So! This is a day late! (Though if you followed the link in the last post, the Robert Lowell was a twofer!)
We go right back to the beginning now, to the poet who more than anyone - and possibly literally - brought the sonnet into English. (Think of it as a new pigment being invented, or like the moment oil paints replaced gesso, a colour or luminosity not available before.)
Sir Thomas Wyatt was an ambassador to continental Europe from the court of Henry VIII, and brought home the sonnet form he’d encountered in the Italian of Petrarch. Here’s the baseline or bedrock Petrarchan sonnet architecture: three four-line units or quatrains (rhyming abba) closing in a single rhyming couplet.
And here’s also the late-medieval ‘courtly love’ scenario that the form never quite leaves behind, the sonnet as voice of the ardent, spurned, regretful lover (looked at in a certain light, you could say ‘Dolphin’ is a kind of damaged perversion of that.)
And Wyatt himself was a lover in an impossible position. Overseas, he may well have encountered the Boleyn family (father was also a diplomat) and seems to have fallen for young Anne. He spent time in the Tower for suspected adultery following Anne’s downfall and execution, but escaped death thanks to powerful connections.
If Anne Boleyn is the hind of this sonnet, Wyatt clearly knew he was hunting in the king’s forest and risked his neck...
Whoso List to Hunt, I Know where is an Hind
Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.
Lots more of Wyatt, one of my very favourite poets, at the Poetry Foundation