Study Guide

They Flee from Me Quotes

  • Sex

    They flee from me that sometime did me seek,
    With naked foot stalking in my chamber (1-2)

    The speaker refers the feet of his female visitors as "naked." This is a sexy word choice; it makes us think of people with no clothes on and, hence, sex. The lines foreshadow the speaker's more explicit focus on sex later in the poem.

    I have seen them gentle tame and meek
    That now are wild […] (3-4)

    The speaker compares women to animals, which makes it sound as though sex is about dominating women. He thinks he's taming them the way one would a wild animal.

    […] and do not remember
    That sometime they put themselves in danger
    To take bread at my hand […] (4-6)

    The speaker compares sexual activities to "bread" and the metaphor strikes us as a bit strange. Like food, maybe sex is just a necessary part of life, our speaker seems to think. Okay, but then why would it be dangerous? Is there something more complicated going on?

    […] and now they range
    Busily seeking with a continual change (6-7)

    Apparently, these girls are quite promiscuous. They're constantly seeking "continual change," which we take to mean that they're looking for new men to sleep with. Later in the poem, the speaker will talk about one particular woman's love of "newfangleness." Our speaker seems to think that women are nothing if not fickle in love.

    When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
    And she me caught in her arms long and small (11-12)

    The tables have turned, that's for sure. Here the speaker depicts the <em>woman</em> as the dominant sexual partner. She catches him just like a trap or a hunter would an animal, which is, shall we say, less than romantic.

  • Abandonment

    They flee from me that sometime did me seek,
    With naked foot stalking in my chamber (1-2)

    The speaker's female visitors don't just abandon him. They "flee" from him. This is a pretty strong word, as if he's either very dangerous or totally disgusting. Could this have something to do with the social consequences of having sex outside of marriage? Or are they just moving on to new and different men?

    I have seen them gentle tame and meek
    That now are wild and do not remember (3-4)

    Sometimes there's just no way to account for abandonment. The speaker describes women as "wild" and thus implies that there's no way to explain what has happened other than to assume that women are unpredictable.

    But all is turned thorough my gentleness
    Into a strange fashion of forsaking (16-17)

    The speaker says it is because of his "gentleness" that the woman forsakes or abandons him. The alliteration in "fashion of forsaking" emphasizes the act of abandonment, but also implies that this whole "forsaking" thing is just a fad, a "fashion" that won't last forever.

    And I have leave to go of her goodness
    And she also to use newfangleness" (18-19)

    While the speaker is probably being ironic when speaking of "goodness," the rhyme on "newfangleness" and "goodness" suggests that leaving things behind and seeking out new opportunities isn't always a bad thing.

  • Gender

    I have seen them gentle tame and meek
    That now are wild and do not remember (3-4)

    Maybe our speaker describes women as "wild" because they've shed the traditional expectations of their gender. Where they were once submissive and "tame," now they're taking it upon themselves to seek out whatever sexual partners they please.

    […] and now they range
    Busily seeking with a continual change (6-7)

    The speaker implies here, and near the end of the poem (with his use of "newfangleness"), that women are never satisfied, that they have an insatiable appetite for new things. The emphasis on "continual change," and the present tense verbs ("range," "seeking"), suggest that this is an ongoing or permanent character trait.

    When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
    And she me caught in her arms long and small (11-12)

    Scandal! In Renaissance England, this would be a very unexpected, and probably dangerous thing for a woman to do. She's reversing the gender roles established in the first stanza by taking control of the situation and seducing the man for a change.

    But since that I so kindly am served,
    I would fain know what she hath deserved (20-21)

    The speaker says he is "served." This is a passive construction (the speaker must be served <em>by</em> someone), so the speaker is emphasizing, still, that he doesn't have all the power anymore. This reversal of gender roles has him confused as to how to act because all the old rules no longer apply.

  • Love

    […] but once in special,
    In thin array after a pleasant guise,
    When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall (9-11)

    Oh so this girl's <em>special, </em>is she? Well that certainly tells him something. But is she special for more than just her sexy clothes ("thin array," "pleasant guise," "loose gown")? This particular woman was special to the speaker, but his emphasis on her clothing makes us question how genuine his feelings are. Is it love? Or just sex?

    And she me caught in her arms long and small (12)

    While the speaker is describing an embrace, the language also suggests the entrapment of an animal. Both here, and in the following lines (13-14), words associated with animals and hunting change the way we view these moments of what at first seems like love and affection.

    And therewith all sweetly did me kiss,
    And softly said, <em>"Dear heart, how like you this</em>?" (13-14)

    Well, she kisses him sweetly and calls him "Dear heart," which certainly sounds like affectionate love. Does this quote help us to understand how this woman feels about the speaker? Or is she as much a mystery as ever