Wyatt About Sexism in Whoso List to Hunt

Sir Thomas Wyatt was regarded of the most prominent poets of his epoch. Similar to Davinci and Shakespeare, he often is perceived as a remarkable individual who possessed numerous talents. Not only did he have a fascinating personal life and background but he also addresses profound issues in his poetry. ‘Whoso list to hunt’ evokes a sense of compassion for the poet. Thomas Wyatt expresses an intense sadness that has consumed his mind. He reveals his exhaustion and disappointment in a great chase, while still admiring a quarry that has both eluded him and is now possessed by a greater man (‘Caesar’).

All in sonnet form, the poem recollects his weariness in hunting a female deer. He proclaims that he will not give up, just falling further behind. His wearied mind is still game. He manifests signs of indecision and his conflicting emotions resonate with our sense of sympathy. As she continues to flee, he leaves off, recognising his hunt to be as fruitless as ‘seeking to catch the wind in a net’.

He counsels other similarly inclined that they would spend their time in vain.

The wide ranges of literary devices that Wyatt subtly interweaves are an integral element that constitutes to the effectiveness of the poem. They are employed as a mechanism to reveal profound innuendos and to illustrate and enforce compelling imagery. In this poem, Wyatt has chosen a specific combination of words which appeal to our sense of sympathy. For instance, he remarks how the ‘vain travail’ has ‘wearied me so sore’.

This is a poignant phrase that underlines the extent of his fatigue.

Two lines below he repeats the word ‘wearied’ not only for emphasis but to really instil its significance. Wyatt is trying to convey how this specific word is in fact the substance of that particular line. Line 7 begins with the alliteration: ‘fainting I follow…’ Wyatt has carefully placed this literary device in a prominent position due to its genuine significance. This phrase reveals Wyatt’s overwhelming obsession with the hind. Even though he is exhausted (‘fainting’) he still persists (‘follows’). This demonstrates the measures that Wyatt is willing to go to, to attain this animal. This line has the ability to induce fervour by illustrating that the hind (woman?) is the paramount of Wyatt’s desires. This may also evoke sympathy.

One can also identify various deliberate shifts in the rhythmic structure. Some of these shifts such as ‘helas!’, are simply interjections to express regret while others are more deep rooted. In line 2, a shift is very evident: ‘I may no more’. The poet has introduced a change here to highlight this key phrase. This phrase emphasises how the poet’s previous endeavours have made no impact. Similarly, in line 6, the phrase ‘draw from the deer’ has been inserted to implement a memorable element as the poet possibly attempts to indicate his pun (deer or dear). The poet is also trying to bring to light how this phrase marks a turning point in the poem: Wyatt decides to pursue the deer once more.

Finally in the last line, the phrase ‘though I seem tame’ is distinctive and powerful as this dramatic end implies how both the hind and this woman possess false outward appearances. Wyatt’s divided and disorientated mind is enacted in the caesura. There is a deliberate pause to prompt this image of his own mental division. In line 7 there is a full stop after ‘fainting I follow….’ which plays the role of the caesura. This sudden pause mirrors his indecision, which is a clear manifestation of his psychological deterioration. Wyatt has cleverly inserted a metaphor concerning diamonds. The phrase ‘and graven with diamonds in letters plain’ is an effective metaphor which works on many different levels. The metaphor forges a striking image in our minds. It genuinely establishes a sense of grandeur while expressing a more profound notion. Diamonds have become synonymous with royalty and it is an icon of beauty.

This poem reflects the deceptive culture in which it was composed. There are various implications and innuendoes subtly inserted. The objectification of the woman prey who is hunted if she were a forest animal reveals the sexist society of Thomas Wyatt. Women were prized as objects. The sombre tone of the poem and the strong provocative words indicates that Thomas Wyatt’s love for this woman is insurmountable. In this allegory, the hind is a royal possession rather like a lady of the court. Caesar may symbolically represent Henry viii, a monarch who liked to engage in hunting and debauchery. When Henry courted Anne Boleyn he often gave her diamonds to counsel other suitors that Anne Boleyn was an object of the king’s desire. The hind’s collar perhaps represents the jewels and other gifts she was given which labelled her as ‘royal property’. Her portrayal as an animal of the forest, wearing a collar proclaiming her ruler’s ownership, may have also reflected how Henry merely branded her as a inanimate possession or a meagre tool for sex. Thomas Wyatt incorporates the ideas of masculine desire and ownership.

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