Wednesday, September 13, 2017

320. The 2017 Alphabet: N

N is for Noli me tangere.

And graven with diamonds in letters plain,
There is written her fair neck, round about;
Noli me tangere; for CAESAR's I am,
And wild for to hold though I seem tame.

Thomas Wyatt, sonnet decorated by Charles Ricketts (1892)
The initial 'N' appears in the 13th line of the sonnet by Thomas Wyatt, spelled Wyat by Ricketts in his rendering of the text for The Magazine of Art of September 1892. His calligraphy of the poem accompanied a large illustration, showing Anne Boleyn in The Tower of London before her execution.


Thomas Wyatt, sonnet decorated by Charles Ricketts (1892)
The sonnet is said to have been written by Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) for Anne Boleyn (1501?-1536). The phrase 'Noli ne tangere', meaning, Don't touch me, being a biblical reference, can also be read in association with King Henry VIII, whose deer one was not allowed to hunt. Wyatt compares his beloved to a hind, because although one can love the deer, the deer will not be aware of one's love for it. Best to give up.

The important message - don't touch the lady - appears only in the last lines of the poem, but Ricketts added the phrase to the initial at the beginning of the poem.

Thomas Wyatt, sonnet decorated by Charles Ricketts (1892)
Charles Ricketts, initial 'W' for a sonnet by Thomas Wyatt (1892)

The initial 'W' (13x12 mm) at the beginning of the sonnet illustrates the 'deer' (line 6). The initial 'N' is smaller (8x7 mm), and contains the illustration of a poppy.

The original drawing is in the collection of the William Andrew Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles, a gift of the Ricketts collector Albert Sperison (1908-1999).