They Flee from Me
by Sir Thomas Wyatt
Stanza 2 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Thanked be fortune, it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; […]
- Wait. What? The syntax here is really, really strange. He seems to be thanking fortune, which is kind of like saying thank God or thank goodness. But what for?
- He seems glad that it was twenty times better. The "it" here seems to be referring to these nighttime visits, but what does it mean that they were twenty times better? Does that just mean that these late night visits happened twenty times (and maybe more)? Or perhaps he's saying he's grateful that it was better before when he had twenty visits, because now he doesn't get any.
- Either way, it seems like he's saying, hey, at least I had visitors before – and twenty, to boot. That ain't too shabby.
- So the key here is that our newly lonely speaker is totally consoling himself. He might not be getting these visits anymore, but he can find some comfort in the fact that he got them at all.
[…] 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;
- Just when we thought this guy's life was a blur of late night escapades (with what or whom, we're still not sure), he tells us that one of these nights was totally special. It now appears the speaker's mysterious visitors are women ("her," "gown"), and that there's one special lady in particular.
- There's a bit of strange vocabulary in these lines, so before we get to discussing them, let's get some terms under our belt: "In special" is an old way of saying "especially." And "Array" used to mean outfit or dress. Finally, "After a pleasant guise" means the woman's outfit was pleasant or pleasing to our speaker. So it sounds like this female visitor was wearing something really slinky and sexy.
- And apparently she takes it off pretty darn quickly, too, as she lets it fall from her shoulders.
- Then, our speaker was "caught" in the woman's arms, which are apparently long and small. This kind of sounds like a neat way of saying that they embraced each other, but it also totally reminds us of hunting and traps, as if the speaker is no longer in control. Earlier he seemed dominant (the women, whom he described as birds, were "tame" and "gentle). But now he's the victim.
- And why does the speaker say "she me caught" instead of "she caught me"? It sounds kind of clunky, but this might just be Wyatt trying to stick to the iambic pentameter he's been using so far in the poem. This way, the word "caught" gets more emphasis than the word "me," which is fitting for the meaning of these lines.
- You know what else strikes us about these lines? Earlier, the speaker seemed dominant (the women, whom he described like birds, were "tame" and "gentle"). But during this particular visit he was the victim, or prey. This woman is bold. Which is all the more shocking when you think about what kind of behavior was expected from women when this poem was written in the sixteenth century.
- Just one more thing (we promise): the rhymes in these lines seem to be falling into the same pattern as the one set up in the stanza before. As it turns out, there's a name for this (in poetry, there's a name for just about everything). It's called rhyme royal, and you can find out more in our "Form and Meter" section.
And therewith all sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, "Dear heart, how like you this?"
- Things are definitely heating up. Avert your eyes, kiddies! After the woman "caught" the speaker, she kissed him really sweetly and asked if he liked it. We're betting he did.
- Again, these lines have some tricky terms, so a little translation just might be in order. "Therewith" means "straight away" or "then," and "Dear heart" is kind of like saying "dear sweetheart" or "dear honey." Get it? Got it? Good.
- Considering the fact that the first stanza described these women as animals, and the speaker has made himself seem like their prey, there just might be a pun on the word "heart," because hart used to be another word for deer.
- Here's a question: What is "this" referring to? The kiss, or the clothes she's wearing? Something else entirely? In other words, what exactly is this woman asking the man to tell her?
- It's also important to note the alliteration in line 14: "softly said." Alliteration will pop up a few other times in the poem, so keep your eyes open for it, and of course take a look at our "Sound Check" section for more.
- What's so awesome about these lines, and this second stanza in general, is that they completely change the way we read that first stanza. These aren't birds or animals. They're women. Any doubt or confusion we had earlier is totally cleared up at this point, and the implied metaphor of the first stanza (that these women are like a dime-a-dozen hungry animals) is revealed.
- Plus, we learn more about our speaker. He's very promiscuous, but he also doesn't seem totally content with that life. If he were, this one particular visit might not be so special.
- This of course begs the question: why was this particular night so special in the first place? What's different about it? Well, unlike all the other women in stanza one, who are practically feeding out of the speaker's hand, the woman in this stanza has got all the power. She catches him. She kisses him.