Wyatt – 2 – (“They flee from me..”)

Sir Thomas Wyatt, “They flee from me..”  from the Devonshire Manuscript circa 1530-1540

More Allen Ginsberg on Sir Thomas Wyatt – continues from here 

AG: And there was another great, strange one, whose rhythm is very odd, “They flee from me that sometime did me seek”. We’ve got one minute, so I’ll read it, then finish. That’s (on) page one (hundred and) sixteen. So you’ve got to figure out who are “they” that flee from him, and what kind of situation is he describing? – because it’s very mysterious. And I never figured it out, after thirty years! – I’m still puzzling over it. I don’t know if anybody does know what this is about, except it’s a mystery, like a mysterious movie.

[Allen reads the poem in its entirety]

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot stalking within my chamber:
Once have I seen them gentle, tame, and meek
That now are wild and do not once remember
That sometime they have put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Busily seeking with continual change
Thanked be fortune, it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once especial –
In thin array: after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she caught me in her arms long and small,
And therewithal sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, ‘Dear heart, how like you this?’
It was no dream, I lay broad waking
But all is turn’d now, through my gentleness,
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness
And she also to use new-fangleness
But since that I so kindly am served
I fain would know what she hath deserved

I’ve never been able to get those last two lines rhythmically correct – “But since that I so kindly am served/I fain would know what.. I fain…

Student: It’s phrased entirely differently in the Oxford anthology
AG: So how is the ..
Student: “But since that I unkindly so am served,/”How like you this?” – what hath she now deserved?”
AG: Well, let me see. I’ve got the Oxford anthology. Are you talking about the Fifteenth Century?
Student: No. no
AG: Okay, I ‘ve got it here. so, let’s see (I bet they didn’t even put it in, oh, they haven’t got it in here in this one, oh yeah, here it is) – “But since that I unkindly so am served” – Right. You’re right.
Student: And isn’t it different about line four, doesn’t that line read…
AG: Well, let me read those two lines “But since that I unkindly so am served/”How like you this” – what has she now deserved”. That’s from Tottel’s Songes and Sonettes, but I seem to remember, they may have smoothed it out for the Oxford book. They may have altered, I think, because I remember many many years ago. This is.. this Oxford book that I’ve got here is 1935 or (193)6 – but I remember at Columbia (this is a 1947 version – and I remember 1947 at Columbia, Raymond Weaver, who was a great scholar, who taught this poem, taught the form that you have in the Norton (anthology) . “But since that I so kindly am served/I fain would know what she hath deserved” – There might be a caesura after “know” – “But since that I so kindly am served/I fain would know what she hath deserved” – It might make it fit. The old way that I learned was the Norton. Do you have any way.. do you have any Oxford books that might check it out?
Student: I’ve got a (copy of Tottel’s Miscellany)
AG: You do? Okay. Want to look it up?. What is it..a..modernized or..
Student: No, the text is (pretty authentic)
AG: Check it out because.. the Oxford Book says from Tottel’s Miscellany (well, it would have to come from there, anyway). Do you have.. do you have Percy’s Reliques?
Student: Yeah
AG: Okay. When we get to.. I’d like to get to the versions of Tom o’ Bedlam and Mad Maudlin – do you know those? Tom o’Bedlam lyrics and Mad Maudlin? – I’ve got mine in New York. What was it “Merry Tom” or “Mad Tom”? – the Mad Tom lyrics – when we get around to it – Or maybe xerox all those pages that have the variants of Mad Tom and Mad Maudlin – or bring in the book and we’ll look it over, bring it in the next time we’ll look it over and figure which…

Student breaks in to take roll call – AG (remembers): Oh, attendance, attendance, I’m sorry! ..begins roll call – tape ends.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eighty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape]

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