List to Hunt" is an alternate title for Thomas Wyatt's "The Lover Despairing
to Attain Unto His Lady's Grace Relinquisheth the Pursuit." The longer
title says that a lover pursuing a woman gives up the chase because he
despairs of winning her favor.
List to Hunt” is a sonnet, a lyric poem
with fourteen lines and a specific rhyme scheme.
sonnet format originated in Sicily in the thirteenth century with Giacomo
da Lentino (1188-1240), a lawyer. The poetic traditions of the Provençal
region of France apparently influenced him, but he wrote his poems in the
Sicilian dialect of Italian. Some authorities credit another Italian, Guittone
d'Arezzo (1230-1294), with originating the sonnet. The English
word "sonnet" comes from the Italian word "sonetto," meaning "little song."
Some early sonnets were set to music, with accompaniment provided by a
Italian poet Petrarch (1304-1374), a Roman Catholic priest, popularized
the sonnet form. Other notable Italian sonneteers were Dante
Alighieri (1265-1321), Italy's most famous and most accomplished writer,
and Guido Cavalcante (1255-1300).
sonnets each consist of an eight-line stanza (octave) and a six-line stanza
(sestet). The first stanza presents a theme, and the second stanza develops
it or answers a question presented by the octave. The rhyme scheme is as
follows: (1) first stanza (octave): ABBA, ABBA; (2) second stanza (sestet):
CDE, CDE (or CDC, CDC; or CDE, DCE).
sonnet form was introduced in England by Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of
Surrey (1517-1547). They translated Italian sonnets into English and wrote
sonnets of their own. Wyatt himself wrote more than one hundred original
poems, many of them sonnets. "Whoso list to Hunt" is based on a theme developed
in one of Petrarch's sonnets.
and Surrey sometimes replaced Petrarch's scheme of an eight-line stanza
and a six-line stanza with three four-line stanzas and a two-line conclusion.
Wyatt used this structural scheme in "Whoso List to Hunt."
Italy, England, and elsewhere between the thirteenth and early sixteenth
centuries, the most common theme of sonnets was love. Sonnets in later
times also focused on religion, politics, and other topics.
Tottel published “Whoso List to Hunt” in London in 1557 in an anthology
entitled Songes and Sonettes Written by the Ryght honorable Lord Henry
Howard, late Earle of Surrey, and others. The volume contained a total
of two hundred seventy-one poems.
Scheme and Meter
poem has a rhyme scheme of abba abba cbbc bb. The meter is iambic pentameter,
a pattern in which a line has five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables—ten
syllables in all. However, several lines in "Whoso List to Hunt" have extra
syllables. Lines 2 and 3 reveal the predominant iambic-pentameter pattern:
and Summary of the Poem
Wyatt's father was a member of the Privy Council of England's King Henry
VIII. This fact—along with Thomas's good looks, sociability, and knowledge
of foreign languages and music—enabled him to make inroads at the king's
court. He served Henry in various roles, most notably as a diplomat in
France and Italy. In the latter country, he became interested in the sonnets
of Petrarch. The sonnet—sonetto in Italian—was a type of poem that
had not yet been introduced to England. After returning home, Wyatt translated
many of Petrarch's sonnets into English and began writing his own sonnets.
serving the king in the 1520s, Wyatt became interested in an attractive
and witty young lady who frequented the court, Ann Boleyn. But a few years
later, the king himself began courting Boleyn while seeking an annulment
from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Henry later married Boleyn after
declaring his union with Catherine invalid. Consequently, Wyatt, who was
in an unhappy marriage, had to give up any thoughts of winning Boleyn for
himself. His sonnet is believed to be an expression of his frustration
at this turn of events.
poem tells of a deer hunt in which several riders are chasing a hind (female
deer). The deer hunt and the hind are both metaphors, the hunt representing
young men pursuing an alluring woman at the king's court and the hind representing
the woman herself, presumably Boleyn. In plain English, the poem says the
wishes to hunt, I know where there is a deer. But don't count on me to
ride it down with you. I no longer have the desire. The work it takes has
made me very tired, and I am now farther behind in the chase than anyone
I find it difficult to take my mind off the deer, and as she continues
to run I follow. But I weaken; my enthusiasm is gone. Consequently, I am
quitting the chase since trying to catch the deer is as futile as trying
to catch the wind in a net. I advise others to quit the chase too, lest
their time is wasted. Be aware that the hind wears a necklace encrusted
with diamonds that spell out a warning that no hunter dares to touch her,
for she belongs to the ruler of the land and she is wild even though she
. Text of the Poem
is the 1557 text of the poem, followed by explanatory notes.
Whoso List to Hunt By Thomas Wyatt
list2 to hunt, I know
where is an hind,3 But
as for me, hélas,4
I may no more.
vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
am of them that farthest cometh behind.
may I by no means my wearied mind
from the deer, but as she fleeth afore6 Fainting
I follow. I leave off therefore,
in a net I seek to hold the wind.
list her hunt,8 I
put him out of doubt,
well as I may spend his time in vain.
graven9 with diamonds
in letters plain
is written, her fair neck round about:
me tangere,10 for
Caesar's11 I am,
wild for to hold, though I seem tame.
female deer and metaphor for Ann Boleyn.
(ay LA): Alas in French,
list her hunt: Who wishes to hunt her. Poets frequently alter word
order for effect. For example, Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth, "Something
wicked this way comes." In ordinary conversation, a person would say, "Something
wicked comes this way."
me tangere: Latin, "Do not touch me," words Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalene
speaker chases a woman whom he cannot—and must not—catch, for she is a
prize of the ruler of the land. If the speaker continues to pursue her,
he will incur the wrath of the ruler and probably lose his head. In real
life, King Henry VIII accused Wyatt of committing adultery with his wife,
Ann Boleyn (apparently the hind in the poem), and imprisoned him in the
Tower of London in 1536. The charges against him were dismissed. Ironically,
it was Ann Boleyn who lost her head in the same year as Wyatt's imprisonment
after she fell out of favor with the king.
Bowing to Absolute Power
comes a time when the wisest course in a struggle to achieve a goal is
to cease striving. Such is the case with the author of "Whoso List to Hunt,"
Thomas Wyatt. When pursuing Ann Boleyn, he encounters an all-powerful rival,
King Henry VIII. What the headstrong Henry wants, he gets. Wyatt well knows
that defying the headstrong Henry can only result in an appointment with
an executioner. Consequently, he yields to the king. Wyatt's poem is an
allegory that explains the futility of opposing an irresistible force.
poem can stand as a metaphor for the frustration a person experiences after
circumstances prevent him or her from achieving a goal. This is a timeless
theme that occurs frequently in literature. In Edmond Rostand's Cyrano
de Bergerac, for example, the title character's ridiculously long nose
prevents him from competing for the hand of the woman he loves. In the
story of Tantalus in Greek mythology, the gods of Olympus cast Tantalus,
a Lydian king, into Hades for offending them. There, he stands in a pool
of water. Above him is a fruit tree. Whenever he tries to quench his thirst
by stooping to drink from the pool, the water recedes. Whenever he tries
to satisfy his hunger with fruit from the tree, the wind blows the fruit
out of his reach. Tantalus is thus doomed to spending eternity in frustration.
Examples of figures of speech
in the poem are the following:
comparison of a woman to a hind (female deer)
list to hunt,
I know where is an hind
I by no means
comparison of the task of catching and winning the woman to catching wind
with a net.
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.
Questions and Writing Topics
a sonnet on a topic of your choice.
8 says, "Sithens in a net, I seek to hold the wind." Write a short essay
on an experience of yours in which your attempt to complete a task or achieve
a goal was like trying to catch the wind in a net.
an essay arguing that Wyatt was innocent of (or guilty of) committing adultery
with Ann Boleyn. You will need to research the life of Wyatt and Boleyn.
an essay that analyzes another poem by Wyatt.