http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/wyattholbein.jpg
6. Poems from: Luminarium.org. <http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/wyattbib.htm>.


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