Thomas Wyatt “Forget not yet”, “Blame not my lute”, “Stand whoso list”

“Forget not yet” is another poem in which the speaker sets himself up as a true and faithful lover. He asks the addressee of the poem not to forget his long and steadfast love – but also “the cruel wrong, the scornful ways” that presumably she was to blame for. The line “forget not yet” opens and closes each four-line stanza, echoing through the poem. The poem is written in measured tones, reminding one of a court speech, but in the last stanza the reader is jolted by a change from “forget not yet” to “forget not this”. It seems to me that while the previous stanza were about the various individual features of the speaker – his constancy, patience and so on – which may eventually fade from the lover’s memory and the speaker is just pleading “not yet”, the last stanza is about the lover himself, “thine approved” and this he just can’t let her ever forget.

“Blame not my lute” is an ironic complaint against the unfaithful lover, who apparently now wants to destroy the poet’s lute when he sings songs that do not reflect favourably on her. Again “blame not my lute” is the refrain at the beginning and end of each stanza. Don’t blame my lute, says the speaker, it is just an inanimate object and does what I make it do. But actually you cannot blame me, either, but only yourself. “Spite asketh spite, and changing change”, in other words you just get your just deserts. If you cut my lute’s strings, I’ll get new ones to sing the songs that make you blush – but it is all your own fault.

“Stand whoso list” is a political poem, a free translation of a few lines from Seneca’s tragedy Thyestes, which is a gloomy story about murder, rape and incest, all committed in the name of seizing power. The poem is sometimes associated with one of Wyatt’s falls from grace and the resulting disenchantment with courtly life. It has a sophisticated rhyme pattern even though it is only 10 lines long and it reminds me of Hopkins’s curtal sonnet. It is a stoical praise of simple life far away from the danger of the court. Stand if you like on that slippery top you call the court, he writes, I’d rather live my life unnoticed and not taste the court’s “brackish” joys. I’d rather die of old age in the usual manner, as unknown men do. In an elegant paradox, he writes that those who are “much of known of others” are prone to die a sudden and dreadful death, without truly knowing themselves. Of course the irony of this poem is that Seneca was quite fond of life at the court, retired only when the emperor Nero’s new friends started to run him down and in the end the retirement didn’t save him from untimely death. I’m sure the irony of this was not lost on Wyatt, who also despite his pose of stoical disdain for the court did return to it, even when he saw with his own eyes how dangerous it is. But more about it in the next post.

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