One of the last poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt seems apt to these strange times. The whirl of the world has slowed right down for many of us, with cautious avoidance of too-public spaces, and few social encounters. But the quiet has brought — at least for the lucky — its own unexpected pleasures. And with the steady reminders of the fragility of our days, a chance — without the usual noise — to come more to terms with that:
Stond who so list upon the slipper toppe of courtes estates, and lett me heare rejoyce; and use me quyet without lett or stope, unknowen in courte, that hath such brackish joyes. In hidden place, so lett my dayes forthe passe, that when my years be done, withouten noyse, I may dye aged after the common trace, For him death greep'the right hard by the croppe that is moche knowen of other, and of himself alas, doth die unknowen, dazed with dredful face.
Sir Thomas had witnessed the execution of friends, dazed with dreadful face, his patron Thomas Cromwell had fallen, and he himself had recently been accused to treason. No wonder, the wish to leaves court’s estates far behind.
He died very suddenly shortly after writing this, when sent on a mission to Falmouth. To quote from Alice Oswald’s wonderful short introduction to her choice of Wyatt’s poems, “He rode too fast, caught a chill, and died at a friend’s house in Dorset. Strangely, for a man of his status, he was buried not in his own grave, but in his host’s family tomb. His mistress, Elisabeth Darrell, whom he’d been forced to leave two years before, was living in Exeter, and I can’t help wondering,” Oswald continues, “whether, on his way to the West Country, he decided to fake his own death to rejoin her. The beauty of that idea is that it changes the poem ‘Stond who so list …’ from a wish into a whispered decision” to let his days pass in a hidden place.
I rather hope that that is true.