Wyatt's I Find No Peace
I FIND NO PEACE
Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542)
I find no peace, and all my war is done. I fear and hope. I burn and freeze like ice. I fly above the wind, yet can I not arise; And nought I have, and all the world I season. That loseth nor locketh holdeth me in prison And holdeth me not--yet can I scape no wise-- Nor letteth me live nor die at my device, And yet of death it giveth me occasion. Without eyen I see, and without tongue I plain. I desire to perish, and yet I ask health. I love another, and thus I hate myself. I feed me in sorrow and laugh in all my pain; Likewise displeaseth me both life and death, And my delight is causer of this strife.
If the modern reader reads few lines from Surrey’s Epitaph on Sir Thomas Wyatt, he/she can easily understand how he appeared before his contemporaries as the first Renaissance gentleman-poet. Surrey writes in the very year of Wyatt’s death that he had a courtier’s eye, a scholar’s tongue, and a hand that “taught what may be said in rhyme, / That reft Chaucer the glory of his wit.” Under cultural demands created by the Renaissance when Wyatt took to writing poetry, he faced the problem of restoring gravity and cogency of utterance to English verse after a period of linguistic transformation in the century following Chaucer, during which pronunciation had altered and metrical patterns had gone to pieces. He was forced to seek help from the Italian sonnet. The sonnet was a highly conventional form, a form that demanded discipline and craftsmanship from on the poet’s part, and challenged the poet to mould his thought with will and aptness to the precise shape of those fourteen balanced lines. Wyatt along with other “courtly makers” emerged as craftsmen, treating the conventional subject matter over and over again in their attempts to hammer out a disciplined yet flexible poetic style.
The Petrarchan sonnet provides the English poet not only with a form but also with the sentiments. The whole nature of the relation between the poet and his beloved had become conventionalised in terms of an idealized courtly love attitude, which Petrarch had manifested toward Laura in his love sonnets. The notion of the lover as the humble servant of the fair lady, injured by her glance, tempest-tossed in seas of despair in rejection, changing in mood according to the presence or absence of his beloved—was derived from the medieval view of courtly love, a concept of love which arose out of the changing attitude towards women centring round Virgin Mary as an ideal example. At this point it must be pointed out that the imported poetic theme had also become essential for satisfying the mental needs and cultural tastes of the English gentlemen created by the Renaissance. That is why we find the historical existence of the English counterparts of Laura almost for all the 16th century sonneteers.
Wyatt’s I Find No Peace is a sonnet set typically in the Petrarchan tradition; it has the same five rhymes—abcde, and can be divided in two parts—octave and sestet. But it should be pointed out here that Wyatt deviates from the Petrarchan model in a number of ways. While in the former the theme of the poem is introduced in the octave and developed in the sestet, Wyatt’s poem does not maintain the division and distribution of thought. The poet begins by enumerating the conflicting states of mind occasioned by the onset of love:
“I find no peace and all my war is done,
I fear and hope, I burn and freeze like ice…”
These carefully chosen monosyllabic words contain enough information so as to inform the readers what has gone before. His ‘peace’ of mind has been destroyed by the ‘war’ he has been waging against himself and his ladylove in order to win her love. It may be surmised here whether after finding his “war is done”, that is, his game over, he resorts to writing this sonnet in an attempt to communicate to her the words of his desire; for, the rest of the lines in the poem are set almost as disguised appeals, as desperate cries to the mistress. This is nowhere so prominent as in the second line, the poet speaks of experiencing contrary thoughts and emotions: he is afraid of his supposed rejection by her, and that is why gets frozen at this thought. But at the same time he is hopeful of the prospect of winning her favour, and this leads him to ‘burn’ in desire for her. It may be pointed out here that Wyatt’s description of the impact of love, which has not been won, conforms to the onset of love generated by the first secretion of the hormones in the human body. Quite consistent with this the poet finds himself daydreaming about an ideal situation: “I fly above the wind…”; but the next moment the reverie breaks down and he finds himself forlorn heavy with the thoughts of failure and fails to ‘arise’ out of the situation.
In the fourth line the poet has actually descended on the most dominant aspect of love in his confession, namely its possessive aspect. Love is a possessive instinct and it determines the passage of passion. When Wyatt thinks that he has not secured his beloved’s love, he feels “naught I have”, but the next moment when he hopes he might win her, it seems to him that “all the world I seize on”. The point is that for him the physical possession of the beloved is the physical possession of the world, that is to say, it dictates the terms for his existence in time and space. Conjoined with this, however, another aspect love also emerges in the next two lines. It was a prevalent thought during the Renaissance that the amorous gaze or glance of the beloved, like the one of a sorceress, might cast a spell, which may act as a trap for the helpless lover. The words—“yet can I ’scape nowise—betray this kind of sense.
The helplessness of the lover reaches its climax at the very middle, in the seventh line, when the poet speaks of death. [It is psychologically plausible that a frustrated may think of death as the last way-out of the sufferings of love. For the Renaissance poets the word ‘death’, however, operated more on the rhetorical level as an extreme thought, as an extreme threat to convince the reader of the genuineness of his claim than on the plain of reality as an act. The effect of Saint John’s “The Apocalypse” in the New Testament might have played a significant role in disseminating this idea.]
The theme of death has been carried on to the sestet, and here it means putting an end to physical existence, which loses significance if he fails in securing the beloved’s favour. But unlike the speaker of a Petrarchan sonnet the theme of the octave has not been discussed here in order to resolve the conflicts. Again, it is only in the twelfth line of the poem that we are given the information regarding his mental agitation, that the poet has fallen in love. But it is not, as he says, that he hates himself because he loves her. He may hate himself at the thought of being rejected for failing to become worthy of her. Again, he himself indulging in self-pity and finds sustenance and substance for his thoughts in his sorrows. This leads him sometimes to cynicism and he laughs in his pain.
In the concluding couplet Wyatt tries to put an end to the contrary and antithetical thoughts and emotions by stating in a conceited fashion that he understands that his ‘delight’, that is, the object of his delight or ladylove is the cause of all these sufferings. It must be pointed out here that by providing a concluding couplet, like Shakespeare later on, Wyatt deviates from the Petrarchan model. Again the poem is marked by the absence of Neo-Platonic concept of love, the hallmark of a Petrarchan sonnet, a concept in which a speaker like Petrarch would realise the supreme divine beauty through the idealisation and worship of the spiritual beauty of a beloved like Laura.