Wyatt and Women Sir Thomas Watt’s “They Flee From Me” is, superficially, a lamentation of a lost love that, as the poem concludes, sharpens into a bitter desire to know the fate of the woman who abandoned him. The poem opens with a vague, foreboding statement that describes an unknown group that at one time sought the speaker out but now races away from his presence. Wyatt constructs a metaphor, construing this unknown group as animals that “take bread at my hand” (6).
Upon further examination it becomes clear that the speaker is not actually talking about wildlife, but rather he is heartrending past relationships with women. When thought of in relation to other portions of the poem, it becomes apparent that the words “naked foot” is not referring to a hoof or paw, but the skin of a bare human foot. The last eight lines of the first stanza continue with this wildlife metaphor. When these women are with him, he characterizes them as “gentle, tame, and meek” but once their escapades are over, they become “wild… And now they range/Busily seeking with a continual change” (3, 6-7).
This suggests that the speaker is able to make these women docile, but once the relationship has ended, they become wild meanders looking for their next connection. It can be easily said that these relationships had a strong sexual component to them. Proof of this is the word choice “naked” instead of a simpler, less insinuating word such as bare (2). The bread that he feeds them then can be an emotional connection while they are together or a figurative feeding the women’s sexual hunger. At this point, a far less innocent explication can be seen as it can be construed that the speaker is paying these women for sex.
In that case, the bread becomes the payment for these services, either in the form of actual bread or money. When they become congenial, the omen are adhering to the wishes of their client and once the affair is over, they go on seeking for their next Job. Regardless of whether these women were actually romantic romantically involved with the speaker or prostitutes, they are “busily seeking [for]a continual change” (7). The second stanza lapses into a kind of daydream where the speaker idealizes a particular woman?a woman “twenty times better” than any other woman he has been with (9).
To illustrate the wonders of this woman’s graces, he faints into her arms when he sees her naked. After she kisses him, she asks him “how like you this” (14). This is an ambiguous question as she could be referring to her companionship or, quite bluntly, to the sex they have shared. The word “guise” in line ten, however, leaves an ominous tone for the remainder of the poem and is more fully addressed in the last stanza. The double meaning of the word, as a manner (personality) or a disguise, leaves two readings for that line. Either she was very pleasant in her manner, or the disguise she puts on for him was very pleasing.
Each of these readings supports the two previously acknowledged relationship between the speaker and the woman, while the second reading adheres ore to the idea that all of these women, including this particular one, are prostitutes. The ominous feelings brought on earlier are finally acknowledged as the speaker dismisses the entire second stanza as a fleeting moment he can only dream about and returns to reality. The relationship with this magnificent woman has ended and he seems to take responsibility for the split, saying that “all is turned, thorough my gentleness/lento a strange fashion of forsaking” (16-17).
It is not clear why he has let her go, only that he has “leave to [let] go of her goodness” (18). In the ext line, more concrete reasons are given for the woman as she has “leave… To use ineffableness” or fickleness, as explained in the footnote. This seems to bring back the explication that these women are prostitutes. In either case, the woman has to leave for something new. Logically, this meaner other men. In the last two lines, the speaker is thinking aloud with the reader. The use of the word “kinder in the phrase “kindly served” seems sarcastic to emphasize his bitterness of in the way he was treated (20).
As with the double meaning of guise, the word “served” has two possible adding. It can correlate with the pain the speaker is feeling after this woman has left him, or it can mean simply that he was served by getting what he wanted from this wonderful woman: sex. This second reading aligns more readily with the prostitute explication, rather than the romantic relationship. The final line serves to refresh the bitterness of the speaker. By noting that he has ended up with all this pain, he wonders “what she hath deserved” or rather if this woman also feels grief over the end of this relationship (21).
He seems to hope that she is also bitter and ascribable, but can only wonder because she is gone and he cannot see for himself. The double meanings of the words “guise” and “served” and their roles in the two explications of this poem seem to make this poem more relatable to the everyman reading the poem. This makes sense, as Wyatt also dispenses with flowery and complicated language and, instead, uses simple and plan language to make it more accessible to readers. Upon closer examination, this poem becomes less of a grief- ridden mourning and more of a sharp, bitter remembrance and hope that she has gotten “what she hath deserved” (21).