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Wyatt and Carew: The Speaker’s Awareness and Authorial Distance

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Both Thomas Wyatt and Thomas Carew were poets who penned poems in the courtly tradition. Sir Thomas Wyatt’s “They Flee From Me” tells of a young bachelor “playing the field”, fraternizing with various women, letting them come and go. This is until he finds himself enraptured with one woman only to be cast away as he had done to so many partners past. In this poem Wyatt is able to step outside this system of romantic engagement, to approach it with a level of irony, and to observe it from a distance. In doing so he is able to present a speaker in which the reader is meant to see shortcomings, and reveal, even if he does not comment, the faults of the courtly structure (even those beyond the “revelations” of the speaker).

In another instance of romantic lyric, Thomas Carew provides a harsh and bitter poem titled “Ingrateful beauty threatened”. The very title is nearly enough to summarize the poem, a work of intimidation addressed to a lover (or former lover) that has become too “proud”, heavy with the implication that the speaker is responsible for everything the lover has become, all that they are. While the speaker here is, like Wyatt’s, utterly wrapped up in the game of love, void of the acumen to see past their own position within it, the distance between Carew and speaker is much harder to ascertain. Carew seems beyond writing from an outside perspective, instead, like Wyatt’s speaker, he seems fully saturated in the realm of courtship, wholly injecting his own frustration with this lover into the poem. This idea is derived from considering Carew’s poetry as a whole and the very language of the poem itself. There is, however, another possibility, which is that the poem is a criticism of trends in love poetry, and if so it would require a level of detachment much like Wyatt in writing “They Flee From Me”. Regardless, the two poems share a similarity in speakers, both of whom cannot see past the romantic structures they find themselves in, while in each case understanding the authorial distance from the mind of the speaker, whether or not Wyatt and Carew differ in this distance, is vastly important to understanding the poem’s aims.

Early in his essay on Wyatt’s poem Friedman writes “. . . to the point where it becomes apparent that Wyatt is capable of dramatizing any state of mind and any kind of mind. . . The figure whose reverie we intrude on in ‘They Flee From Me’ is a more fully imagined persona than any of Wyatt’s other ‘voices’; but he does not embody the poet’s own and final attitude toward ‘new fangilnes”. This assertion that Wyatt is creating a character beyond himself that holds separate beliefs allows Wyatt to disconnect himself from the mentality of his speaker along with the existing courtly order. This is largely supported by the language of the poem and is especially evident when contrasting the speakers words, tone, and intended meaning with other significances Wyatt gives them or the larger implication they hold within the whole of the poem. In the line “But since that I so kindly am served” the use of “kindly” serves as snarky and sour sarcasm on the part of the speaker describing his abandoned state, but Wyatt uses this word to present a double meaning critical of the speaker. As Levay turns the phrase, the speaker has “received payment in kind”, with his own state mirroring the treatment of women in his past.

Another example appears earlier in the same stanza, “And I have leave to go of her goodness”. The use of “goodness” is similarly sarcastic and bitter, but the idea of having “leave to go” implies a freedom he does not possess, as it suggests he will remain a participant in this game that consistently fails to satisfy. If it did not content him in the first stanza, it certainly will not now and Wyatt is pointing to this very fact. Thus a separation between the speaker and Wyatt’s mind, and the fact that Wyatt possesses awareness beyond the speaker, can be observed.

This speaker is one totally bound up in his romantic circumstance. Some examples of the ways in which the speaker fails to see outside his own situation, an intentional product of a detached Wyatt, have been enumerated in the last paragraph. He acidly observes his “kind” treatment and his lovers “goodness” without noticing he has reaped what he has sown and while still returning to the same behaviors. Friedman writes, “But he is blind to the implications of the metaphors he himself has framed, and to the meanings of the experience he recounts”. The speaker fails to see the indication of the hunting language in the first stanza, lacking awareness of the significance of his circumstance. There is no notion that perhaps this game of “newfangleness” is inherently flawed, it must be returned to as soon as there is “leave to go”. Thus it is not only the speaker that Wyatt finds issue in, but the whole system of courting, of which the speaker is both participant and product. It is one that encourages moving constantly to the next new thing, viewing lovers as nothing more than prey, and trading true passion for meaningless play. It is “a shallow and self-indulgent code” that promotes the denial, or at least the ignoring, of true needs and pa. At its worst, it is “a system of conduct which is revealed as little more than an elaborately woven guise for unregenerate animality”. This is precisely why recognizing the extent of authorial distance present in the poem is so valuable, for it is through a dissociation from the speaker that the reader can be made to observe the defects in speaker and courtly system. I would go so far as to defy part of Friedman’s argument and suggest that Wyatt in this way does in fact comment on this romantic structure that exists both in his poem and the world beyond.

Like “They Flee From Me”, “Ingrateful beauty threatened” posses a speaker submerged in the game of romance, in that they are thoroughly miffed and deeply affected by their lover’s (or former lover’s) behavior. They are so moved, that they resort to threats that are biting and beyond arrogant. The very first lines display this, “Know Celia, since thou art so proud/ ‘Twas I that gave thee thy renown”. Later the speaker claims she tempts them with affrights, clearly suggesting that an empowered Celia is “overstepping her bounds” in a manner that frightens the speaker. It is highly possible the speaker is approaching reasonable behavior irrationally, but nonetheless they lack a self-awareness regarding their situation. They haughtily indicate they are responsible for Celia’s fame, commenting “Thou had’st in the forgotten crowd/ Of common beauties lived unknown” as if Celia’s merit is based solely on what the speaker identifies or attributes to her. The speaker becomes possessive “Thy sweets, thy graces, all are mine;” outright claiming ownership to all her positive qualities. They finally ascend to place themselves in an almost God-like role with the warning, “Lest what I made I uncreate”. Ultimately the speaker, as a result of being unable to see beyond their romantic situation in a manner similar to Wyatt’s speaker, comes forth with these pompous and childish threats.

But this is only half the argument, for where I find similarity in speaker I suspect a difference in authorial distance. Unlike Wyatt, Carew may have been more closely wrapped up in the mind of his speaker and it is he himself who is fully saturated into his own love life. Looking into the greater expanse of Carew’s poetry, he wrote twenty three different poems about someone named Celia. Sadler argues that a relationship between Carew and Celia can be mapped out through his writings, and there is heavy implication that the relationship was real. “Ingrateful beauty threatened” is placed at a time where their passion was facing obstacles, undergoing “progressive disorders of love”, and is contained in the section directly preceding their parting. The distance it seems, once this is learned, already begins to close but further narrows through the language of the poem itself. The poem clearly suggests that the speaker is a poet, and the speaker asserts it is through their poetry that all the fame and positive features of Celia were made or proclaimed. This is most clear in the line, “Had not my verse exhaled thy name, ” which gives direct reference to the speakers poetry. Words like “uncreate”, imply a creation process that would be required in forming poems, and the final lines, “Wise poets that wrapp’d Truth in tales, / Knew her themselves through all her fails” indicate the process of supposedly “building a woman up” through verse is one many gifted poets have endeavored, placing the speaker among that tradition of lyricists. This language insinuating the speaker’s role as a poet, in addition to the idea that the concept of Carew and Celia is rooted in a real relationship that can be laid out through his work, all make possible the conclusion that Carew’s own mind mirrored, at least to an extent, the mind of his speaker in “Ingrateful beauty threatened”. This represents a sharp disparity from Wyatt in “They Flee From Me”. Understanding authorial distance in this case is worthwhile because it begets the conception that Carew was perhaps fully entrenched in the courtly structure when writing this piece and sets the poem up not as commentary on speaker or courting, but as an example of domineering intimidation that can come out of both the romantic system and the poet’s pen. However, if the poem is a critique of the trends within love poetry, this represents a new level of authorial distance that is still just as valuable (though I think this to be the less likely scenario). It is possible that the speaker poet is not in fact tied to Carew, and his bold claims of forming Celia through poetry are meant to be gross exaggerations that Carew is aware of.

The final lines where the speaker acknowledges the history of poets spinning tales of woman while knowing their “true selves”, shows an awareness of both an established practice and potentially the irony behind it. That poets imbue these women with power stands contradictory to the obvious power women hold over these poets as demonstrated by the speaker of “Ingrateful beauty threatened”, who is drawn to rage simply by Celia’s behavior. Thus if Carew is truly trying to make jest of a poetic practice of his time and the form of “‘I made you, I can break you’ lyric”, this would require a detachment from the mind of his speaker very similar to “They Flee From Me”, an authorial distance equally critical to understand as it turns “Ingrateful beauty threatened” from a work of spite to one of commentary or satire and alters the placement of Carew’s own mind regarding the courtly world.

In either case, investigating the authorial distance is important in determining how each poem functions within the class of love poetry of the time. Separation from the speakers, both of which are similar in their limited grasp on their situation and their being mentally engulfed in their respective romances, for Wyatt allows the attention to be placed on the speaker and the courtly system’s deficiencies. For Carew it either sets “Ingrateful beauty threatened” up as an example of the worst that can come from a product of the all-consumed romantically or as a critique of trends and attitudes in love poetry. Admittedly, the gap between poet and speaker’s mind is a difficult one to measure, but minding said gap through a poems language and the larger trends in a poets work or works of poetry as a whole can be extraordinarily useful in ascertaining why it was composed.

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Wyatt and Carew: the Speaker’s Awareness and Authorial Distance. (2020, March 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from
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