Study Guide

Whoso List to Hunt Lines 1-8

By Sir Thomas Wyatt

Lines 1-8

Lines 1-2

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, alas, I may no more.

  • Nothing like some gnarly Renaissance English to get us pumped, eh? "Whoso"? "List"? Strange, strange words, gang.
  • Luckily, you've got Shmoop on your side. "Whoso" just means "whoever," and "list" means something like "cares" or "wants," so the first line says, "Whoever cares to hunt, I know where there's a hind." Oops, we almost forgot: a "hind" is a female deer.
  • So, why would the speaker give away the location of a pretty, juicy deer? Doesn't he want it for himself? Well… he does, but "as for" him, alas, he's got to let it go ("may no more" means he can no longer hunt that deer).
  • Okay cool, but why can't this dude hunt? Did he hurt his leg or something? Has he gone vegetarian?
  • It's too early to tell. The poem may just be about, you know, hunting. Then again, hunting might just be a metaphor for… something. Let's read on…

Lines 3-4

The vain travail hath worried me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.

  • Well, it looks like there are no leg injuries, and no veganism, so we can go ahead and abandon that hypothesis. The speaker simply tells us that hunting this particular hind is a "vain travail," a pointless task. 
  • It's a pointless task that has ("hath") worried him a lot, even worried him to the point of soreness, so now he's one of those that "farthest cometh behind."
  • Okay, hold on a second, what's with all the "-th" ending words? That's another old school deal; poets used to say "hath" and "cometh" instead of "has" or "comes"—no biggie.
  • But back to that bit about "farthest cometh behind": the speaker is saying he's in a group that comes last, that lags farthest behind. This is a continuation of the hunting discussion; people used to hunt in groups, so he's saying he's in the last group by choice, because he can't hunt.
  • (Here's a really famous painting of a Renaissance deer hunt. This is maybe what Wyatt had in mind while writing this bad boy.) 
  • While we still have no idea if the speaker is talking about actual hunting, we'll go ahead and guess that he's talking about a woman and not a deer. Why would we say that? It helps to know that Wyatt just loved talking about girls and hunting in the same context. Plus, so far the whole poem has just been too emotional to be about just a deer. 
  • Wyatt is just calling this woman a deer (that's a metaphor, by the way). Nowadays we might say a fox, but back in the day deer were a big part of Renaissance court culture. You can read about it here. You can read more about the "woman" Wyatt may have had in mind over in "In a Nutshell."
  • We secretly think people in the Renaissance just felt that deer were sexy animals. That or the literary significance of these majestic creatures was just too irresistible. Wait, what significance, you ask?
  • Oh that's right, we almost forgot. In Greek and Roman mythology, the deer (sometimes called a "doe," or a "hind") was a very special animal. The goddess Diana for example (in Greek myth she is called Artemis), is often accompanied by a deer.
  • This is because she is the goddess of hunting and virginity, among other things. She's usually portrayed as a sporty but sexy girl in her late teens.
  • By using the metaphor of deer hunting, Wyatt may be suggesting that the woman he chases is a follower of Diana, a virgin of some kind. That may sound easy enough, but in Greek and Roman myth, you don't want to mess with Diana. Take Acteon as an example. This dude, who was also a hunter mind you (like our speaker), supposedly stumbled on Diana when she was bathing—bad idea, since she was naked.
  • She was so upset that she turned him into a deer and set his own hunting dogs after him. So, as you can see, the deer is a very significant, yet troublesome, little image. Who would've thunk?
  • Go here for a picture of Diana and her bro Apollo, and here if you want to see a painting of Diana in the nude (just be careful that she doesn't see you though).

Lines 5-7

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

  • The speaker says that he is unable, by any means, to draw his wearied mind away from the deer. She continues to flee before ("afore") him, and he follows her, fainting.
  • Okay, that's what the lines mean, but they look kind of funny don't they? Yep, everything is all out of order here—well sort of. The word "draw," for example, goes with "may I" but those two phrases aren't even in the same line.
  • "My wearied mind" normally would come after "draw" (the speaker can't draw his thoughts from this deer-lady), but here it comes before. This isn't sloppy or ungrammatical, just a case of some poetic syntax, folks. We wait in suspense to find out what the speaker is doing; after the enjambment, we get "draw" and start to put it all together. 
  • Now, we've already mentioned the "-th" deal ("fleeth" = "flee"), but we should say a bit more about "fainting" here. It pretty obviously describes the speaker following the "hind," but it is ambiguous.
  • The "hind," or woman, could be fleeing and fainting while he follows. Sure, that doesn't seem very likely, but it's definitely a possibility. More likely, though, is that our speaker is so obsessed that he's fainting as he runs after her.
  • Okay, the speaker first told us he "may" not hunt, and now he's telling us he "may" not keep his eyes off her. What's the deal, yo? He wants to forget about her, it seems, but he just can't. She keeps drawing his attention as she runs away from him. 
  • Yep, we've known a few people we couldn't stop looking at either. (Megan Fox, hello?) And it's driving him kind of crazy; he's fainting, after all.

Lines 7-8

[…] I leave off, therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.

  • Once again, the speaker talks about quitting hunting. He will "leave off," since trying to get a hold of this "hind" is like trying to hold the wind in a net. In other words: impossible.
  • A net is a hunting implement, so this is another way to say that this woman cannot be hunted, or cannot be captured by conventional weapons. 
  • She's like Bigfoot or something, impossible to get. (She's not hairy or giant like Bigfoot, just impossible to catch, like, uh, Bigfoot.)
  • Why the wind anyway? Is this "hind" (woman) breezy, cool, wild? Maybe she's all three. Maybe she's none. Maybe we'll just keep reading...
  • Oh, but before we get there, we've been through eight lines together so we should probably say a few things here. 
  • Ahem… this is a sonnet, and significant things usually happen around the eighth or ninth lines.
  • Lots of sonnets are comprised of two groups—an octet (the first eight lines) and a sestet (the last six). Here, the first eight lines are clearly a group, which we can tell based on their rhyme scheme. It is: ABBAABBA, where each letter represents the sound in that particular end rhyme. Notice how interconnected it is, with A's and B's sandwiched in between each other. This is like a quadruple-decker. 
  • It's also the same rhyme scheme that Wyatt's literary ancestor Petrarch used in the octets of his sonnets too. (Check out "Form and Meter" for more of this good stuff.)

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