They Flee from Me
Stanza 1 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
They flee from me that sometime did me seek,
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
- The speaker begins the poem by talking about some people or things that used to visit him in his room ("chamber"), but now "flee" or hurry away from him.
- Whomever or whatever it was that used to visit the speaker had "naked feet," which we'll just take to mean these mysterious visitors were barefoot.
- The word "stalking" sounds kind of ominous (just think "stalker"), right? But it's not always a creepy word. Sometimes, it just means to "walk softly, cautiously, or stealthily." Plus, in the Renaissance, the feet of trained hawks and falcons (which had leather straps on them called jesses) were called "stalks." Is the speaker talking about birds? Or is he being playful?
- In any case, "Naked" feet are probably pretty quiet, so at least we know that much.
- It's worth noting that the first line of this poem is written in iambic pentameter. We won't go into that here, but check out "Form and Meter" for more information. We can't be sure, but it's a safe bet that the rest of this poem just might be in iambic pentameter, too.
- Also, try reading these lines aloud to yourself. Do you notice anything about them in particular? How about all those repeated vowel sounds? We have the long "e" of "flee," "me," and "seek," and then the long "a" of "naked" and "chamber." When poets repeat vowel sounds like this we call it assonance. See if you spot any more of this as you go deeper into the poem. (You totally will.)
I have seen them gentle tame and meek
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; […]
- The speaker continues to contrast his mystery visitors' previous behavior with their present behavior. Apparently, these visitors were once "tame and meek" but are now wild. They used to "take bread" from the speaker's hands, even though it was dangerous, and he seems a bit puzzled as to why they don't anymore.
- It seems like the speaker is talking about birds, which are notoriously skittish around people. Plus, they like to eat bread. They also have "naked" feet (birds don't wear shoes or socks after all).
- In any case, it definitely seems like our guy is talking about some sort of animal, because he uses words like "tame" and "wild."
- "Meek" can mean a lot of things, but here, it probably just means humble or submissive because the speaker is talking about something that is "gentle" and "tame."
- "Sometime" is just about the same thing as "sometimes." It means occasionally, or at one time or another.
- You'll notice that we're still trucking along in iambic pentameter, and now we've got some rhymes, too. Line 3 rhymes with line 1, and lines 4 and 5 rhyme with line 2. Keep your eye out for more rhymes as you continue reading, and you might want to see if you can spot a pattern. We'll talk more about this in our "Form and Meter" section if you're in need of some clues.
- And like the first two lines of the poem, these lines make use of some repeated sounds as well. Only now our poet is using something called consonance, or repeated consonant sounds. Did you notice all the "m" sounds in "them," "tame," "meek," and "remember"? Like assonance, consonance appears in many other places in the poem, so be sure to be on the lookout.
[…] and now they range
Busily seeking with a continual change.
- Nowadays, instead of visiting our speaker, it seems like these visitors are busy looking for other people to spend time with. The word "range" means something like "wander" or "roam," or "move in many directions." And while they range, these visitors are seeking something. But what?
- The phrase "continual change" is a little mysterious, too. It probably means that the speaker's visitors are now constantly changing their minds about whom they want to visit or where they want to go.
- And check out the rhyme here. In a break from the alternating rhymes of the earlier lines, these two lines rhyme with each other, bringing the first stanza to a rousing end.