MADAME, WITHOUTEN MANY WORDES

Madame, withouten many wordes,
Ons I am sure ye will or no:
And if ye will, then leve your bordes,
Andvse your wit and shew it so.

And with a beck ye shall me call,
And if of oon that bumeth alwaye
Ye have any pitic at all,
Aunswer him faire with yea or nay.

Yf it be yea, I shalbe fayne;
If it be nay, frendes as before;
Ye shall an othre man obtain,
And I myn owne and yours no more.

—SIR THOMAS WYATT

Wyatt's MADAME, WITHOUTEN MANY WORDES

The speaker of Sir Thomas Wyatt's "Madame, Withouten Many Wordes" is in a hurry. He burns in the flames of love—"oon that burneth alwaye" (1.7)—and, to end his agony, seeks a quick answer, a "yea or nay" (1.8). The poem's second line—"Ons I am sure ye

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will or no:"—heightens the impatience of the opening line—"Madame, withouten many wordes." But this heightening is lost for the modern reader unless the true sixteenthcentury meaning here of "Ons" [Once] is appreciated.

With a single exception, all editions of Wyatt's poems and all anthologies that present this lyric fail to comment on the meaning of "Ons." The single annotation that I have found is in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Third Edition (New York: Norton, 1974), I, 498, where "Ons" is glossed as "Sometime." Such a reading seems inconsistent with the speaker's urgency, which is evident throughout the poem. The correct reading, I believe, is "In short, once for all." The OED ("Once", B, 3) indicates that this emphatic use of "ons" as a "qualification of the whole statement" was current during Wyatt's time (1503-1542), though obsolete today. This use of "Ons" appears in another poem generally attributed to Wyatt, "My Pen, Take Payn a Lytyll Space", line 18: "For ons my losse ys past Restore." And the annotation given for "ons" in line 18 by Joost Daalder, ed., Sir Thomas Wyatt:Collected Poems (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1975), p. 156, is "once for all (?)." Moreover, in Dragonetto Bonifacio's "Madonna Non So Dir Tante Parole" (translated for me by Arlow F. Hill), which has been shown to be the source for Wyatt's "Madame, Withouten Many Wordes" (see Joel Newman, Renaissance News, 10 [ 1957 ], 13-15), the statement that corresponds to Wyatt's second line is O voi volete o no" [Either you will or no]. Because the Italian source has no word corresponding to "ons" to introduce the statement, and because Wyatt follows the Italian quite closely in the first two lines and for most of the lyric, it is all the more likely that Wyatt's "Ons"—rather than introducing the new concept "Sometime"—is functioning merely as an intensifier.

The agonized speaker, then, has compressed into a brief premise his thoughts about the possibility of an affair with the lady: he is certain that either she is willing or she is not—"I am sure ye will or no." It is appropriate that this premise be introduced by an expression of impatience and finality—"In short, once for all." For the speaker is sure that right now, not "sometime," the lady can make her decision.

Having presented the two possibilities—"ye will or no"—the speaker prefers to anticipate the first. The language of lines 3.7 suggests that the lady will agree to love him: she will cease her jests; she will show her intelligence by recognizing his worth; she will beckon to him; she will take pity on one that pines for her. But at line 8, the speaker remembers the other possible answer. And so, he modifies the traditional, courtly-love, sense of a lady's taking "pity" on her admirer. Traditionally, a lady takes pity by consenting to love her admirer. (See C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love [ 1936 ; rpt. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1958], pp. 132-33, 182-83.) Here, however, the speaker's request for pity involves, ostensibly, only a quick answer.

The speaker strains to deal with love reasonably. Yet his claim that he will be satisfied just to be his own man again if the lady rejects him ("And I myn owne and yours no more," 1.12) is belied by the emphasis of the poem. He spends far more words (11. 3-7, 9) exploring the possibility of "yea" than the possibility of "nay" (11. 10-12). Despite the braveness of line 8 ("Aunswer him faire with yea or nay"), only "yea" can be for him a

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"faire" answer. He wants more than he asks for. And if the answer is "nay," it will have little availed that he was in a hurry.

—ROBERT T. LEVINE, North Carolina A & T State University

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Publication Information:
Article Title: Wyatt's Madame, Withouten Many Wordes.
Contributors: Robert T. Levine - author.
Journal Title: Explicator. Volume: 38. Issue: 3. Publication Year: 1980. Page Number: 46-48.


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