They Flee From Me

This essay has a total of 3476 words and 17 pages.

They Flee From Me

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Thomas Wyatt, "They Flee From Me"

Set of Multiple-choice Questions Analyzing a Poem

Sir Thomas Wyatt's sixteenth-century lyric "They flee from me" is an enigmatic poem that
pleases at least partly because it provides no final certainty about the situation it
describes. Yet the poem, while in some respects indefinite and puzzling, is nevertheless
quite specific in its presentation of a situation, particularly in the second stanza, and
it treats a recognizable human experience--that of having been forsaken by a lover--in an
original and intriguing fashion.


They flee from me, that sometime did me seek
with naked foot stalking in jay chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek
That now are wild, and do not remember
(5) That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand: and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune it bath been otherwise
Twenty times better, but once in special,
(10) In thin array after a pleasant guise *
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small, *
Therewithal sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, 'Dear heart, how like you this?'

(15) It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking,
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also to use newfangleness.
(20) But since that I so kindly am served,
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

*manner or style
* slender

The image developed in the first stanza is especially striking, with its suggestion of
once tame and friendly animals who have reverted to wildness and will no longer risk the
seemingly innocent taking of bread from the speaker's hand. This stanza establishes at
once the theme of change, a change from a special, privileged condition to one of apparent
mistrust or fear, and the sense of strangeness (no explanation is given for the change)
that will continue to trouble the speaker in the third stanza. Strangeness is inherent in
the image itself -- "with naked foot stalking in my chamber" - -- and the stanza is filled
with pairs of words that reinforce the idea of contrast: "flee"/"seek," "tame"/"wild,"
"sometime"/"now," "take break"/"range." Most interestingly, we are never told who "they"
are.


Moving from this somewhat disconcerting description of the speaker's present situation,
the second stanza abruptly shifts the reader to an earlier moment in the speaker's life
when "Thanked be fortune, it hath been otherwise/Twenty times better." There follows the
description of another privileged moment, an explicitly particular moment this time, that
is fixed in the speaker1s memory. Wyatt's evocation of this intimate scene, with its
overtones of eroticism, is subtly lyrical in its rhythms and yet quite straightforward and
direct. We are not given the speaker's reply to the lady's playful question, but the tone
of the lines and the obvious fondness with which the speaker regards the incident give the
description a compelling charm and authenticity.


The first line of the third stanza confirms this sense of lived experience with two
colloquial statements affirming the reality of that dreamlike moment. But the realization
that such an enchanting scene did in fact take place only brings the speaker back to the
hard reality of the present. He blames (and at the same time absolves) himself by
attributing the change in affections to his own "gentleness," but, as in the first stanza,
can find no clear reason for his present condition. It is, he says, the result of a
"strange fashion of forsaking," a "newfangleness" on the part of the lady. The final
couplet, with its ironic and ambiguous "kindly" (although in the sixteenth century
"kyndely" could mean "after the law of kind or nature," it also had its modern sense) is
complex in its suggestion of disappointment, resignation, curiosity, and aplomb. The
lover, although forsaken, is not completely embittered or heartbroken. His potential
self-pity has been distilled into a critically philosophical commentary on the lady who,
while clearly guilty of unkindness, cannot be utterly condemned for her "newfangleness"
because its cause remains strange and unexplained.


The basic purpose or a set of multiple-choice questions on a poem like "They flee from me"
is to test a student's ability to read the text with understanding and to be aware of the
ways in which the poet uses language to produce various effects. The questions do not
differ, therefore, from many of the questions that a classroom teacher night ask a group
of students in the course of an analytical discussion of the poem. Such a discussion might
include questions about the dramatic situation (or situations) presented in the poem.
about the relationship between stanzas (structure), about the imagery and its coherence or
tack of it, about the contribution of syntax and rhythm to meaning, about diction and
tone, about irony and ambiguity Almost all of these elements can be treated using a
multiple-choice format. Obviously, there are some aspects of the poem that cannot be dealt
with effectively using multiple-choice questions, and the psychological response of
individual students to the imagery or to the situation presented in the poem can be most
successfully dealt with in essays or discussions which allow for a fuller treatment of the
nuances, contradictions and enigmas that the reader discovers in the text. What the set of
multiple-choice questions presents, however, is at least part of the preliminary analysis
that a reader must necessarily undertake before he or she settles upon a reading of the
poem- Who is speaking? What is his or her point of view? How is the poem organized? Are
there recurring patterns of imagery, diction, or syntax? In preparing to answer such
questions, a student is preparing not merely to take a test but to respond with
sensitivity and acuity to the literary texts that he or she may read in the future.


The set of questions that follows, written by a specialist in Renaissance literature, was
reviewed and revised several times by others of similar background. It was then
"pretested" -- administered to a group of students in English courses at several colleges
-- in order to provide two important statistics for each question. The first is an index
of difficulty, as determined by the percentage of students in the group who chose the
correct answer; the second is an index of discrimination which indicates the extent to
which the question discriminated between the most and least able students taking the test,
with ability being determined by the students' performance on the test as a whole (35
questions on two poems). A question is said to discriminate well when the group that
chooses the correct answer also has a clearly higher score on the entire test than any of
the groups choosing the other options. As a result of this pretesting, the questions may
be revised further to eliminate ambiguities in wording or to change one of the five
choices that, on a given question, might have misled a substantial number of very able
students. In short, the pretest is a test of the questions rather than of the students.
When the Development Committee and the test specialists from Educational Testing Service
(ETS) are satisfied that each question contains only one "best" answer, the set is ready
for use on an AP examination. The following set of questions on the Wyatt poem was part of
the 1979 AP English Literature and Composition Examination.


1. The central ambiguity in stanza 1 stems from the

(A) strange behavior of women
(B) identity of "they"
(C) ideas of danger and change
(D) image of the naked foot
(E) contrast between danger and meekness

The first question presents as a given that the first stanza of the poem contains a
central ambiguity and asks the student to identify its source. Clearly, the most puzzling
aspect of the stanza is the identity of "they," and 63% of the students chose that option.
These students, as a group, also had a higher score on the test as a whole (which included
other passages and poems) than did any of the groups that chose the other options. "They"
is particularly ambiguous because it might refer to human beings or to animals, and, in
fact, "they" are not identified or referred to again in the rest of the poem. A group of
19% (the next largest group) chose option (A), "strange behavior of women." The stanza
does not include any mention of women, but these students may have been interpreting
"they" as women in view of the scene with the woman in stanza two, thus eliminating a
central ambiguity rather than identifying one. Options (C), (D), and (E), while all
present in the first stanza, are not sources of ambiguity and were chosen by 4%, 1%, and
10% of the students respectively. Three percent of the students chose not to answer this
question.


2. All of the following reinforce the imagery in stanza 1 EXCEPT

(A) "stalking" (line 2)
(B) "tame" (line 3)
(C) "remember" (line 4)
(D) "bread" (line 6)
(E) "range" (line 6)

This question asks students to identify words that, together, reinforce the imagery in
stanza one. The imagery itself is not identified, so the students must try to define it
and then to determine which words among the five options support or contribute to that
imagery. The words "stalking," "tame," "bread," and "range" all help to define and
reinforce the suggested image of animals being fed; "remember" is the one word that does
not fit the image and it was identified as such by 64% of the candidates. (As on all
questions in this set, the group choosing the right answer had a higher mean score on the
entire multiple-choice section of the test than did the other groups.) This question tests
the ability of readers to recognize a pattern of related words or images that work
together to provide meaning in the poem.


3. Which of the following best describes the event in stanza 2?

(A) Sentimental and maudlin
(B) Symbolic and religious
(C) Comic and surprising
(D) Erotic and sensual
(E) Vulgar and insincere

Question 3 calls for a judgment about the nature of the event described in the second
Continues for 9 more pages >>




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