They Flee from Me
Where It All Goes Down
The speaker tells us straight up, hey everyone, we're in "my chamber" (2). So there's no doubt about it, were in this dude's bedroom, where, we have to say, there is an awful lot going on. Or at least there used to be. In fact, it used to be a revolving door of female visitors. It used to be quite the hot spot. But now, it seems, things are pretty quiet, leaving our speaker alone with his thoughts.
It might help to zoom out a bit and talk about the larger setting for this poem. In sixteenth-century England, there were strict social rules about sex, women, and just who could enter whose bedroom. The fact that these female visitors were "stalking" (2) in the first stanza tells us that these late night visits were not exactly acceptable. And the fact that these women "put themself in danger" (5) by taking "bread at [his] hand" (6) tells us that in terms of sexual politics, it's the men who hold all the power.
But something seems to be changing about this dynamic, particularly in the second stanza. Now the woman's the one with the power. She walks right into his bedroom and takes charge. Given the expectations of a woman in those times, it's no wonder our guy doesn't quite know what to make of her. In a world where men hold all the power, our speaker wonders, how exactly do you treat a woman who's bold enough to seduce you?