Thomas Wyatt probably wrote this poem in 1539, when Henry VIII finally granted him permission to return home to England after a long diplomatic sojourn in Spain. The only manuscript version of this poem is believed to be in Wyatt's own hand. The poem, which is titled "In Spain" in the manuscript, appeared in print for the first time in Tottel's Miscellany as "Of his returne from Spain" (1557), but it is called "Tagus, Farewell" in most modern collections.
In this poem, an almost dreamy quality replaces the biting humor and sharp political commentary typical of Wyatt's earlier lyrics and satires. The speaker, like the river Tagus's "grains of gold already tried" (l. 1), has been honed by his experiences in the courts of Henry VIII and the continental monarchs. He seems able now to integrate his identities of poet and courtier, a balance that is reflected in the poem's structure. His wish to "go seek the Thames / Gainward the sun that shew'th her wealthy pride" (ll. 3-4) stands in counterpoint to his description of London, curving around the Thames in a crescent, as "the town that Brutus sought by dreams, / Like bended moon doth lend her lusty side" (ll. 5-6). The complementary images of sun and moon, gold and silver suggest an acceptance of the complexity inherent in Wyatt's dual role as poet and courtier. The mention of Brutus recalls the rich Roman heritage of Britain but also recalls the brutality of Rome's rule.
The balance and the symmetry of the poem, however, do not always help to clarify Wyatt's characteristic ambiguity, nor do they mean that the poem is without tension. The publisher Richard Tottel made changes to the poem that merely draw attention to that tension, the most significant being a rearrangement of the final couplet. In Wyatt's original, these lines read, "My king, my country, alone for whom I live / O mighty love the wings for this me give" (ll. 7-8), suggesting that Wyatt's patriotism is his sole motivation. A number of critics have noted the startling omission of God from the list. Tottel's revision of these lines rectifies this oversight: "My king, my country, I seek for whom I live, / O mighty Jove, the winds for this me give." This alteration provides the added impetus of religion—but also adds a questing note. The substitution of "I seek" for "alone" recalls the Wyatt of the satires and lyrics, always restlessly seeking and questioning, constantly trying to reconcile the demands of political service with the dictates of his conscience.
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