earl of Surrey (1542) Henry Howard, earl of Surrey composed this epitaph for Sir Thomas Wyatt the elder upon Wyatt's death in October 1542, and the poem appeared in print for the first time that autumn. It was the only one of Surrey's poems to be published during his lifetime; two other poems by Surrey on Wyatt ("The great Macedon" and "Diverse thy death do diversely moan") circulated in manuscript in the court of Henry VIII. Richard Tottel printed all three poems with many of Wyatt's poems in his landmark poetic miscellany, Songes and Sonnettes, afterward known as Tottel's Miscellany (1557). Although critics have long disputed the exact nature of the relationship between Surrey and Wyatt, the elegies indicate that the two poets were at least casually acquainted and that Surrey deeply admired the older poet's skill and reputation as a courtier and diplomat.
As several critics have noted, "Wyatt resteth here" differs significantly from Surrey's other poems and even from his other elegies, such as his tribute to his deceased squire and friend, Thomas Clere ("Norfolk sprang thee"). Instead of a statement of personal loss, the stanzas present a blazon, or catalogue, of Wyatt's physical traits and virtues. Surrey praises Wyatt's "hed" (l. 5), "hand" (l. 13), and "tongue" (l. 17) among other parts, arguing that the departed poet used his poetic skill, good judgment, and moral strength for the good of his king and country and to inspire England's young people "unto fame" (l. 20).
Only in the final stanza and closing couplet does the speaker use first-person pronouns, and there they are plural: Wyatt was a witness "sent for our health, but not received so" (l. 36) and a "jewel we have lost" (l. 37). These lines and the opening mention of the "profit" Wyatt "by envy could obtain" (l. 4) refer obliquely to Wyatt's political enemies, some of whom seem to have been Surrey's opponents as well. By stating that Wyatt's "heavenly gifts increased by disdain" (l. 2), Surrey suggests that Wyatt was not defeated but instead made stronger by his experiences with these adversaries. However, the poem criticizes all of Wyatt's contemporaries, not only his foes, for not appreciating the poet or his poems enough.
The differences in style and tone between this and Surrey's other poems have led critics to a variety of interpretations. Earlier biographers and critics viewed the poem as a stiff and conventional tribute to a man Surrey knew only slightly or not at all. More recently, however, the poem has been praised for its elegant rhythms and imitation of Wyatt's own language and tropes. Most importantly, perhaps, in this poem Surrey argues that the figure of the poet is valuable to Tudor society as a voice of moral conscience and national memory. In a culture focused on social status, it is striking that Surrey the aristocrat was willing to publicly commemorate and honor a man who was his social inferior. For this reason, "Wyatt resteth here" marks an important moment in English poetry, one in which poetry becomes an important tool in altering the traditional bases of status and power. See also elegy.
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