Eating Poetry (XI) – “These Bloody Days Have Broken My Heart”

These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

A popular term in literary and cultural scholarship is “intersection.” Scholars have interests in intersections – the conceptual points at which two or more ideas or phenomena meet and interact with each other. I have such a – non-scholarly, in my case – interest in the intersection of ordinary people’s lives with influential or mass historical events, the events of note that form the recorded narrative of our lives on earth.

If you have been watching the Showtime series The Tudors, you know it is a story replete with such events. It is one of the very finest of the many quite good films, plays, and television theatricals that have been produced over the decades about the Tudor and Elizabethan courts. There has been, for instance, no better portrayal of the fall from favor and execution by beheading of Anne Boleyn than in the final two episodes of season two. (Showtime’s recap of the first three seasons is about to end, in preparation for the premiere on April 11 of the fourth and final season – the last two wives and Henry’s decline.)

One of The Tudors’ attributes is that it has included the role of poet Thomas Wyatt, believed to have been a youthful lover of Anne Boleyn before she caught Henry’s eye, and through his father a minor courtier and diplomat in Henry’s constellation. (His son, Thomas Wyatt the Younger – the poet was “the Elder” – lost his life for leading the rebellion against Henry’s daughter and first heir, the Catholic Queen Mary.) It is believed that Wyatt witnessed the execution of Boleyn and, before her, from his cell in the Tower of London while imprisoned there himself, the serial beheadings of the men convicted of, and in some cases tortured into confessing to, adulterous affairs with Boleyn.

There is a sharp moment of dreadful irony in the drama when, after Thomas Cromwell informs Wyatt that he is to be released, and not tried and executed himself, Wyatt calls after Cromwell in despair, “But I’m the only one who’s guilty!”

The following is the poem Wyatt is believed to have written after his experience of the executions. While his may not entirely qualify as an “ordinary” life, his stance in the poem as the artist observer of the grand folly of human vanity provides a substitute for the witness to, rather than maker, of history.


(from the online Luminarium Anthology of English Literature)

V. Innocentia
Veritas Viat Fides
me inimici mei 1

by Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Elder

Who list his wealth and ease retain,
Himself let him unknown contain.
Press not too fast in at that gate
Where the return stands by disdain,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.2

The high mountains are blasted oft
When the low valley is mild and soft.
Fortune with Health stands at debate.
The fall is grievous from aloft.
And sure, circa Regna tonat.

These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

The bell tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,
That yet circa Regna tonat.

By proof, I say, there did I learn:
Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,
Of innocency to plead or prate.
Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.

B. MS.

1. The Latin title adapts Psalm 16.9: “My enemies surround my soul.”
Wyatt’s name (“Viat”) in the title is surrounded by Innocence, Truth,
and Faith.

2. “It thunders through the realms,” Seneca, Phaedra, 1.1140.
The first two stanzas paraphrase lines from that play.

2 thoughts on “Eating Poetry (XI) – “These Bloody Days Have Broken My Heart”

    1. Whyat the Elder loved Anne , I have often wondered if that is perhaps why ‘the younger incited the rebellion against ‘Bloody Mary’s royal ‘ authority, eg: his father loved the mother so did the son unconsciously Love her daughter, Elizabeth I. Caleb ROBBINS

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