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Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-42)

The older of the two "courtly makers" of Henry's court, Wyatt can be identified as the father
of modern English poetry: it is with his translations from Petrarch that the tradition in
English begins.

Wyatt and others who followed him "exercised" the vernacular in two ways:

They translated from classical models like Petrarch, and

They experimented with a great variety of lyric measures in an effort to restore


flexibility lost after Chaucer.

Since Chaucer's day, English had undergone many semantic and grammatical changes. By
the sixteenth century, writers intent on writing in English had to work out their own stylistics
and metrics. Changes had effected the way words were pronounced or accented, and such
alterations made the role of the sixteenth century poet difficult.

These early poets were basically craftsmen rather than artists in the standard sense:

Rather than originate fresh themes, they repeatedly treated a conventional subject
matter in an effort to create a fluid style,

They borrowed, imitated and translated from Italian and French poets, as well as one
another, and

They circulated their poetry in manuscript form and relied on each other rather than
the larger public for encouragement and criticism.

Wyatt's poetic contributions are a bit uneven:

He often seems unsure of where the stress or accent should fall in a line,

He often cannot sustain an idea through the entire design of the poem, which is
critical in the sonnet, and
His spellings are inconsistent (a trait of the times!), which makes the line's stress often
unclear.

Characteristics of Wyatt's sonnets:

He uses typical Petrarchan conventions (the lover as a ship tossed on the seas of love;
the lover alternately freezing and burning hot, among them];

His language and syntax are more difficult, making his sonnets a bit tougher to
"crack;"

He generally translates from Italian models, which means his themes or issues don't
usually originate with him;

He generally follows the rhyme scheme abba cddc effe gg

He often presents the two sides of love--physical and spiritual--but no union between
them, which makes his work slightly different from the Petarchan mold.

On the whole, Wyatt's lighter verses are more successful than his sonnets.

The first English sonneteer, Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) learned of the form during travels in
Spain and Italy. He is more widely known for his other lyrics but wrote 32 sonnets in the
form that has come to be known as the Petrarchan sonnet. There has been debate as to
whether Wyatt's iambic pentameter was ingeniously varied or simply clumsy. It is helpful to
keep in mind when reading Wyatt that he was exploring new literary territory and that the
accenting of syllables in English has changed since his time.