They Flee from Me
by Sir Thomas Wyatt
The poem is all about the speaker's relationships with women, so, naturally, he talks about them a lot: like, for most of the poem. The speaker is vague at points, referring to women in the first stanza almost as if they were animals eating the "bread" he offers them. He becomes more sympathetic as the poem progresses when he discusses one particular woman who really rocked his world, mainly because he couldn't quite figure her out. Ah women, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Or so our speaker seems to think.
- Lines 1-2: The speaker uses only a pronoun ("they") to refer to his female visitors. "Naked feet" doesn't really help us as it only tells us that whoever it was wasn't wearing socks. Our speaker is being frustratingly coy.
- Line 3: The speaker says he's seen his visitors "gentle tame and meek." While people can be "tame," this is a word that is usually reserved for animals. This is a metaphor comparing women to some kind of animal that has been trained or domesticated. It also fits with the rather old fashioned idea that women should not be forward when it comes to romance – a lady should never make the first move.
- Line 4: The speaker says his visitors are now "wild." This, too, is a metaphor comparing women to wild, untamed animals. Well, that changed quickly.
- Lines 5-7: The speaker says that women used to put themselves in danger and take bread from his hands but now they "range" elsewhere. The speaker yet again compares women to animals (the idea of taking bread suggests birds; "range" sounds more like something cattle would do). "Bread" is a metaphor for sex, or sexual activities. In fact, you might think of this whole first stanza as an extended metaphorthat compares women to animals in a bunch of different ways.
- Lines 11-12: The speaker describes a memorable night with one particular woman. He says she "caught" him. "Caught" is a hunting metaphor – the woman is the hunter, the speaker the prey. This lady seems much more aggressive than the women of the first stanza.
- Lines 13-14: The woman kissed the speaker and asked him if he liked it. How bold!
- Lines 18: The speaker says he is allowed to leave because of the woman's goodness. It seems she's totally okay with this just being a one-night thing. But is our speaker?
- Line 19: The woman is allowed to enjoy her desire for new things, which we take to mean new men. After all, can the speaker hold her to a standard that he, himself, can't achieve?
- Line 21: The speaker wonders what this bold woman will get in return for her behavior. Will she be looked down upon? Admired? Punished?