The return of clickable Thomas Wyatt

Giovanni Battista Palumba, Diana bathing with her attendants transforming Actaeon into a stag, c. 1500, © Trustees of the British Museum, 1845,0825.627

[Four years ago, I figured out a way to make an interlinear gloss appear and disappear when you clicked on the lines of a poem. Then I switched my blog-hosting software, and all the magic crumbled. But I found a WordPress plug-in yesterday called Collapse-pro-matic, and after a few hours of kludgy hacking, Thomas Wyatt is back in action, as you’ll see if you click on any of the lines of verse below. —CC, 22 September 2016]

They Flee from Me

by Thomas Wyatt

Remembering lost lovers is a bittersweet pleasure.
They flee from me that sometime did me seek
Thomas Wyatt seems to be looking back at his lovers from middle age, though he can’t have been too old when he wrote it; he didn’t live to be forty. When this poem was first published, in an anthology that appeared in 1557, a decade and a half after his death, the editor gave the following explanation of what happens in it: “The lover showeth how he is forsaken of such as he sometime enjoyed.” By tradition, men hunt, and women are hunted, but love didn’t always quite work that way even in the sixteenth century, and no sooner does Wyatt introduce the metaphor of hunting than he messes with it. In the very first line, the poet is hunting creatures that once hunted him.
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
Are they deer? “To stalk,” wrote one of Wyatt’s 19th-century commentators, “means to steal softly with noiseless step.” But a hunter also stalks. Naked feet, stalking—I imagine that in the darkness, the poet’s bedroom chamber has become overgrown with verdure, and maybe even forested, like Max’s in Where the Wild Things Are. Or perhaps the creatures are ghosts. Infidelity and death are two ways of losing a lover to time.
I have seen them gentle tame and meek
As the poet remembers how the creatures came to him, his memories of them also seem to approach, advancing from the simple past to the present perfect tense. They’re so docile that the reader may wonder whether hunting really is the metaphor in play. The creatures seem to have offered themselves to the poet freely, like the animals who submitted themselves to Adam for naming in the Garden of Eden.
That now are wild and do not remember
Tame in one line, wild in the next. However accustomed to his touch the creatures once were, they don’t know his hand any more; they no longer come when called. I’m reminded of Lewis Carroll’s Fawn, who lets Alice clasp his neck as the two of them walk together through the wood where things have no name, only to shy away from her once he discovers, upon emerging from the wood, that he’s prey and she’s a predator.
That sometime they put themselves in danger
The note of danger returns the reader to his first guess: The poet does seem to be describing an episode of hunting, after all. Hunters lay lures; they hope their victims don’t perceive the threat until too late. But the word danger is rhymed with remember and chamber, raising the complicating possibility that, whatever direction the vector of hazard may have pointed in the past, it’s the poet who’s at risk now, in peril for having ventured so far into memory.
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Maybe it’s hard to distinguish hunting from domestication because the fate of a cow or pig isn’t all that different from that of a hunted deer. Domestication is an act of hunting that takes place in slow motion—over the course of the animal’s lifetime—in a confined space.
Busily seeking with a continual change.
Suddenly the creatures have escaped the confined space; abruptly the metaphor of hunter and deer has dropped away. By betraying an interest in change for its own sake, the fugitives reveal that they have the moral complexity and disreputableness of human beings. I suppose you could describe the “seeking” of the creatures as foraging, if you insisted on finding a way to continue the venatorial metaphor, but I suspect that the important discovery here is that metaphor isn’t able to hold them.

The poet’s tone of voice shifts. Perhaps because he made himself vulnerable in the first stanza, he starts the second one with a touch of bluster.
Thanked be fortune, it hath been otherwise
It would hardly be courtly, let alone gentlemanly, for a poet to boast of his conquests. But after a confession of general romantic failure, in what sounds like middle age, a little boasting about his youth seems licensed. “I graunte I do not professe chastite,” Wyatt once admitted.
Twenty times better; but once in special
Let me tell you about this one time when I totally scored.
In thin array after a pleasant guise
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
The poet is undressing the woman, or rather, recalling how her clothes fell from her.
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
Notice that it’s she who caught him. Rather gallantly, he resists describing her naked body, even while describing how it was revealed, until he comes to her arms. It isn’t indiscreet to describe a woman’s arms, and somehow the inherent modesty of arms makes it all the more poignant that he lingers over them.
Therewithal sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, Dear heart, how like you this?
This is an immortal line. Wyatt’s 19th-century commentator is at pains to insist on “the propriety of this image,” maintaining that it represents a convention of chivalry: “whenever a lady accepted the service of a knight, . . . she gave him a kiss, and this was considered to be an inviolable bond of obligation.” No doubt the kiss that Wyatt received did play on a chivalric convention, but the bond in question turned out not to be inviolable, and it’s the erotic intensity of the image that brings tears to my eyes. I know that the phrasing of the woman’s question doesn’t sound colloquial today, but I feel confident that the rhythm of it was natural in Wyatt’s day. In fact I feel confident that a woman once existed who said these exact words to Wyatt while he was in love with her—I feel as if I’ve heard her say them to him—and I’m sorry, but I imagine that she was doing more than kissing him while she spoke. “Dere hert,” is how the words are spelled in the surviving manuscript and in the first publication of the poem. The poet has himself become the deer and the hart, not clearly distinguished from dear and heart in 16th-century orthography. He was and still is willing to be taken. It’s for this moment, and for the concentration of pleasure into this moment, that she once came into his room, that he is revisiting the memory now, and that we are reading the poem.

In the third stanza, the poet’s tone of voice shifts again, turning conversational, even plain. He acknowledges that he has asked us to believe in the reality of a moment that even he has trouble still believing in.
It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
Today we would say wide awake rather than broad waking, but the meaning is the same. He experienced the woman’s love with the channels of his senses completely open.
But all is turned through my gentleness
He has been too kind to her. By gentleness he means not just the mildness of his manners but also the gentility of them. His highmindedness. His willingness to play the role of Lancelot to Guinevere—to let her go back to King Arthur if she wants to (Wyatt was long thought to have been a lover of Anne Boleyn’s before she became the wife of Henry VIII, though the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography doubts the liaison), or to let her take up with another knight altogether. Or maybe there’s a note of self-reproach in the poet’s description of himself as gentle. Maybe he means that he didn’t hold on to her hard enough.
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
Already in the 16th century, seeing other people was a bold thing that lovers tried, in order to prove they weren’t hamstrung by conventional morals. Fitzgerald, on the Jazz Age: “I remember a perfectly mated, contented young mother asking my wife’s advice about ‘having an affair right away,’ though she had no one especially in mind.”
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
Leave means “permission,” and of her goodness, “thanks to her graciousness.” But puns multiply in the poem’s closing lines, and her goodness also means “her goodness,” which the poet would rather not leave. Note that this line, like the two preceding it, is in the present tense. It turns out that the affair must not have happened in the poet’s long-ago youth, as the first two stanzas suggested; the loss of it is happening now. The poet and the woman have just recently had the conversation where they decided on their new terms, and they’re still repeating the terms to themselves, in an effort to convince themselves of the rightness of them. From the first stanza to the third, there has also been a shift from plural to singular, from they to her. It’s a poem crafted by means of what people in Hollywood call “cheating”: the artful dovetailing of unmatched parts to create an impression of unity.
And she also to use newfangleness.
It’s strange that newfangled still sounds like a novelty word, when it happens to be quite an old one. One of Wyatt’s 20th-century commentators observes that “the word is often used by Chaucer.” In Wyatt’s day it could refer to both an item that is “objectionably modern,” as the OED puts it, and to an immoderate inclination to try such items. In the ballad “The Boy and the Mantle,” for example, Queen Guinevere is attracted to a cloak, despite being told that it has the power to expose unfaithful wives, because “the Ladye shee was new fangle.” Wyatt and his lover have given each other permission to try a new and trendy way of being in a romance, which may amount to a propensity for new and trendy lovers.
But since that I so kindly am served,
Kindly here means both “with kindness” and “in kind”: since Wyatt is being treated with such kindness, . . . since Wyatt is being given the kind of treatment he gave his lover, . . . Both meanings are ironic. The implication is that Wyatt has no right to complain of his lover’s so-called goodness and so-called gentleness, because he started it. She’s only repaying him in his own coin. According to one of Wyatt’s 20th-century commentators, the word served in this line may suggest a reversal: the courtly lover is being served by his mistress instead of serving her. But what kind of cavalier serves his mistress by loving others?
I would fain to know what she hath deserved.
If Wyatt is getting what he deserved, namely, a taste of his own medicine, what does his lover deserve? On a first reading the question sounds almost rhetorical, as if the poet were making a half-hearted attempt to be cynical at the expense of his old lover, so as to prove to himself that he doesn’t miss her. But it might be a real question. Perhaps the answer is “Wyatt,” since his lover doesn’t seem to have behaved any better (or worse) than he did. Or maybe the most that she deserves is this poem—a memory of the happiness they briefly made with each other, set somewhat ironically in verse—their real love recalled and lost all over again in a courtly form.

Eggplant parmesan



8–10 servings


  • 1 large onion
  • 4 lbs. tomato
  • 4 lbs. eggplant
  • basil, 12 leaves
  • 1 ½ cups grated parmesan
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/3 cup + 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/3 cup peanut oil


  1. Preheat oven to 450° F.
  2. Peel and slice the onion. Fry in 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepot until soft.
  3. Wash, de-stem, and roughly chop the tomatoes. Dice finely in a food processor. Add to the onions, bring to a boil, and simmer, uncovered, stirring intermittently, for at least an hour.
  4. Wash the eggplants. Slice into coins ¾ inch thick. Lay out on two cookie sheets; salt lightly; brush with a mix of the olive and peanut oil. Flip, and salt and oil the other side of the coins. Roast for 9 minutes. Swap between upper and lower shelves of the oven, rotate, and roast 9 minutes more. Flip over the eggplant slices, swap shelves again, and roast 10 minutes more.
  5. Wash and slice basil. Add the basil and 1 tsp salt to the tomato sauce halfway through its cooking.
  6. Grate 1 ½ cups of parmesan.
  7. Put a small amount of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9″ x 9″ (or 8″ x 10″) casserole dish. Add a layer of fried eggplant slices, a layer of tomato sauce, and a layer of parmesan. Repeat for a total of 3 layers.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Adapted from Mark Bittman. For a 1-page PDF version, click here.

A panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival this weekend

This Sunday at the Brooklyn Book Festival, I’ll be moderating “Occupy and Resist,” a panel about politics and literature, featuring the writers Sayed Kashua (author of Native), Imbolo Mbue (author of Behold the Dreamers), and Magdaléna Platzová (author of The Attempt). Please come! It will take place at noon on Sunday, September 18, in the Borough Hall Media Room, 209 Joralemon St., Brooklyn.

From an old journal: My 9/11

2001-09-11 sun photo Caleb Crain

Here’s an entry I made in my journal on 13 September 2001. At the time, Peter and I were living on 11th Street near Fourth Avenue, in Brooklyn. Lota was our black Lab mix, and Nina was my sister’s chihuahua, whom we were dog-sitting. I’m including scans of some photos I took that day as well, which get mentioned in the journal. Hope you can read my handwriting.












I didn’t write more later; I didn’t write any journal entries for the next three months. I don’t remember the rest of September 11 anywhere near as clearly as the part that I wrote down, but I do know that I biked into Manhattan that afternoon with Lydia, a friend of friends who either was, or was about to be, a medical student, and wanted to see if she could volunteer. I took a different camera with me on that ride, and took more photos, including the one of the sun at the top of this post and the ones of Manhattan below.




Why has Trump come so far?

I want to quickly list all the explanations for Trump’s campaign that I know of or can think up, whether or not I believe them. The hope is that it might be useful to see them all in one place. Maybe the Trump phenomenon is overdetermined, and more than one of the causes listed below is responsible. Not all of them can be, however, because several of them contradict one another.

  1. There are always fringe elements in American politics, but over the past few decades, the political establishment unilaterally disarmed against them. The political middleman, seen as a corrupt figure, was reduced in rank, and many of his tools were taken from him: pork-barrel spending, big-money campaign donations, conventions where candidates could be decided in smoke-filled back rooms. As a result, the political parties are now incapable of exercising discipline. It was easy for Trump to hijack the Republicans, and the Democrats should consider themselves lucky that Sanders is an honorable man. (This is Jonathan Rauch’s explanation, in a recent Atlantic article.)
  2. Twitter and other internet media have removed the benign censorship with which newspapers and magazines once insulated the public. Twenty years ago, Trump would only have been able to reach people by means of articles that fact-checked his lies and registered disapproval of his xenophobia and his racist dog-whistling. Now he can reach people directly. Truth and social norms have become optional, and the contagion of toxic words can spread more quickly.
  3. The internet has accelerated the shift to “secondary orality” begun by television. In a post-literate media environment, politics has a new texture:

    The viewer may not catch all the details of a candidate’s health-care plan, but he has a much more definite sense of her as a personality, and his response to her is therefore likely to be more full of emotion… The closeness makes it hard to negotiate differences of opinion… In a culture of secondary orality, we may be less likely to spend time with ideas we disagree with. Self-doubt, therefore, becomes less likely. In fact, doubt of any kind is rarer… Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching… He thinks in terms of situations and story lines rather than abstractions.

    Trump’s supporters may still read his messages and read about him, but outside of the elite, most people in America no longer perceive the world in a skeptical, detail-rich, fact-centered way.

  4. Globalization has exposed American workers to competition with foreigners with much lower wages, and NAFTA and other free trade deals of the last few decades have accelerated the damage. The working class feel that America’s political elite has betrayed them, fattening their own bottom lines by offshoring industries that will now never return, and workers are embracing Trump because they no longer believe either the pro-business nostrums of establishment Republicans or the nanny-state reassurances of the Democrats. Government successfully nurtured industry in countries like South Korea in the twentieth century. Trump’s manner is appalling, but maybe free trade isn’t the panacea that orthodox economists think it is.
  5. Increasing automation of the workplace has raised the productivity of manufacturing in America, and American factories simply need fewer workers now. The working class, unable to understand or accept their displacement, blame foreign competition, which they were going to have to face anyway. Trump is channeling an incoherent rage over an inevitable economic misfortune, and the workers themselves would be harmed if a President Trump were to kibosh existing and future free-trade deals.
  6. Workers blame the political elite for exposing them to foreign competition and for failing to take care of them as automation caused their jobs to evaporate. But they probably also understand that electing someone who promises to nuke free trade will bring economic misery to everyone in the country, even themselves. They’re willing to bear the cost in order to have the pleasure of punishing the political elite.
  7. White workers have lost jobs and wages to globalization and automation for decades, but they used to have the consolation of being able to look down on blacks. Nowadays, though, suburban whites have rates of drug abuse, to name one dysfunction, that used to be blamed on urban black “culture.” Since 2009, the President has been black, and perhaps inspired by him, a new protest movement has exposed, and is threatening to remove, the routine racism of much policing, which helped to cause many blacks to feel like second-class citizens. A white rage, over a loss of relative social status, has crystallized around Trump, who flirts with a white-supremacist message.
  8. Since the 19th century, capitalists have divided workers by fomenting racism and ethnic hatred. In the early 20th century, unions proved uniquely capable of convincing workers that cross-race solidarity could protect their wages. But unions have been discredited in the popular imagination, and now there are no institutions in workers’ lives that can make that argument cogently.
  9. Trump supporters are actually a little better off than the average American wage-earner, and the Trump phenomenon shouldn’t be blamed on the white working class but on the white petty bourgeoisie—the class just above the working class, notoriously vigilant about not slipping back into it. They may have racist and xenophobic bias, but their real enemy is the grand bourgeoisie, the class above them, and in particular the liberal element in it, who they see as having made a political alliance with people of color, at their expense. They feel, for example, that when grand bourgeois liberals give away seats in college to affirmative action students, it’s the children of the white petty bourgeoisie who get displaced.
  10. There has always been racism in America, and there have often been economic difficulties. Rage is erupting now because Trump has sown and tended it, ever since his campaign to deny that Obama was born in America. He has worked steadily to make mainstream kinds of speech that would have been heavily stigmatized as recently as a decade ago.
  11. At least since 1968, when Richard Nixon proclaimed himself the candidate of the “silent majority,” the Republican establishment has aroused enthusiasm for itself on the far right with hateful messages, including racist ones. In the 1988 campaign, for example, George H. W. Bush’s team smeared Dukakis with an ad featuring the black felon Willie Horton, who committed rape while on furlough. In 2004, the campaign of George W. Bush riled up supporters by playing on fears of gay marriage. The establishment tapped these fears and angers but never really satisfied them once in office, and now the demon has got away from the sorcerer.
  12. Waves of immigration have provoked nativist backlashes in America before, notably during the 1840s and the 1930s. For the past few decades, many European nations have had to cope with nativist, rightwing parties—led by Nigel Farage in Great Britain, the LePens in France, and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands—and America has been lucky in not being saddled with one sooner. Perhaps the luck will hold: Trump shows little signs of being able to institutionalize his xenophobia. But perhaps it won’t: even if Trump loses in November, he might decide not to leave the political stage.
  13. As a bullying, charismatic, media-savvy billionaire, Trump is attacking a chink in democracy’s armor previously exploited, in Italy, by Silvio Berlusconi. If Berlusconi’s career is a yardstick, it would be a mistake for the political elite to underestimate Trump. Though dismissed and scorned as a clown, Berlusconi was a damaging force in Italian politics for decades.

Three more, 2:30pm:

  1. As manufacturing jobs have given way to service jobs, men in the working class have become less likely to have jobs that are categorically different, in pay and in kind, from those of women. Add to this decline the prospect of a woman President, and a number of men may be feeling less powerful than they once did. With his disparaging remarks about rival candidate Carly Fiorina and news host Megyn Kelly, Trump has shown himself to be a misogynist. Perhaps hatred and fear of women are driving his campaign.
  2. Misogyny is a perennial force in American politics; there’s no need to hunt for a recent historical trigger. Trump has cultivated an image of himself as a misogynist for years and continues to do so, and as with race, he has helped to foment the rage that is supporting him.
  3. The internet has accelerated the political balkanization of American life. Social media companies know that most people find cross-cutting conversations (that is, conversations with people who hold a different political opinion) unpleasant, and they make it easy for users to dodge them. As a result, supporters of Trump may not be challenged about his falsehoods, and most of his detractors may be expressing their disapproval of him, rather pointlessly, to each other.