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Thomas Wyatt – Father of Modern English Poetry

Thomas Wyatt Father of Modern English Poetry

Thomas Wyatt’s reputation as a poet is now firmly established, and his lighter lyrics show up as a bright patch in any collection of sixteenth-century verse. Wyatt wrote no memorable sonnets, but he blazed the track. His intimations of Patriarch brought bold and new images into English. At the end of his short life, Wyatt had shown how a Renaissance form devised to express complex personal experience could be adapted to the traditions of his own nation and the outlook of his age. Such an achievement sufficiently vindicates his right to rank as one of the pioneers of Elizabethan poetry. (Read about modern English poetry by Thomas Wyatt)

Being A Pioneer And Innovator

Being a pioneer and innovator he was handicapped at first by the still unsettled state; of pronunciation, and his first experiments reflect no regularity in the use of accents. He makes bad rhymes, he fails to harmonize word and verse accent, he stumbles in scansion. But on the whole, he succeeded in restoring to English verse. The nobility, grace, harmony, regularity, and flexibility which it had lost during the century following Chaucer. His lyrics as “Awake my lute” and “Forget not yet” are eminent examples of poetic power.

In this connection, George Sampson writes, “Wyatt’s poetry conveys the charm of a brave and strong spirit. His technical faults are those of a pioneer. His chief claim to remembrance lies in his deliberate effort to raise the native tongue to dignity by making it; as Patriarch had made it, the vehicle of polite and courtly poetry.”

Poetry before Wyatt

Poetry before Wyatt is not, of course, devoid of personal feelings; but where this occurs it is incidental, with, Chaucer or the anonymous medieval lyrists and the writers of ballads. We may assume that they were men abundantly capable of private emotions. But, we do not feel that they made these the subject of their verse. Before the Renaissance, all poetry was grounded in certain conventions that of epic narrative. For instance, of allegory or of courtly love. It is true that many of Wyatt’s love poems, especially those he translated were grounded in the convention of amour Courtois. But in his truly characteristically lyrics. We do for the first time meet a poet who explores his own psychic condition for its intrinsic interest. As a completely new field of poetic experience.

And I should have it as me list,
Therewith to set my heart in rest,
I asked naught but my dear heart

Center Of Interest

This shifting of the center of interest from a convention to the poet’s actual states of mind is bound up with the new interest in man, which characterizes the Renaissance. We take it so much for granted that an individual man’s or woman’s state of mind at any given moment is a legitimate subject for poetry, that we are inclined to forget that it was not always so. It is not easy to realize that when Wyatt made a poem out of an actual situation that had been of crucial emotional significance to him. He was doing something without precedent in English. He was a pioneer in the exploitation of autobiographical material. (Wyatt’s modern English Poetry)

Wyatt’s versification is puzzling many of his songs, written presumably to existing airs, are as smooth as the best Elizabethan, whereas in not a few of his sonnets metrical accent clashes harshly against natural accent, producing such cacophonic as, And there cample, displaying his banner.

Unaware Of The Iambic Rhythm

So uncertain is his prosody, that we are driven to ask whether he was unaware of the iambic rhythm, or whether he pronounced such words as banner, suffer, pleasure, feareth, as iambuses, throwing the accent on to the last syllable. His rhymes manifestly fall on unaccented syllables. It has been suggested that the irregular lines were due to the blundering of a prentice poet who had not yet learned how to scan. Moreover, his prentice work was done while accent was still unsettled.

C.S. Lewis does not accord Wyatt as a high place in English poetry and calls him the father of the Drab Age. He writes, “His real place in the evolution of English poetry (as distinct from his instinct value, his place of honor among English poets) is really an unfortunate one. His own lyric gift he did not bequeath to most of his successors; he did bequeath to them by his worst poems, the terrible Poulter’s measures and the flat, plodding, style which almost inevitably goes with it.”

Final words…

Wyatt is quite the most important of the first half of the sixteenth century. He wrote epigrams, satires, and versions of some of the Biblical Pslams, but he is memorable for his love poems. Some of which were written in verse forms fashionable in France and Italy. Such as the sonnet, which he was the first to use in England. These sonnets were written in the Petrarchan form, apart from the compete ending, which Wyatt introduced. Seriousness and reflective in tone the sonnets show some stiffness of construction and a metrical uncertainty indicative of the difficulty Wyatt found in the new form. (Modern English Poetry by Wyatt)

Yet their conciseness represents a great advance on the prolixity and uncouthness of much earlier poetry. Wyatt was also responsible for the most important introduction of the personal note into English poetry, for, though following his models, closely, he wrote of his own experiences. His best poetry is in a somewhat irregular rhythm, which recalls Old English alliterative verse.

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