Wyatt and Surrey: Importance in - English Poetry

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      It was humanism which provoked the renewal of the English poetry after its sterility. The task of this revival was indeed a considerable one. English poetry of the time had been suffering from a languor and artistic disarray and there were none to give life and shape to it. Everything had to be done over again. King Henry VIII who was a bit of a poet himself, had made his court a center of culture. The two poets of his court that undertook the task of reviving poetry and in Italy they found their model and stimulus. They were Sir Thomas Wyatt and Earl of Surrey.

The two poets of his court that undertook the task of reviving poetry and in Italy they found their model and stimulus. They were Sir Thomas Wyatt and Earl of Surrey.
Wyatt and Surrey

      Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) returned from his diplomatic mission in Rome with strong enthusiasm for the lyrical poetry of Rome, particularly Petrarch and a desire to fashion English verse on the model of the Italians. He brought three measures to English poetry, terza rima, ottava rimn and sonnet. He tried them all himself but only the sonnet caught on in that generation and led to a splendid outburst in the next age. He took the Petrarchan model and made it the vehicle of direct expression of personal feeling without recourse to fiction or allegory, which, it has remained till today. His thirty-nine sonnets are the first in English. Ten of them were translations from Petrarch. He is more or less a piper of Petrarch woes and the atmosphere of imitation hangs over them.

      Nevertheless, these sonnets for the first time introduced personal note and experience in poetry and herein lies Wyatt's great service to English poetry. His lyrics in which he captured the grace of Pre-Chaucerian lyrics, expressing courtly sentiment in melodious strains are admirable works. He also wrote some satires in Italian terza rima in imitation of Horace. These reveal his energy and bold character. As a pioneer and innovator in English poetry, he ranks high, though his actual performance is not great.

      The names of Wyatt and Surrey are permanently linked together in literary history. They belonged to the Tudor Period.  Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1516-1547) was the younger and the disciple of the older man, whom he has celebrated in fine verses. His nature was less energetic than Wyatt's but he was a better artist. It was a pity that such a promising career was cut short, when he was beheaded for treason at the age of thirty. Surrey too sang in his sonnets his entirely imaginary love for Geraldine or Lady Elizabeth of Fitzerland. The elegiac note is natural for him. His love for nature was genuine and with happy effects, he mingles descriptions of nature with love complaints in his sonnets. His sonnets are on a new model, an arrangement of three quatrains ending with a rhymed couplet a thing which Shakespeare took up and perfected.

      Besides sonnets, he wrote some love-lyrics and songs, which are works of art. But Surrey's chief title to glory is that he first introduced the blank verse in English poetry in his translation of the Aeneid, a task done in the prison. This innovation is in the spirit of the Renaissance. His blank verse, rather rough and rigid and showing fondness for end-stopped line, has dignity and often strength. Thanks to him, English poetry acquired a magnificent instrument, which once perfected, became the meter of the drama and epic. Surrey is thus the first forerunner of the achievements of Shakespeare and Milton.

      The works of Wyatt and Surrey appeared in a collection of songs and sonnets called Tottel's Miscellany, which was published in 1557 after their death. Their influence was not immediate. A whole generation passed before their lead was followed.

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