An Early Morning Walk with an Impatient Tudor Statesman during a postponed family Easter

Son-in-law John reading with Magnus

john and magnus reading

I’d like to spend a few days with Sir Thomas Wyatt. I know a few of his poems well from anthologies but have never read, never studied, him at length. That’s perhaps an odd state of affairs when one of his poems (‘My Galley, Charged with Forgetfulness’) would probably make it into a list of my top ten poems of all time, certainly into  my top twenty.

Last night after I’d collapsed to bed leaving  a late-postponed-Easter-houseful of children and grandchildren, I calmed myself down by reading some more of Sir Thomas’ poems here.  I began to  be struck how  different poets not only have a  certain recognisable style of writing but also a style of mind. You can tell when you are walking with Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Sharon Olds by how they feel in relation to the world, and ‘poetic style’ is only the top level of it. Reading twenty poems by Sir Thomas, I suddenly felt, Yes! This is you! This is what you are. Sometimes the syntax and thought is very hard and there’s often a particular back and forward to it. I’ll come back to some of those other poems over the next couple of weeks, but here’s one that seemed relatively simple with which to start.

I’ve only got until my ten-year old grandson Leo wakes up – after that it’s play, play, play, so forgive me if I break off abruptly.

Patience, Though I Have Not

Patience, though I have not
The thing that I require,
I must of force, God wot,
Forbear my most desire;
For no ways can I find
To sail against the wind.

Patience, do what they will
To work me woe or spite,
I shall content me still
To think both day and night,
To think and hold my peace,
Since there is no redress.

Patience, withouten blame,
For I offended nought;
I know they know the same,
Though they have changed their thought.
Was ever thought so moved
To hate that it hath loved?

Patience of all my harm,
For fortune is my foe;
Patience must be the charm
To heal me of my woe:
Patience without offence
Is a painful patience.

What tone is Wyatt thinking in here? When I first saw the word ‘patience’ I thought perhaps  he was in an impatient state, trying to talk himself out of it. But as I’ve read on I began to think, perhaps he’s a very self-controlled man who is simply repeating a mantra that  brings patience about. He worked for Henry the VIII, for goodness sakes! He had to be clever, a chess player, tightly self-controlled, surely?

I  don’t know much about Sir Thomas (only glancing saw the Henry connection at the Poetry Foundation). I am going to read a biography, because I’ve got interested in him, but let’s set that aside for the time being and let’s wipe what I’ve said about Henry VIII. What can we tell – think – find ourselves wondering from reading this poem?

Patience, though I have not
The thing that I require,
I must of force, God wot,
Forbear my most desire;
For no ways can I find
To sail against the wind.

The word ‘patience’ is almost used as an invocation, he’s calling it up and calling on it. A modern psychologist might also say we’re seeing brain training here; you put the thought of the thing you want to flood the brain in first: everything else, whether you know it or not, is bathed in its light.

We don’t know what ‘the thing that I require’ is but because ‘require’ rhymes with ‘desire’ I think that for Sir Thomas it might be someone he is in love with. But if so, he’s in a difficult somewhat political situation ‘For no ways can I find/To sail against the wind.’ The fact that the ‘ways’ he’s tried are plural makes me think he has been working at this for some time. He’s stuck or trapped or held in check. Therefore  ‘patience’ is the only thing he can do. The next stanza comes at the same problem from a different angle.

Patience, do what they will
To work me woe or spite,
I shall content me still
To think both day and night,
To think and hold my peace,
Since there is no redress.

I notice that the important pieces of information – the who, what, where and when – of this story are blanks.  ‘The thing that I require’ remains an unknown, as now do ‘they’ who ‘do what they will/ To work me woe or spite’. He’s not committing anything to writing!

In the first stanza there was no ‘content’ but in this stanza he has found some, in some work or action he can perform keeping his thoughts to himself. An active verb, ‘to think’ performed actively, ‘to think both night and day’ and secretly,  ‘to think and hold my peace’.

Blocked, going against the ind, surrounded by ‘they’, Wyatt yet creates a course of action and toughness of stubborn mind. That ‘both night and day’ is the determination of a fighter. In the third stanza we begin to understand some of the background to this:

Patience, withouten blame,
For I offended nought;
I know they know the same,
Though they have changed their thought.
Was ever thought so moved
To hate that it hath loved?

Hard to know if he is addressing himself in those opening two lines?  Self blame? Feeling blamed by ‘they’? Is he telling himself, hold fast, you’ve done nothing wrong? Bad feeling to feel got at by people who say you’ve done wrong and even go so far as to falsely accuse:

For I offended nought;
I know they know the same,
Though they have changed their thought.

The beloved has cast him off for some offense, not real, has changed her mind. But I’m not thinking about the beloved as I read. I’m borrowing from my own experience, thinking of my working life. Thinking of people I’ve worked with in relation to whom  saying to myself  ‘Patience…For no ways can I find/To sail against the wind.’ That cast of mind could be useful.

Perhaps Wyatt is doing that too? in the Tudor Court, love and politics must have been horribly intertwined.

Patience of all my harm,
For fortune is my foe;
Patience must be the charm
To heal me of my woe:
Patience without offence
Is a painful patience.

The last stanza is almost prayer like – he’s calling for help, and I wonder how badly some of this is playing on his mind?   ‘Of all my harm’ seems to suggest it’s playing a lot: ‘harm’ is a serious word. And ‘all’ makes it feel overpowering. ‘Patience’ if he can get it, is the answer, the cure, the ‘charm’. Does ‘charm’ make is seem more magic than cure? Yes ,it does, and as the dictionary shows, there’s also an element of incantation in charm, which is of course what he has been doing through the poem with the word ‘patience’. and it may heal. But the  offense still rankles: he hasn’t done anything wrong! Still, there seems a lot at stake. Being wrongly judged always stings. But there’s a particularly unhappy disjunct between not having done anything wrong and a lot being at stake.

Patience must be the charm
To heal me of my woe:
Patience without offence
Is a painful patience.

I like it, it is worldly, grounded, no more complicated than it needs to be but complicated enough to make me think. This could be a good one for memorising. I need the odd incantation from time to time.

One thought on “An Early Morning Walk with an Impatient Tudor Statesman during a postponed family Easter

  1. Alban O'Brien April 23, 2017 / 8:54 am

    Hope I don’t steal your thunder from later Wyatt poems but couldn’t resist lifting something from the booklet I put together for my Literary Dorset holiday. Hope you enjoy these poems as much as I do.

    “Thomas Wyatt: a gentleman of inlimited intellect; Cromwell’s friend; widely suspected of being a lover of Anne Boleyn.” This is how Sir Thomas Wyatt is first described in Hilary Mantel’s novel. He was also an important courtier – an ambassador to Spain, a special envoy to France, a marshal of Calais, a member of parliament and a vice-admiral of the fleet. As a literary figure he is credited with introducing the sonnet into English literature. He is buried in Sherborne Abbey near where he died aged 39 in 1542.

    Wyatt died in 1542 but his poems weren’t published until 1557.Since neither of the following two poems by Thomas Wyatt are dated, it cannot be known for certain whether they covertly refer to Anne Boleyn. Wyatt was luckier than Anne Boleyn being released after only a few months of imprisonment in the Tower of London while Anne was of course beheaded. Such were the machinations of Thomas Cromwell that Anne was found guilty of adultery, possibly on trumped up charges, while his friend Thomas Wyatt escaped with his life. This is often cited as one of the earliest and best examples of the English sonnet form.

    Whoso list to hunt? I know where is an hind!
    But as for me, alas! I may no more,
    The vain travail hath wearied me so sore;
    I am of them that furthest come behind.

    Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
    Draw from the deer; but as she fleeth afore
    Fainting I follow; I leave off therefore,
    Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.

    Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt
    As well as I, may spend his time in vain!
    And graven with diamonds in letters plain,
    There is written her fair neck round about;

    “Noli me tangere; for Caesar’s I am,
    And wild for to hold, though I seem tame”.

    and

    The The Lover Showeth How He Is Forsaken of Such as He Sometime Enjoyed by Thomas Wyatt (1557)

    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.

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