Study Guide

Whoso List to Hunt Sound Check

By Sir Thomas Wyatt

Sound Check

Wyatt is all over the place in this poem—sonically speaking that is (okay, regularly speaking as well). The poem's opening line—"Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind"—makes the poem sound at first like a piece of advice, something the speaker would say to a group of assembled hunters. Moreover, when we get to the second line ("But as for me, alas, I may no more"), the picture becomes more detailed. It's almost like the speaker has a broken leg or something and is standing there on crutches, encouraging others to hunt since he can't. This sound pattern continues into the third and fourth lines, where the speaker talks more about how hunting has "worried" him "so sore" and how he will be part of the last group.

If the poem resembles a public speech or advice to assembled hunters, however, it also resembles a private meditation of sorts. Take lines 5-7 as an example:

Yet may I, by no means, my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow.

This isn't exactly the kind of thing you announce in a speech of encouragement. In fact, it sounds a little like what the speaker would quietly mumble to himself while watching the hunters assemble their hounds, weapons, and horses. The speaker's sense of powerlessness ("by no means") strikes a note of despair or melancholy that, in C3PO's words, "wouldn't be proper" to say out loud. 

The poem thus sounds like a mixture of a public speech and a private conversation with oneself. Okay, so how do the poem's poetic qualities (rhyme, repetition, alliteration, poetic sentence structure) fit in? Here's one theory about all those sounds: when making any kind of speech, it is essential to appeal to the listeners, to be clever and creative. Thus the assonance of the long A sound in line 3 ("vain travail") and the consonance of the "th" sounds in line 4 enhance the public-speech effect. Repetitions and patterns are pleasing to the ear, as they say. Granted, no politician today is going to write a speech that sounds like this, but when you're out in the woods and want to impress and inspire your crew, little things like this can go a looong way.

We've been telling you throughout this module that the sentence structure in this poem is sometimes a little goofy. Subjects and predicates are torn asunder (how's that for a poetic description?). Just recite lines 9-10 out loud and note how the sentence is broken into little sections that make it weird.

Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I, may spend his time in vain.

While poets usually write weird sentences like this to be, like, artistic, here the faltering, uncertain syntax (that's a fancy word for sentence structure) makes the speaker sound like a guy who's unsure of himself, unsure what to say, and generally ill at ease.

All in all, then, the poem's sounds can be seen as a direct reflection of the speaker's moods and intentions with this poem. And if you want to know more about those, then click on over to our "Speaker" section (but hurry back, y'all).

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