Thomas Wyatt didn't publish "They Flee from Me." It was written in a notebook, maybe abroad, maybe even in prison. Today it is in every poetry anthology. How did it survive? That is the story Peter Murphy tells—in vivid and compelling detail—of the accidents of fate that kept a great poem alive across 500 turbulent years. Wyatt's sonnet becomes an occasion to ask and answer numerous questions about literature, culture, and history. Itself about the passage of time, it allows us to consider why anyone would write such a thing in the first place, and why anyone would care to read or remember the person who wrote it. From the deadly, fascinating circles of Henry VIII's court to the contemporary classroom, The Long Public Life of a Short Private Poem also introduces us to a series of worlds. We meet antiquaries, editors, publishers, anthologizers, and critics whose own life stories beckon. And we learn how the poem came to be considered, after many centuries of neglect, a model of the "best" English has to offer and an ideal object of literary study. The result is an exploration of literature in the fine grain of the everyday and its needs: in the classroom, in society, and in the life of nations.
About the author
Peter Murphy is John Hawley Roberts Professor of English at Williams College.