In space no one can hear you explode, Or, Teaching literary convention in Shakespeare’s romantic comedies

I don’t lecture much. Boring to do, boring to be done to. Conversation’s far more fun. But two or one times a quarter I talk for around ten minutes from prepared notes. (Which in practice takes most of an hour because we break to chat.) Here’s one such set I range from, on why what seems odd in Shakespeare’s plays, ain’t half so strange as stuff we take for bread and butter. And why artmaking is worldfashioning.

My notes are kind of telegraphic, but I’ll try to flesh out, and put interpolations in


and texts we go to in

block quotes.

To start, we read Twelfth Night 2.4.79-124. Viola, a young woman recently shipwrecked, has disguised herself as a young man, Cesario, and entered the service of one Count Orsino, with whom she has fallen in love. Orsino, however, is infatuated with Olivia, whom he sends Cesario to woo on his behalf.

ORSINO   Once more, Cesario,
Get thee to yond same sovereign cruelty:
Tell her, my love, more noble than the world,
Prizes not quantity of dirty lands;
The parts that fortune hath bestow’d upon her,
Tell her, I hold as giddily as fortune;
But ’tis that miracle and queen of gems
That nature pranks her in attracts my soul.

VIOLA   But if she cannot love you, sir?

ORSINO   I cannot be so answer’d.

VIOLA                                                   Sooth, but you must.
Say that some lady, as perhaps there is,
Hath for your love a great a pang of heart
As you have for Olivia: you cannot love her;
You tell her so; must she not then be answer’d?

ORSINO   There is no woman’s sides
Can bide the beating of so strong a passion
As love doth give my heart; no woman’s heart
So big, to hold so much; they lack retention
Alas, their love may be call’d appetite,
No motion of the liver, but the palate,
That suffer surfeit, cloyment and revolt;
But mine is all as hungry as the sea,
And can digest as much: make no compare
Between that love a woman can bear me
And that I owe Olivia.

VIOLA                             Ay, but I know—

ORSINO   What dost thou know?

VIOLA   Too well what love women to men may owe:
In faith, they are as true of heart as we.
My father had a daughter loved a man,
As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your lordship.

ORSINO                           And what’s her history?

VIOLA   A blank, my lord. She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?
We men may say more, swear more: but indeed
Our shows are more than will; for still we prove
Much in our vows, but little in our love.

ORSINO   But died thy sister of her love, my boy?

VIOLA   I am all the daughters of my father’s house,
And all the brothers too: and yet I know not.
Sir, shall I to this lady?

ORSINO                           Ay, that’s the theme.
To her in haste; give her this jewel; say,
My love can give no place, bide no denay.

Viola’s love for Orsino is clear. But on the page, is Orsino in love with Viola, yet?

We decide he’s not. Maybe dawning interest, and maybe hesitation in “Ay, that’s the theme,” but on the page, that’s about it.

So what do we make of it, that in Act 5, as soon as she’s revealed to be a she, he falls for her, asks her to marry him? Unrealistic, right?

This group had a ready explanation: Orsino’s actually gay, and was attracted to “him” all along, but couldn’t express that or admit it, till the “boy” was revealed to be the woman.

That reading anticipates Trevor Nunn’s in his production – not “Orsino is gay,” but, desire for a man that leaves him confused and divided. This clip will do for illustration:

So there’s one way to make the speed of Orsino’s love for Viola psychologically plausible: it wasn’t fast, it was slow, and held secret. Here’s another way, in SparkNotes:

[T]he play repeatedly raises the question of whether romantic love has more to do with the person who is loved or with the lover’s own imagination—whether love is real or merely something that the human mind creates for the sake of entertainment and delight. In the case of Orsino, the latter seems to be true, as he is less in love with Olivia herself than he is with the idea of being in love with Olivia. He claims to be devastated because she will not have him, but as the audience watches him wallow in his seeming misery, it is difficult to escape the impression that he is enjoying himself—flopping about on rose-covered beds, listening to music, and waxing eloquent about Olivia’s beauty to his servants. The genuineness of Orsino’s emotions comes into question even further when he later switches his affections from Olivia to Viola without a second thought; the audience then suspects that he does not care whom he is in love with, as long as he can be in love.

What do you think?

They generally like it. This is a setup. I’m a bastard.

So, two ways to explain something that looks wildly unrealistic. One says, seems sudden but isn’t sudden, he was falling in love over a period of time, we just didn’t see it.

Other says, he’s in love not with a person, but with an idea. When he switches from Olivia to Viola, the love object stays the same. Only the occasion, the excuse, changes.

Notice, with both, we’re trying to make the change psychologically realistic, and to resolve an unease that way. Here’s a third way of addressing the question, one that doesn’t try for psychological plausibility, and that may not resolve our unease.

It means appealing to literary convention. A shared understanding of what’s plausible within the imaginal world of the text – the play or novel or poem or movie – even if it’s unrealistic outside that imaginal world.

A literary convention of the 19th century novel – a minor one – is that no one ever goes to the bathroom. For over a hundred years everyone held it in. Unrealistic? Sure. Does it bother you? Probably not. Reading Jane Eyre or Middlemarch, you probably don’t even notice it.

A literary convention of science fiction movies – again, a minor one – is that sound travels in the vacuum of space. Another is that faster-than-light drive is possible. Another, that all the species of the galaxy speak middle-American English, or can be got to easily. Not all science fiction movies hold to all of these, but when one departs from one of them, it’s noteworthy, as an exception.

You can check your own adherence to a literary convention by whether you notice it or not. If you read the whole of Jane Eyre and never notice that no one once goes to the bathroom – you’ve probably bought into the conventions of the 19th century novel.

But if you go to The Force Awakens and can’t get past the fact that the laser canons of the star destroyers can be heard across the vacuum of space – “that’s just not realistic!” – then you haven’t bought into the conventions of the contemporary science fiction movie.

Note that The Last Jedi intervened in that convention …

The ensuing conversation got to some of what’s in the notes following.

Shakespeare’s plays depend on literary conventions also. One convention of his romantic comedies – a major one – is that characters fall in and out of love with remarkable speed and ease.

Characters falling in and out of love with each other makes romantic comedies work. In the same way that faster-than-light drive makes science fiction movies work. You can do a lot more fun stuff on stage if characters keep changing love interests. You can do a lot more cool stuff on different planets if characters can actually get to different planets. By the same token, space explosions are more cool if they make noise – until they’re not.

So it’s not surprising that these became conventions of their genres. Unrealistic, implausible, outside their fictive worlds, but taken as givens within those worlds.

Watching science fiction, if you buy into the world, you stop thinking about faster-than-light-drive – or the sound explosions make in space, or the convenient fact that everyone speaks English.

Watching a romantic comedy, if you buy into the world, you stop thinking about how fast people fall into and out of love. Within that world it’s perfectly realistic.

Here’s the thing though. Genre conventions evolve. So what was perfectly realistic 350 years ago, within these fictive worlds, now seems implausible. We still have romantic comedies, sure, and they still have genre conventions, absolutely, but they’re somewhat different than those Shakespeare worked with.

The small change from The Force Awakens to The Last Jedi is a moment of such evolution. Someone said, what happens if we do silent space explosions, and make that cool?

One thing that happens is, folks think the theatre has effed up. Can’t find a bootleg clip of the scene itself, but here’s an account of the confusion the moment – a ship colliding with another – caused by not being usual.

Many fans will report hearing gasps during this moment (that’s how effective the smash cut to silence is), but apparently some fans have been complaining and blaming the theater for a sound issue. Complains were apparently so consistent that an AMC Theater decided to print out and post signs warning fans in advance about the moment, saying the silence is very much an intentional creative decision made by director Rian Johnson. (Insider)

I’m curious whether the director’s intervention will stick, and how the genre will alter. It struck me as the one original moment in the movie.

Coming back to our first two accounts for why Orsino falls in love so fast.

When we hit Shakespearean conventions that are over with, we kind of go for them, and we kind of don’t. To the extent that we don’t, we try to resolve the dissonance in terms of the conventions we have on hand. Which are generally those of psychological realism – conventions established by movies and TV.

A plausible theory that psychological realism can produce: he’s been falling for her for quite some time (Nunn).

A bullshit theory that psychological realism can produce: he’s just “in love with love” (SparkNotes)

Why bullshit? Because it smushes every lover in every romantic comedy Shakespeare wrote into an undifferentiated porridge. You can say that of all of them. It’s just part of Shakespeare’s vision of romantic love that love loves to love itself. You can take it as a starting point, but if that’s as far as you can get with psychological realism, psychological realism is about worthless. Especially since said realism is about individuality, and with that outcome, it’s totally failed to individuate anyone.

Too, the theory fails to notice that Sebastian and Olivia (twice) fall in love with equal speed and for equally shallow reasons. The only ones who’ve been nursing love for an “appropriately” long duration are Orsino and – Malvolio. Yeah, ugh.

Must also note my ulterior motive, steer them away from SparkNotes, at least one of them, maybe forever. So bad, terrible, that these pre-digested sources are so readily available. Their readings may be rougher but they are smarter. The questions they’ve been asking! V. good.

So, to sum up, three ways of accounting for the speed with which Orsino falls for Viola once she’s revealed as Viola. (1) It wasn’t fast, he was falling for her all along (Nunn). (2) He’s not falling for her, he’s just “in love with love” (SparkNotes). (3) It’s realistic within the conventions of Shakespearean romantic comedy, because quick moves in and out of love are, for these plays, a condition of the real.

The first is quite reasonable though it denatures, modernizes, Shakespeare’s play somewhat. The second is unfortunate – it pounds all the romantic comedies into a homogeneous love-mush Shakespeare would ne’er recognize. The third is easy to ignore because to stand there means discomfort; we have to abide in understandings of the text, which in turn are understandings of the world, that are not ours, though they underwrite ours.

So they are uncanny, intimate to us, unknown to us. At a wonderful dinner last night with friends, Lunar New Year, we touched briefly on the profundity and/or banality of Donald Rumsfeld’s “known unknowns”:

There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Ironic the know-it-all missed the fourth category, the unknown knownthe uncanny.

Be careful about projecting 21st century expectations – psychological realism – onto 17th century plays. Our literary conventions have descended from Shakespeare’s, he’s had a major part in creating the conventions we hold to, but also they’ve changed over time. Don’t be too quick to erase the strangeness of these that ours came from, their uncanniness.

Addendum. I’m writing this up a couple weeks after the fact – and am v. glad to report, they’re putting this convention notion to work. I asked, last class, how we could make sense of Iago’s evil, when it seems to far exceed all its possible grounds. (It may be as much a problem for Othello as Hamlet’s boundless nausea is, by Eliot’s account, for Hamlet.) Here the bullshit psychological realist accounts are internal to the play, offered by Iago himself. The Moor slept with my wife, or I’ve heard maybe he did, and I’ll take it for hard fact, and burn him down. The Moor passed me over for promotion, and for that I’ll burn him down, and all he loves. Yeah, whatever it is, it ain’t that.

There’s a plausible psychological story, that he’s a sociopath, and it works to account for him, but at the cost of a modern imposition, smothering the mystery he poses. There are also plausible sociological accounts – that Iago is the diffused racism of Venetian society, or Shakespeare’s English imagination of it, concentrated to a dagger point. We touched on all these and did good work with them. But the point that delighted me the most, in a class that delights me lots and often, not because it’s more right than the others but because it’s harder to get to, and it shows they’re thinking and feeling the plays as formally deliberately made things, with their own felt conditions arranged in a coherence, is that Iago is as evil as the play needs him to be. The play needs a villain sufficient to its hero if it’s to be a tragedy. The plot and the moral balance of the play make Iago what he is. In other words, literary convention, as it belongs to genre, form, and ethos. These kids, they doing it.


David Brooks 1 Lao-Tzu 0

David Brooks, writing on the DC shutdown, got a good one-two on Democrats and Foucault tonight, I laughed out loud.

Democrats focused all their energies on those all-important Michel Foucault swing voters. When Democrats get all excited, they go into a hypnotic trance and think the entire country is the Middlebury College faculty lounge. The American story is a story of systemic oppression. Since the cultural discourse that privileges white hegemony is the world’s single most important problem, of course it’s worth shutting down the entire government to take a stand on DACA.

I mean, I had thought maybe it was, but he has a point? But then he had to go and fuck with a sacred text.

Democrats devised a brilliant Tao Te Ching messaging strategy. The ancient Chinese master informs us, “Being and not being create each other. … Before and after follow each other.” In this way, he teaches the paradoxical infinity of ultimate truth.

The Democrats captured this same paradoxical profundity with their superb messaging over the weekend: We bravely shut down the government to save the Dreamers even though Donald Trump is responsible for shutting down the government.

The ancient Chinese master bows in respect.

Friend, I know you were writing to a deadline and all, but aside from the not really much getting it, that’s just, and these are not words I use lightly, some nasty racist shit, for a cheap laugh.

David Brooks 1, Lao-Tzu 0.

Lao-Tzu wins it.

The column, in which he enjoins us to listen to the non-racist angels of our nature, here.

The image atop, one of the silk manuscripts of the Tao Te Ching, recovered at Mawangdui, more here.

Okay, PS PS, then I go to bed. Close read, à la Foucault, DB’s first para, he uses all twice in one sentence, thrice in two. Who’s it getting overheated, mm?

Major Authors Seminar: Pound and Williams

Description for a spring course I’m way excited to teach again.

We know Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams for a few hit singles

The apparition of these faces in the crowd.

so much depends

and maybe a few sayings fit for a bumper sticker. Go in fear of abstractions. No ideas but in things. What these soundbites miss is each poet’s complex and ongoing self-reinvention. Both started as Imagists, rejecting the sentimentality they found in late Victorian verse, instead carving small hard moments of perception. From there, the two diverged, Williams becoming more invested in the local, the scruffily irregular, Pound in archetypal patterns that for him made ancient history current, distant cultures present. Both remained committed, however, to reinventing the epic, and to bringing mythic awareness to the crush of modernity.

Pound read mythology as if it were the morning newspaper.
Williams read the morning newspaper as if it were mythology.
                  —Donald Revell

Between them they initiated strands in the web of American postmodernism that continue to spread and bear fruit and further ramify to this day. Be ready for close reading of sometimes very difficult texts; the postmodern epic, there’s no mastering it, only entering and being swept through and by it. Assignments will include regular critical responses; a seminar paper to be presented to the class and revised for final submission; an allusion chart mapping a chosen passage from The Cantos; and line-by-line meticulously close reading of a chosen passage from Paterson. Our texts: Pound, selected early poems from Personae, Cathay, selections from the Cantos, selected critical writings; Williams, selected early poems, Spring and All, Descent of Winter, Paterson books I-III, selected prose.

The image atop, a detail from Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers (Sho-Sho Hakkei) by Sesson Shukei (1504–ca. 1590). A time-honoured theme in Chinese and Japanese landscape painting; one such series was inspiration for Pound’s “Seven-Lakes Canto,” Canto XLIX, still point in the book’s burning wheel.

Not, as far as I know, Shukei’s; it’s just for instance. The whole of it


“Stunningly statistically beautiful, a monument”

This posted just recently by a treasured friend from grad school (an excerpt)

In moments like these, I’m visited by the ad for Joi, the holographic lover of the replicant blade runner called K. The generic Joi towers above me, stunningly statistically beautiful, a monument to our alienation from the material fact of ourselves. As she comes toward me, her steps make no sound. Even at her scale, she doesn’t displace the air with her movements. She carries no scent. A few feet from me, she stops and  crouches to bring her eyes more to the level of mine, but because of her height she still has to look down at me. She says, “You look like a Pepper.”

Read the whole of it, Aethon, which means blazing, also gut-devouring eagle, also also a scary robot corp, do!

Bruce Beasley’s Soul Parts

This weekend I had the pleasure of introducing Bruce Beasley as he read from his new book, All Soul Parts Returned, at Village Books here in Bellingham, WA, on the blue wet coast of America. I’ve learned uncountably much from Bruce over the years. Not least he exemplifies to me how to speak to folks as who you just is. He’s one of the most authentic readers I’ve ever encountered – venues! book him! – and though I don’t come anywhere near that, it’s partly thanks to him I have an inner sensor for when I’m in actual contact with, at one and the same time, my core and those I’m talking to – cuz that’s the trick of it – and when I’ve lost that spirit tripod and am on bullshit autopilot. Well here’s give or take what I said.

It is an honour and a delight to introduce Bruce Beasley, who’s going to read tonight from his book just published by BOA Editions, All Soul Parts Returned.

One thrill of Bruce’s work is how he holds a word or phrase up and turns it a little this way, a little that, to see what light glints off it. “Ordinary of the Mass.” “Torn-to-pieces-hood.” “I have taken leave of several of my senses.” Then he breaks the whole apart to see what light the pieces might have in them.

I’m going to see if I can say something about his book by doing that with his title. And so here we go. All Soul Parts Returned.

Part the first. All soul. All is soul, all spirit – very nice, very idealist. Or all is sole, S-O-L-E, all is alone – so lonely. Or maybe all is alone because all is one, that’s the etymology – “alone,” all one. (If you think I’ve left the book behind you should buy it and read it because I really haven’t.) Now what about All Souls’ Day, because that’s called to mind too, day after the day after Halloween, when the spooky bits are over, and the Saints have had their day – now is when the ordinary faithful departed are honoured and remembered.

In one poem, through the sort of linguistic shattering and regathering I’m talking about, Bruce carries a forgotten Scots couplet

The speaned lambs mene their mithers
As they wimple ower the bent

through mediations and mastications and yet somehow arrow-straight to

The speaned man
menes his mither
as he wimples
ower the bent.

“The grown man mourns his mother as he falls in folds over the field.” That’s not the only way to read the verse, of course, that turn and return. These poems multiply. Multi-ply, many folds.

Part the second. Soul parts. Well doesn’t it just. It just keeps on going off somewhere. Except, off from whom? Wait, aren’t I the one, the soul, from whom the soul would go? (That’s kind of the question of the book.) Or, the soul parts, as in splits, into parts – but how can I be fractured from myself? (That’s sort of the question of the book.) Also, sole, S-O-L-E again. Are we talking sole and uppers, and we’re in a shoe repair workshop? “All sole parts returned.” Buy this book, toll-free, 1-800-SANDALS.

Finally, parts returned. Turned then turned again, re-turned? Are the parts spun round and round? “Turn,” when a poet says it, has to mean verse, has to mean poetry. A turn is a line break, a poem is to turn and re-turn. Are our soul parts being turned round, line after line, till they’re dizzy like kids at a piñata? From “Me Meaneth”:

We could trace it if we wanted to: the dictionary’s
words line up like children in a rush,
blindfolded, to bash

a piñata. We could track
T. S. Cairncross himself,
and his lost poem, and his lambs,

the words that merge
into his last name –

Cairn, cross. This tracing has no beginning and it never ends, marking the markers, death, loss, our observances.

I might seem just to be making up some dumb shit here. But this is the sort of crazed linguistic refraction Bruce’s poetry invites you to. Language in his world is a guide who keeps on ducking behind a screen then jumping back out at you wearing a clown suit and juggling deckchairs jellyfish and metaphysics. Then, just when you’ve got used to that, it steps out wearing a mask of oblivion.

Because the work is, meanwhile, also, terrifying. Nothing escapes question here. Not language, not the self, not whether life here on earth deserves it. (That would be Schopenhauer’s contribution. That philosopher is Bruce’s Satan in the forty-day desert.)

Nothing escapes question except maybe ordinary affection. Before and through and after all the play, affection is ordinal, a compass bearing. Affection for language, affection for wife, and son, and this astonishing biosphere, and a loving appalling God who may or may not – .

It’s an affection as true as the spiritual travail it allows is at times harrowing.

The factual stuff. All Soul Parts Returned is Bruce’s eighth book of poetry, following Theophobia, also published by BOA, in 2012. Other recent books include The Corpse Flower: New and Selected Poems (University of Washington Press, 2007) and Lord Brain (University of Georgia Press, 2005). He has won three Pushcart Prizes and has seen his work anthologized in Lyric Postmodernisms, The Pushcart Book of Poetry, and other collections. His work has appeared in Yale Review, Kenyon Review, Southern Review, New American Writing, Field, and many many other journals.  He’s a Professor of English at Western where he teaches courses in poetry writing, slam poetry, dreamwork, and the ontology of monsters.

Bruce has been a teacher, mentor, guide and friend to me, more than half my life now. I can’t tell you what an honour it is to introduce him to you (although I did just try).

Please join me in welcoming Bruce Beasley.

The image up top is by J. B. Murray, (bio here) untitled. One of his astonishing images graces the cover of All Soul Parts. Here’s another that dovetails with my poetry workshop’s current recent pass through asemic writing –


Valentine’s Shirt in Heaven

Zazen last night at Red Cedar for the first time in some weeks. My mind was a drifty sleepy jello, nothing new there. I moved from following my breath to following sounds. No alertness for me there so I switched to taking refuge

I take refuge in the Buddha
I take refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha

one on each exhalation. Just the utterance for itself, not trying to connect with what it means, I don’t know what they mean, honestly I don’t. I mean, I could try to explicate it, but phhhht. Nothing special happened and I left before service, tired after a long day and under the weather.

What we want’s so simple. To be loved. It’s so little and so much.

This morning, two poems by Jean Valentine, facing pages, saw me face to face.


I lay down under language
it left me and I slept

—You, the Comforter, came into the room
I moved my head—

my blood, my mouth
all buttoned away—

Makers of houses, books, clothes-
makers, goodbye—



A leaf, a shadow-hand
blows over my head
from outside time
now & then
this time of year, September

—this happens—
—it’s well known—
a soul locked away inside
not knowing anyone,
walking around, but inside;

I was like this once,
and you, whose shadow-hand
(kindness) just now blew over my head, again,
you said, “Don’t ever think you’re a monster.”

That Comforter, that kindness, I know them, & not just in memory.

& not only, please let it be, their recipient.

Image above, from a work still incipient, Dura Mater. Click to go bigly:

Image 1 col

Sumas Mountain ochre, olive oil, egg yolk, water on paper.

Close reading worksheet: Wyatt

The close reading guidelines I posted last week got more attention than I’d of expected. So thought to post, also, a worksheet I slapped together to help students build the skills they need to do all the damn fool things I say they might should.

This one’s on four of the six poems we’ve read by Sir Thomas Wyatt. Two sonnets, one sonnet on steroids, and one song that ne’er was, it thinketh me, no song never, and his lute be damned.

You might find the sheet haphazard and’d not be wrong. But a bunch of the Q’s on it, I framed after we’d talked about the poems some, so we had some lines we were thinking of them along, and I wanted to continue those.

We talked through about 1/2 of it today, and while they didn’t find it near so fun as wondering whether he did or didn’t do X with Anne Boleyn, they did brave and well. Noticing, e.g., how the fricative alliteration in “Fainting I follow” (in “Whoso list to hunt”) makes for a heavy breathing mimicking the breathless faltering hunter’s. And the echo, in “Since in a net I seek to hold the wind,” of the bag of winds given by Aeolus to Odysseus – a connection I admit I’d not have made, but I do think may be there, via Ovid if not from Homer straight.

Wyatt Worksheet

Apportion tasks as you see fit – but do collaborate, so as to come to the most complete answer to each of these questions. Take thorough notes, so you can report back to the class as a whole.

“Whoso list to hunt”

  • Describe the rhyme scheme (ab etc.) and locate the turn. What changes, rhetorically, at the turn? In other words, what is the speaker up to, before the turn, and how is what he’s up to different, after?
  • There are spots where alliteration becomes prominent. Find them. What’s the effect of the alliteration?
  • There are two lines that are metrically regular iambic pentameter except for a trochaic substitution in the first foot. Find them. What’s the effect of the substitution?
  • Feel your way into this metaphor: “Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.” What does it say, reflect, embody, about the speaker’s endeavour?

“My galley”

  • Describe the rhyme scheme of the sonnet. How is the rhyming practice here different from that of “Whoso list”? How does it support or complement the poem’s content?
  • We said in class that the extended metaphor in this sonnet qualifies as a conceit, in which unrequited love is equated with a sea voyage. Identify every point of connection you can find between the two terms of the metaphor: literal (ground) and figurative (figure). E.g., “A rain of tears,” rain = the lover’s tears; “The stars,” stars = the beloved’s eyes.
  • Paraphrase lines 7–8: rephrase them in modern English with no loss of detail.
  • What do you make of the paradox that the speaker’s “enemy” is also his “lord”? Does it matter that these two descriptors are on two different lines?

“They Flee from me”

  • It’s never specified in the first stanza who or what “they” are. We can surmise, of course: they’re deer (figure), they’re lovers (ground). Why might Wyatt leave it implicit though – both deer and lovers unnamed?
  • “Busily seeking with a continual change” seems to apply well to young ladies of the court, not so well to deer. Is this a flaw in the poem, a metaphor fail? If not, why has the metaphor collapsed before the stanza and the sentence are done?
  • What do you take lines 18–19 to mean? What tone are they spoken in?

“My lute, awake!”

  • Scan stanza six. There are four trochaic substitutions in the stanza – find them. Is there anything that can be said about the effect they have?
  • Find the spots in the poem where the addressee, the thing or person spoken to, changes. Are these shifts important to the poem, rhetorically, structurally?
  • The poem imagines someone speaking (singing), someone spoken (sung) to. To what ostensible purpose? Is there some other obscured purpose we can discern? While we’re on the subject, does the poem imagine, in addition to its addressee(s), anyone overhearing?

That last one because these poems are as complex rhetorically, as aware of their ostensible audience, of possible intended unintended audiences; of their manifest purpose, of secret but broadly acknowledged purposes; and of purposes secret to all but the speaker, also of purposes the speaker has kept secret perhaps from himself – as any of the machinations were at that royal court, Henry 8’s, in which precincts these poems became so sharp and multiple, deadly and fine.

The image, in its whole glory, is Hunt in the Forest by Paolo Uccello.


Click on, to see if you know where is an hind.