Practical Criticism: Class 1

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

Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once, in special,
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,
Therwith all sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said: 'Dear heart, how like you this?'

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.
But since that I so kindly am served:
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

The Poem

You should now read the poem carefully. You might like to record your comments on a separate piece of paper. When you feel that you have thought about it enough, go on to the next page. You will be given a critical commentary on the poem to which you can compare your own.

If you like, you can hear the poem read aloud by Professor Dame Gillian Beer (you may need to save the file to your computer if it doesn't play in your browser):

theyflee.mp3 (1MB, 1 m 28 s, 96kbps, mono)

You might like to think about the following:

  • What is the poem's form?
  • What is the poem's metre and is it the same throughout the poem?
  • Are there any words in it which you do not understand, or which are used in an unusual way?
  • Do you feel that you understand what it is about?

Tip: in practical criticism it helps to confront your uncertainties rather than to try to ignore them. They will not go away, and if you do confront them directly it may lead you to a fuller understanding of a poem's effects.

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