Thomas Wyatt’s ‘They Flee From Me’ is an extremely thoughtful complaint made by a male abandoned by his mistress. The poem appears to be filled with uncertainty and much confused emotion on the speaker’s behalf.
The poem begins mysteriously by describing a number of wild creatures. Immediately, here, the reader is presented with a problem, as the pronoun ‘They’ does not disclose precisely who or what would ‘take bread’ at the speaker’s hand. Also, we, the reader, are presented with animal imagery, as though the poet is describing birds or deer. This becomes evident in line two of the verse, as does the first hint of uncertainty; we now learn that the unnamed creatures are not merely walking in the individual’s ‘chamber’, but ‘stalking’. The uncertainty arises in the balance of power in the verse – the reader is not if the creatures are treading apprehensively as the hunted, or proceeding forwards furtively as the hunter. This doubt is reinforced further towards the end of the verse, as the word ‘danger’ implies that the connection between the creatures and the bread provider denotes an insinuation of threat. In addition, the echo of ‘danger’ in the words ‘range’ and ‘change’ at the end of the verse, does not permit the reader to omit the hint of threat.
Nonetheless, in the second verse, the reader is made to concentrate on a more specific scene. Further, we realise that the ‘They’ in the first verse also appear to be associated with the ‘she’ in the second stanza. Also, the ‘but’ in this verse makes conspicuous the change shown from the first stanza. We find that people that used to be his intimates do not seek him anymore. The individual feels neglected. The subtle incident described provides a more soft and sensual imagery to the poem, as opposed to the animal imagery portrayed in the beginning of the poem.
Once again, the reader is led enigmatically forward as we are given a description of the lady’s ‘gown’ and ‘thin array’, before we have a particular ‘she’ to ascribe them to. As the verse progresses, we become unsure of the speaker’s feelings towards the woman. Most of the scene described appears to be emphasised in the line:-
‘And she caught me in her arms long and small,’
Consequently, the word ‘caught’ may, perhaps, imply ominous associations with entrapment. What is more, the arms are given a delicate description which prompts the notion that the speaker is aware of their ability to ensnare. Perchance, this image elaborates the hint of threat detected in the first verse of the poem.
Towards the end of the second verse, the reader gains the impression that the speaker is encountering feelings of rupture and amazement; this is confirmed particularly in the metric structure of line thirteen. The line is drawn out to fill the gap by the weight of his feelings towards the lady.
Nevertheless, the verse ends with a rhetorical question put forward by the woman. She does not ask for a reply, but as the poem proceeds into the third and final verse, we find that the question has initiated feelings of uncertainty in the male, and confusion as to his feelings towards the woman. As before, the word ‘but’ introduces a change in the mood of the poem, and the speaker is left feeling forsaken by the mistress.
Furthermore, the word ‘gentleness’ may indicate benevolence, mildness or good manners, yet it is the speaker’s morals and ‘gentleness’ that have led to his abandonment. His kindness does not seem to be achieving the results he had hoped for.
The individual’s unease at this point is expressed in the line:-
‘And I have leave to go, of her goodness,’
There is a heavy stress on the word ‘goodness’ which brings it close to sarcasm, and may indicate that the speaker is feeling bitter. In addition, ‘I have leave to go,’ denotes that the lady is has power over him, or is, perhaps, of a higher status, as she is in a position to grant him leave.
The speaker’s need to stress the moral terminology on the poem is reiterated in the use of the word ‘kindly,’ which may have a slight undertone of irony. Conceivably, ‘kindly’ could possibly have a different meaning than considerately, but maybe the speaker feels so much betrayal and feels so violated that he uses words that would normally ascribe good attributes, to describe his bitterness.
Furthermore, the speaker’s feelings of realisation at what he is describing, become evident once again, through the unexpected and unusual metrical structure.
In short, by the end of the poem, we realise that the individual is left seeking answers and is confused. He could be searching for retribution or merely a few answers from his mistress. His descriptions throughout the poem, of his feelings are exhibited clearly through his extraordinary moral vocabulary, which, in turn, shows the state of confusion the individual is left in, by the affair, and by the woman.