Friday poem: 'They flee from me'

28 November 2014

by Thomas Wyatt

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.

 

It often seems that people who are a little afraid of poetry might have been driven that way by experiences long ago with well-meaning adults who thought that you should know what the poem was 'about'. As though a poem were a crossword puzzle or a jigsaw: one last piece to go . . . ah, now I see what it is!

For me, the first, most visceral pleasure of poetry is hearing the music words can make when they are placed next to one another by another human being with a musical ear for language. Read Wyatt's poem out loud and enjoy the soft music he creates, or listen to Helen Dunmore reading it here.

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