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ON THE DEATH OF THE MATCHLESS SIR THOMAS WYATT
By John Leland, antiquarian
With his elegant art great Holbein made a vivid likeness of Wyatt, but no Appelles will capture the likeness of his happy character and mind.
When Wyatt sought the realms of starry heaven, he had not completed his fortieth year.
A POEM OF JOHN LELAND, ANTIQUARIAN, TO HENRY HOWARD, EARL OF THE REALM AND MOST LEARNED OF OUR RIGHT NOBLE YOUNG GENTLEMEN
Accept, right illustrious Earl of the realm, this song, with which my Muse has praised your friend Wyatt, removed from this earth by an unexpected demise. In life he was a great lover of your name, and when he was alive you not only honorably cultivated him, but also after his death you praised him with a song which Chaucer, that sweet ornament of our ancestral tongue, could justly have claimed as his own. Pray continue, Howard, to speak of virtuously of Wyatt, and you will be called the brightest glory of your line.
When Caesar’s ambassador Montmorency sailed into Falmouth harbor, borne by favorable winds, the responsibility of escorting the legate was assigned to Wyatt, for no Englishman was more familiar to the Spaniards. This ancient city contains the tombs of two kings, a bright fountain, and has been an episcopal see. Here a pestilence and foul fever overtook Thomas as he was riding post-haste on a series of relay ponies. Noble Horseyshut the dead man’s eyes, a man whom the men of Dorset revere, praise and love. The bright fountain has gained a lasting name by Wyatt’s death, and hence the place is yet brighter.
AN ACT OF PIETY
Let the Graces be downcast, and likewise the Pleasures, let their japes and sallies sadden and fall silent. Lo, the famous Wyatt lies dead, that man, I say, who was the unique glory of the English nation, from whose mouth poured forth well-rounded measures of the Muses. You, you pious crew of singing swans, set him high in mid-heaven, who has deserved to be called your poet, and give him enduring reputation as a beautiful man.
A MEETING OF MINDS
The dearest Granta joined me to you as your companion, Granta, that flower, fame and glory of the Muses. This most unwelcome death will separate our minds. No, it will not. Farewell forever, dear Wyatt.
Just as was Ajax, that owner of the seven-ply shield, just as was Hector in the war at Troy, such was Achilles when borne in his swift car, such was Wyatt the knight, our palm of victory.
The titan will cease to show his beams to the world, and fair Cynthia her elegant torches, the earth will cease to bear new flowers, before your name will perish, famed Wyatt.
HIS CHOICE OF FRIENDS
The Court gave beautiful Wyatt a number of friends, but he chose out three in particular. He cultivated the noble heart of generous Poynings, took delight in Blage, and Mason was welcome to him for his fair title of learning. Now these men bewail him in death with a river of tears, calling out dear Wyatt in a threefold voice.
Lately a quarrel arose among the Olympians, and Wyatt was its cause. Mars said “this young man, the strongest of youths, is mine.” But Phoebus said “he is the flower of my genius.” With his wand Mercury put an end to the quarrel and introduced him, freed of his body, among the highest stars.
Wanton Catullus used a poem to complain of his dead sparrow. Stella, that soft, degenerate little bugger of a poet, mourns the misfortune of his dove. But we, who attend to more serious things and are in the service of more pious Muses, are employing a just sorrow to complain that Wyatt, that light of good judgment, has been taken from us.
AN ENGLISHMAN EQUAL TO THE ITALIANS
Handsome Florence may rightly boast of its Dante, Rome may approve of Petrarch’s royal verse. Wyatt, who took all elegance of speech with him when he went to the grave, was not their inferior in his native tongue.
A TURTLEDOVE’S MOANS
A high-flying turtledove poured forth its lamentations from an elm tree at the time that his sad destiny snatched Wyatt from our midst.
You, Wyatt, have conquered the weapons of warriors, but no hand can conquer the weapons of death.
A SINGLE PHOENIX
No one day has granted the world two phoenixes, although the death of one will be the life of another. Wyatt, “a rare bird on this earth,” done in by death, had already appointed Howard his heir.
LIFE AFTER BURIAL
Nobody can truly say that Wyatt has died, since so many monuments of his genius are alive and well.
Philomela sang tunefully at an unwonted time, when Wyatt, Virtue’s first crown, died. This songbird justly mourned the deceased singer, and, mindful of its duty, all the forest resounded as she sang.
In its earnest prayers Logoresburg, nowadays called Montacute, had hoped to have Wyatt as its master and welcome patron, and had gradually begun to swell with pride. But now its hopes have been wholly dashed, and its entire household is in a great state of collapse. The men of Dorset do not cease railing against the cruel Fates that have taken away Wyatt.
THE LONGING OF KENT
Mourn your dead Wyatt, Kent. While that light was living, you were greater.
THE RIVER WYE
Lately the Wye was clean-faced, but now this little nymph is dark with muddied waters, and with a rough grumble sadly complains that her master Wyatt has been taken off. What of the fact that she unhappily indulges in her tears, lashing her curved banks with violent eddies?
In great-hearted Wyatt’s lifetime Castle Alaunia was valued highly, but now, its protector removed, its spirits are downcast and its lofty pinnacles are fallen.
THE DOWNFALL OF ELOQUENCE
Wyatt, that river, light and thunderbolt of eloquence has perished, and now its every tuneful song falls silent.
WYATT’S POLISHING FILE
The English language was crude, its rhythm unnamed. Now, learned Wyatt, it has felt your polishing file.
THE NOBILITY IS INDEBETED TO WYATT
With you its schoolmaster, the English nobility has learned that poetry can be written in varied meters.
WYATT AS A PSALMIST
He translated David’s songs into our language, and with great art gave them equal measures. This succinct, admirable and pious work will not perish. Wyatt will be more famous for this work.
THE MOURNING OF THE ELEMENTS
Heaven’s fiery power is not performing its usual function. Air is dissolved into watery tears. Thanks to the winds’ commotion the sea rises up to the lofty mountains, and the earth displays an emaciated sadness. The reason is legitimate: the elements have perceived that Wyatt, the world’s darling, has perished.
The Emperor Charles is wont to praise Wyatt’s great powers and eloquence, his honest manners and upright character. The opinion of this single emperor is worth that of many men.
A PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION
If any of our countrymen has not seen Wyatt, let him read these words, and he can gain an idea of his entire appearance. Nature made Wyatt tall of body and sinewy in his invincible arms. And it added a face more handsome than all others. It set happy eyes under a serene brow, eyes that imitated the stars with their shining beams. In youth it conferred on him golden hair, which gradually fell out, leaving him bald. But he grew a dense little forest of hanging beard. Henceforth let whoever sincerely cultivates the honorable praise blessed Wyatt to high heaven, the noble handiwork of skilful nature.
WYATT AS AN EAGLE
Great Jove’s bird seeks out the highest and most difficult places. Such was Wyatt, thanks to his natural endowments.
WYATT AS AN ORNAMENT TO HIS NATION
Shady cedars decorate lofty mountains, as ruddy apples adorn gardens. Ripe grapes decorate fertile vines, as red roses and violets do bright gardens. In life Wyatt was an ornament to all honest men and to his nation, in death he is a national glory.
Lately, while they chanced to be sitting beside the Castalian fountain, the Muses wove a garland of ivy, painting its berries with gold in their usual way. And when it had been made into a complete circle, a question arose among these Delphic sisters which of the poets would carry off this festive prize. Calliope was the first of this maidenly choir to speak up: “This is a gift worthy of learned Wyatt.” She spoke, and the other nymphs approved her opinion. Bitter Atropos begrudged him this praise, and with a hostile hand cut his life’s thread. With their tears the Muses mourned their devotee, done in by this cruel wounding, saying “Death could destroy his body, but the genius of our Wyatt will live unendingly.”
THE NOBILITY OF HIS MIND
Wyatt was never prideful over his ample gifts from fortune, nor did he regard himself as blessed because of the splendor of Court, the hurly-burly of affairs, or the favor of noblemen. More rightly, he wholeheartedly craved to adorn his mind by goodly studies and to fix his attention on heaven. This is the most genuine nobility of a great mind. This is a treasure-house far more precious than gold, by dint of which he lives in heaven, separated from this world. What’s the point now in indulging in measureless grief or languishing with longing for stolen Wyatt? Rather let us take care to imitate him with our pious pursuits, and to become strong men. And thus this true glory will turn us too in to Wyatts.
The ring which was wont to gleam on Wyatt’s finger was made with art, proud with its agate gem, in which a very lifelike portrait of Julius Caesar was engraved, a handsome device for sealing his documents. This image of Caesar, an inspiration to gain supreme virtue, enhanced Wyatt’s native powers and spirits.
This small urn holds the ashes of thrice-great Wyatt, but his reputation flies aloft over boundless spaces.