Featured Poem: Song (It may be good) by Sir Thomas Wyatt

The Reader’s Head of Learning and Quality, Clare Ellis, shares her thoughts on this week’s Featured Poem, Song (It may be good) by Sir Thomas Wyatt.

Doubt is such a disabling feeling to experience, and it is something that I have personally struggled with for much of my life.

It may be good, like it who list;
But I do doubt. Who can me blame?

I really feel for the speaker in Wyatt’s poem when we are forced to stop at this plaguing ‘But’: even though we may be assured in life and aware of the possibility of the ‘may be good’, the reality and indeed ironic certainty of the ‘I do doubt’ gets in our way, almost physically, and stops us from living our lives.

The difficulty of moving away from what feels like a perennial experience of doubt in this poem seems further heightened by the fact of past experience; ‘who can me blame/ For oft assured, yet have I mist;/ And now again I fear the same.’ When our hopes have been disproved in the past, how can we trust that things will turn out well? Is optimism a finite resource? Hope a state of mind for the young – those who have not yet been disappointed enough? Are you better off being doubtful, cautious?

The windy words, the eyes’ quaint game
Of sudden change, maketh me aghast.

Aghast – what kind of a feeling is that? It brings me up short and there feels a sense of horror in it, but horror of what? The sudden change announced or that it comes from a particular person, perhaps once trusted and now revealed shockingly anew?

What do we need to be able to trust again, to be able to hope again that ‘It may be good’? What could we say to the speaker in this poem to help them escape from their ‘endless maze’ of doubt?

The word ‘dread’ in the poem shows the emotional power of such a state of being. ‘For dread to fall, I stand not fast.’ I wonder about the ‘fast’ here? Is this fear of falling, failing in life, preventing the person’s ability to make a decision, make a stand and therefore action? If we fear something, we make the mistake of avoiding it – but what if it is life itself that you fear?

And yet my life thus do I waste:
For dread to fall, I stand not fast.

I feel like the fact that the person knows that doubting is not the way to live, even though he has not yet been able to move out of his impasse, provides some hope – even though consciousness of the ‘waste’ heightens the pain of the situation. But at least if he is aware that he is wasting his life by living in doubt, I feel there may be some hope for change, although I feel sad that he does not seem to be able to work out how to shift his state in the space of the poem. What could we say or do to help bring about the change – to shift from disabling doubt to hopeful action?

Song (It may be good)

It may be good, like it who list.
But I do doubt. Who can me blame?
For oft assured yet have I missed
And now again I fear the same.
The windy words, the eyes’ quaint game
Of sudden change maketh me aghast.
For dread to fall I stand not fast.

Alas, I tread an endless maze
That seek to accord two contraries;
And hope still, and nothing hase,
Imprisoned in liberties;
As one unheard that still cries;
Always thirsty, yet naught I taste.
For dread to fall I stand not fast.

Assured I doubt I be not sure.
And should I trust to surety
That oft hath put the proof in ure
And never hath found it trusty?
Nay, sir, in faith it were great folly.
And yet my life thus I do waste:
For dread to fall I stand not fast.

by Sir Thomas Wyatt

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