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De Vere Poem 11: When Wert Thou Born, Desire?

The Introduction to this new Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship edition of the known poems of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), explaining their text, format, annotations, and historical background, with key to abbreviations and works cited, is available here (see copyright notice therein, note 1). The other de Vere poems published in this edition (and a printable and citable pdf version of the entire article, including all 20 poems with annotations) may be accessed from the Introduction.

Poem No. 11: “When Wert Thou Born, Desire?”

(May #11: even-numbered lines rhyming in pairs)

1            When wert thou born, Desire?

2            In pomp and prime of May.

3            By whom, sweet boy, wert thou begot?

4            By good conceit, men say.

5            Tell me, who was thy nurse?

6            Fresh youth in sugared joy.

7            What was thy meat and daily food?

8            Sad sighs with great annoy.

9            What hadst thou then to drink?

10          Unfeigned lovers’ tears.

11          What cradle wert thou rocked in?

12          In hope devoid of fears.

13          What brought thee then asleep?

14          Sweet speech, that liked me best.

15          And where is now thy dwelling-place?

16          In gentle hearts I rest.

17          Doth company displease?

18          It doth in many a one.

19          Where would Desire then choose to be?

20          He likes to muse alone.

21          What feedeth most your sight?

22          To gaze on favour still.

23          What findest thou most to be thy foe?

24          Disdain of my goodwill.

25          Will ever age or death

26          Bring thee unto decay?

27          No, no, Desire both lives and dies

28          Ten thousand times a day.


(3) sweet boy

‘sweet boy’ (Venus, 155, 583, 613); ‘sweet boy’ (Sonnets, 108.5).

 (6) Fresh youth

‘whose youth and freshness wrinkles Apollo’s’ (Troil., 2.2.78).

(8) Sad sighs

Sad sighs, deep groans’ (Two Gent., 3.1.232).

(9-10) What had’st thou then to drink? Unfeigned lovers’ tears

drink my tears’ (John, 4.1.62); ‘Ye see I drink the water of my eye’ (3 Hen. VI, 5.4.75); ‘Thy napkin cannot drink a tear of mine’ (Titus, 3.1.140); cf. ‘I come in kindness and unfeigned love’ (Shrew, 4.2.32); ‘as lovers they do feign’ (As You, 3.3.22); ‘Dismiss your vows, your feigned tears’ (Venus, 425).

(11) What cradle wert thou rocked in?

‘And rock his brains In cradle of the rude’ (1 Hen. IV, 3.1.19); ‘If drink rock not his cradle’ (Oth., 4.4.28).

(21-22) What feedeth most your sight? To gaze on favour still

‘with gazing fed’ (Merch., 3.2.68); ‘I have fed mine eyes on thee’ (Troil., 4.5.231); ‘Her eye must be fed’ (Oth., 2.1.225); ‘That makes me see, and cannot feed mine eye?’ (All’s Well, 1.1.221); ‘I feed Most hungerly on your sight’ (Timon, 1.1.252); cf. ‘starves the ears she feeds’ (Per., 5.1.112).


Compare these lines in Venus and Adonis:


[Venus:] ‘But, when his glutton eye so full hath fed’


Fold in the object that did feed her sight


[Venus:] ‘He fed them with his sight [i.e., his beauty], they him with berries’



(25-26) Will ever age or death Bring thee unto decay?

Death, desolation, ruin, and decay’ (Rich. III, 4.4.409); ‘folly, age, and cold decay’ (Sonnets, 11.6).

[posted January 22, 2018]

About Bryan Wildenthal

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