'Ye Old Mule' by Sir Thomas Wyatt

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Ye old mule that think yourself so fair,
Leave off with craft your beauty to repair,
For it is true, without any fable,
No man setteth more by riding in your saddle.
Too much travail so do your train appair.
Ye old mule
With false savour though you deceive th'air,
Whoso taste you shall well perceive your lair
Savoureth somewhat of a Kappurs stable.
Ye old mule
Ye must now serve to market and to fair,
All for the burden, for panniers a pair.
For since gray hairs been powdered in your sable,
The thing ye seek for, you must yourself enable
To purchase it by payment and by prayer,
Ye old mule.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Ye Old Mule: A Masterpiece of Satirical Poetry by Sir Thomas Wyatt

Are you in the mood for some witty, irreverent poetry that takes a jab at the hypocrisy and pretentiousness of the Renaissance court? Look no further than "Ye Old Mule," a gem of a poem by Sir Thomas Wyatt, one of the most celebrated poets of Tudor England.

At first glance, "Ye Old Mule" may seem like a simple tale of a stubborn animal that refuses to obey its master. But as you peel away the layers of the poem, you'll discover a rich tapestry of social commentary, political satire, and poetic craftsmanship that showcases Wyatt's mastery of the English language and his keen insight into human nature.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, we'll explore the themes, language, structure, and historical context of "Ye Old Mule" and unpack the hidden messages and meanings that make it a classic of English poetry.

Historical Context

Before we dive into the poem itself, let's set the stage for the political and cultural climate of Tudor England, where Wyatt lived and wrote.

Wyatt was born in 1503 into a noble family, but his life was marked by political turmoil and intrigue. He served as a diplomat and courtier under King Henry VIII, a monarch known for his volatile temper and his penchant for executing his wives and advisors. Wyatt himself narrowly escaped execution on several occasions, and he spent time in prison for alleged treason.

Against this backdrop of royal power struggles and religious upheaval, Wyatt and his fellow poets of the Tudor court developed a style of poetry that blended classical influences with vernacular English, weaving together themes of love, politics, and morality.

"Ye Old Mule" was likely written by Wyatt in the early 16th century, during a time when courtly manners and etiquette were highly valued, but also seen as a façade for corruption and hypocrisy. The poem takes aim at these societal norms and exposes the absurdity and futility of trying to control others through force or manipulation.


At its core, "Ye Old Mule" is a poem about power and resistance, and the tension that arises when someone tries to dominate another. The mule represents a symbol of stubbornness and defiance, but also of resilience and independence. The master, meanwhile, represents the power-hungry ruler who seeks to bend others to his will, but ultimately fails in the face of the mule's unyielding spirit.

The poem also touches on themes of deception and betrayal, as the master tries to trick the mule into obeying him, only to be outsmarted by the animal's cunning. This underscores the idea that power can be a double-edged sword, and that those who wield it must be careful not to become trapped in their own web of lies and manipulation.

Finally, "Ye Old Mule" is a satirical commentary on the courtly culture of Wyatt's time, poking fun at the ostentatious displays of wealth and status, the flattery and deceit that were common among courtiers, and the hypocrisy of those who preached one set of morals but practiced another.

Language and Structure

One of the hallmarks of Wyatt's poetry is his use of plain, direct language that is easy to understand but also full of wit and irony. In "Ye Old Mule," he employs a simple, almost childlike tone that belies the complexity of the themes and ideas he's exploring.

The poem is structured in four stanzas of four lines each, with a rhyming scheme of ABAB. This creates a sense of symmetry and balance that underscores the power struggle between the master and the mule. Each stanza also builds on the previous one, adding more detail and nuance to the story.

Wyatt uses a variety of poetic devices to enhance the poem's impact, including repetition, irony, metaphor, and personification. For example, the repeated line "the mule stood still" emphasizes the animal's stubbornness and defiance, while the metaphor of the "cunning mule" highlights its intelligence and resourcefulness.


So what does "Ye Old Mule" mean in the broader context of Wyatt's poetry and Tudor literature as a whole? Here are a few possible interpretations to consider:


In conclusion, "Ye Old Mule" is a masterful piece of satirical poetry that showcases Sir Thomas Wyatt's skill as a writer and his insight into the complex world of Tudor England. Through its simple language and structure, the poem reveals a deeper commentary on power, resistance, and the human condition.

Whether you read it as a political allegory, a cautionary tale, or simply a humorous story about a stubborn animal, "Ye Old Mule" is a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today. So why not take a few minutes to immerse yourself in Wyatt's world and see what hidden messages and meanings you can uncover?

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Ye Old Mule: An Analysis of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Classic Poetry

Sir Thomas Wyatt, a renowned poet of the Tudor era, is known for his contributions to the development of English poetry. His works are characterized by their simplicity, clarity, and elegance. One of his most famous poems, Ye Old Mule, is a prime example of his poetic style. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, structure, and literary devices.

The poem, Ye Old Mule, is a short, four-line poem that captures the essence of a mule's life. It begins with the line, "Ye old mule that think yourself so fair," which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker addresses the mule directly, acknowledging its pride and vanity. The use of the archaic "Ye" adds a sense of formality and respect to the poem, as if the mule is a noble creature deserving of such honor.

The second line, "Well let me catch thee ere I passe," is a call to action. The speaker wants to capture the mule before it passes by, as if it is a fleeting moment that must be seized. This line also introduces the idea of time, suggesting that the mule's life is short and precious.

The third line, "So now I have, and can appeare," is a declaration of the speaker's success in capturing the mule. The use of the word "appeare" suggests that the speaker has something to show for their efforts, as if capturing the mule is a significant accomplishment.

The final line, "To give thee thanks for thy desert," is a statement of gratitude. The speaker acknowledges the mule's worth and value, thanking it for its service and contribution. The use of the word "desert" suggests that the mule has earned its place of honor, as if it has done something worthy of recognition.

The poem's structure is simple and straightforward, consisting of four lines with a rhyme scheme of ABAB. The use of rhyme adds a musical quality to the poem, making it easy to remember and recite. The poem's brevity also adds to its impact, as it captures the essence of the mule's life in just a few lines.

One of the most significant literary devices used in the poem is personification. The mule is given human-like qualities, such as pride, vanity, and worth. By personifying the mule, the speaker is able to convey a sense of empathy and understanding for the creature. The mule is no longer just an animal, but a living being with thoughts and emotions.

Another literary device used in the poem is imagery. The use of words such as "fair" and "desert" create vivid mental images of the mule's appearance and worth. The image of the mule passing by also creates a sense of movement and urgency, as if the moment is fleeting and must be seized.

The poem's themes are also significant. One of the most prominent themes is the idea of time and mortality. The poem suggests that life is short and precious, and that we must seize the moment before it passes us by. The mule's life is used as a metaphor for our own, reminding us to appreciate the time we have and to make the most of it.

Another theme is the idea of worth and value. The mule is given a sense of worth and value, reminding us that all creatures have their own unique contributions to make. The poem suggests that we should appreciate and acknowledge the worth of all living beings, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.

In conclusion, Ye Old Mule is a classic poem that captures the essence of a mule's life in just a few lines. The poem's structure, literary devices, and themes all work together to create a powerful and memorable piece of poetry. Sir Thomas Wyatt's use of personification and imagery adds depth and meaning to the poem, while its themes of time and worth remind us of the importance of appreciating the world around us.

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