Common-Place Jotting: “Noli me tangere”

Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember

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Portrait of Sir Thomas Wyatt. Oil on panel, derived from a lost drawing or painting by Hans Holbein the Younger of about 1540

As noted in yesterday’s common-place jotting on “Unto the Hert’s Forest,” history records that the poet, courtier, and diplomat Sir Thomas Wyatt (1501-1542) was rumored to have had, if not illicit relations, then certainly a dangerous affection for the flirtatious Anne Boleyn. Why dangerous? Because she was first the mistress, then the wife of the king of England, Henry VIII. Later, when she fell out of favor with Henry, she was beheaded on charges of adultery and treason. Wyatt was sent to the Tower of London, but through the efforts of Thomas Cromwell, escaped execution.

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Portrait of Anne Boleyn

It is quite possible that the following sonnet expresses his anguish over his impossible love for Anne which, were he to pursue her, would be in vain. There is a hint in the poem that she is like a deer scenting the hunt; but the pursuit comes with an inherent warning to all: Noli me tangere, (“touch me not”) for Caesar’s I am.

Whoso List to Hunt, I Know Where is an Hind                 Sir Thomas Wyatt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

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