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De Vere Poem 18: My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is

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. 18: “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is”

The manuscript title, possibly not Oxford’s, is “In Praise of a Contented Mind.” See Introduction, note 3.

(May PBO #2: 6 x 8; see also No. 18b)

1            My mind to me a kingdom is;

2            Such perfect joy therein I find

3            That it excels all other bliss

4            That world affords or grows by kind.

5            Though much I want which most men have,

6            Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

 

7            No princely pomp, no wealthy store,

8            No force to win the victory,

9            No wily wit to salve a sore,

10          No shape to feed each gazing eye;

11          To none of these I yield as thrall.

12          For why my mind doth serve for all.

 

13          I see how plenty suffers oft,

14          How hasty climbers soon do fall;

15          I see that those that are aloft

16          Mishap doth threaten most of all;

17          They get with toil, they keep with fear.

18          Such cares my mind could never bear.

 

19          Content I live, this is my stay;

20          I seek no more than may suffice;

21          I press to bear no haughty sway;

22          Look what I lack my mind supplies;

23          Lo, thus I triumph like a king,

24          Content with that my mind doth bring.

 

25          Some have too much, yet still do crave;

26          I little have, and seek no more.

27          They are but poor, though much they have,

28          And I am rich with little store.

29          They poor, I rich; they beg, I give;

30          They lack, I leave; they pine, I live.

 

31          I laugh not at another’s loss;

32          I grudge not at another’s gain;

33          No worldly waves my mind can toss;

34          My state at one doth still remain.

35          I fear no foe, nor fawning friend;

36          I loathe not life, nor dread my end.

 

37          Some weigh their pleasure by their lust,

38          Their wisdom by their rage of will,

39          Their treasure is their only trust;

40          And cloaked craft their store of skill.

41          But all the pleasure that I find

42          Is to maintain a quiet mind.

 

43          My wealth is health and perfect ease;

44          My conscience clear my chief defense;

45          I neither seek by bribes to please,

46          Nor by deceit to breed offense.

47          Thus do I live, thus will I die.

48          Would all did so as well as I!

 

Orthodox scholars have generally tried to minimize the size of the Oxford canon, though some, like Professor May (1975), have occasionally sought to enlarge it with poems misattributed to other Elizabethan poets, such as No. 18.

The correct attribution of this poem is important. It has long been regarded as one of the great poems of the English language. In May’s words (1991, rep. 1999, 64), it “has been continuously reprinted since 1588 …. Of the thousands of lines of moral and philosophical verse turned out during the first half of the Elizabethan age, only this poem seems to have captured the attention of later generations ….”

No. 18, in which one can readily detect the intimate influence of both Seneca and Ovid, constitutes a remarkable testament to the author’s striking philosophical originality and poetic fluency. It is included here on the strength of May’s 1975 attribution—noting, again, that he is an ardent Stratfordian (see Introduction, notes 2 and 9).

(1) My mind to me a kingdom is

Compare the manuscript title of No. 18 (though possibly not Oxford’s) (In Praise of a Contented Mind), lines 19, 24 (Content), and No. 16.1 (Were I a king, I could command content). On the issue of titles for all these poems, see the Introduction (note 3).

Nos. 16 and 18 express several related thoughts. The commonly occurring Shakespearean words mind (404 times) and kingdom (127 times) express core concepts in the canon. Mind relates to the playwright’s exploration of human psychology, and kingdom to his study of political organization, especially the contrast between tyranny and legitimate monarchy and problems of governance and law more generally.

Fused as they are in the Oxford lyric, these terms attest to the fluid nature of the boundary between the psychological and the political—a relationship that is characteristically Shakespearean.

‘My library Was dukedom large enough’ (Tem., 1.2.108-09); ‘O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams’ (Ham., 2.2.254); ‘tis the mind that make the body rich’ (Shrew, 4.3.172); ‘our Caesar tells, I am conqueror of myself’ (A&C, 4.14.62).

 

Perhaps closest to the entire thought and diction of No. 18:

 

This small inheritance my father left me

Contenteth me, and worth a monarchy.

I seek not to wax great by others’ waning,

Or gather wealth, I care not with what envy.

Sufficeth that I have maintains my state

And send the poor well pleased from my gate.

(2 Hen. VI, 4.10.17-22)

 

(2) Such perfect joy therein I find

‘the perfectest herald of joy’ (Much, 2.1.306).

(3-4) all other bliss That world affords

‘What other pleasure can the world afford?’ (3 Hen. VI, 3.2.147); ‘the sweet degrees that this brief world affords’ (Timon, 4.3.253); ‘The world affords no law to make thee rich’ (R&J, 5.1.73); cf. ‘The spacious world cannot again afford’ (Rich. III, 1.2.245).

(4) grows by kind

‘Your cuckoo sings by kind’ (All’s Well, 1.3.63); ‘Fitted by kind for rape and villainy’ (Titus, 2.1.116).

(6) Yet still my mind forbids to crave

‘The affliction of my mind amends, with which, I fear, a madness held me: this must crave’ (Tem., 5.1.122).

(7) No princely pomp, no wealthy store

‘To love, to wealth and pomp, I pine and die’ (LLL, 1.1.31); cf. ‘O, him she stores, to show what wealth she had’ (Sonnets, 67.13).

(10-11) No shape to feed each gazing eye; To none of these I yield as thrall

So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape’ (Dream, 3.1.139); ‘Whose sudden sight hath thrall’d my wounded eye’ (Shrew, 1.1.220); ‘No shape but his can please your dainty eye’ (3 Hen. VI, 5.3.38); cf. ‘mine eyes have drawn thy shape’ (Sonnets, 24.10).

Gaze and eyes appear together a dozen or so times in the Shakespeare canon.

(14-16) How hasty climbers soon do fall; I see that those that are aloft Mishap doth threaten most of all

‘The art o’ the court, As hard to leave as keep, whose top to climb Is certain falling’ (Cym., 3.3.46-48).

(20) I seek no more than may suffice

‘and have no more of life than may suffice’ (Per., 2.1.74).

(23-24) Lo, thus I triumph like a king, Content with that my mind doth bring

‘For ’tis the mind that makes the body rich’ (Shrew, 4.3.172); ‘Poor and content is rich and rich enough’ (Oth., 3.3172).

See also line 19 (Content I live) and comments under line 1, and again compare No. 16.1 (Were I a king, I could command content).

(27-28) They are but poor, though much they have, And I am rich with little store

Again, the antithesis becomes one of Shakespeare’s favorites.

poorly rich’ (Lucrece, 97); ‘My riches are these poor habiliments’ (Two Gent., 4.1.13); ‘Wise things seem foolish and rich things but poor’ (LLL, 5.2.378); ‘If thou art rich, thou’rt poor’ (Meas., 3.1.25); ‘Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich being poor’ (Lear, 1.1.250); ‘Rich gifts wax poor’ (Ham., 3.1.100).

 

Consider carefully this entire stanza in No. 18 (lines 25-30):

 

Some have too much, yet still do crave;

I little have, and seek no more.

They are but poor, though much they have,

And I am rich with little store.

They poor, I rich; they beg, I give;

They lack, I leave; they pine, I live.

 

Then compare the following stanza in Lucrece:

 

Those that much covet are with gain so fond

That what they have not, that which they possess,

They scatter and unloose it from their bond,

And so, by hoping more, they have but less;

Or, gaining more, the profit of excess

Is but to surfeit, and such griefs sustain

That they prove bankrupt in this poor rich gain.

(134-40)

 

(31-32) I laugh not at another’s loss; I grudge not at another’s gain

‘laugh’d at my losses, mock’d at my gains’ (Merch., 3.1.55); ‘I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man’s happiness, glad of other men’s good, content with my harm’ (As You, 3.2.74).

See also lines 19, 24 (Content).

(33, 36) No worldly waves my mind can tossI loathe not life, nor dread my end

‘Your mind is tossing on the ocean’ (Merch., 1.1.8); ‘By waves from coast to coast is toss’d’ (Per., 2.ch.34); ‘madly toss’d between desire and dread’ (Lucrece, 171).

Once again, using language nearly identical to that found in Shakespeare, Oxford associates the inner life of the human subject with the motions of the sea. See also Nos. 6.26 and 12.19.

Also: ‘the weariest and most loathed worldly life’ (Meas., 3.1.128); cf. ‘Why then, though loath, yet must I be content’ (3 Hen. VI, 4.6.48).

See also lines 19, 24 (Content).

(40) cloaked craft

‘To cloak offenses with a cunning brow’ (Lucrece, 749).

Yet again we have the dissimulation motif, both samples using cloak as a verb. See also Nos. 6.4, 9.2, 10.9-10, and 12.16.

(43) My wealth is health and perfect ease

‘With honor, wealth, and ease in waning age’ (Lucrece, 142); ‘Leaving his wealth and ease’ (As You, 2.5.52).

(46) breed offense

‘sith [since] love breeds such offense’ (Oth., 3.3.380).

 

Poem No. 18b: “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is” (additional stanzas)

 

This text, reprinted from Rollins (Pepys, 1929, 225-31) (modernizing spelling here), represents four additional stanzas found in some surviving manuscript copies of No. 18.

(6 x 4)

 

1            I joy not in no earthly bliss,

2            I force not Croesus wealth a straw:

3            For Care, I know not what it is,

4            I fear not Fortune’s fatal law:

5            My mind is such as may not move,

6            For beauty bright nor force of love.

 

7            I wish not what I have at will,

8            I wander not to seek for more:

9            I like the plain, I climb no hill,

10          In greatest storm I sit on shore

11          And laugh at those that toil in vain,

12          To get what must be lost again.

 

13          I kiss not where I wish to kill,

14          I fain not love where most I hate

15          I break no sleep to win my will,

16          I wait not at the mighty’s gate

17          I scorn no poor, nor fear no rich

18          I feel no want nor have too much.

 

19          The Court ne cart I like ne loath [sic]

20          Extremes are counted worst of all:

21          The golden mean betwixt them both

22          Doth surest sit and fear no fall:

23          This is my choice, for why I find

24          No wealth is like the quiet mind.

 

(1) I joy not in no earthly bliss

I know you joy not in a love discourse’ (Two Gent., 2.4.124).

(6) nor force of love

‘And love you ’gainst the nature of love—force ye’ (Two Gent., 5.4.58); ‘If this inducement force her not to love’ (Rich. III, 4.4.386); ‘This flower’s force in stirring love’ (Dream, 2.2.69).

(7) I wish not what I have at will

‘Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy will’ (Sonnets, 135.1).

(13) I kiss not where I wish to kill

‘He thought to kiss him, and hath killed him so’ (Venus, 1110); cf. ‘What follows more she murders with a kiss’ (Venus, 54).

(15) I break no sleep to win my will

Break not your sleeps for that’ (Ham., 4.7.30); cf.broke their sleep’ (2 Hen. IV, 4.5.68, and Cor., 4.4.19).

See also No. 15.6 (break thy sleeps).

(16-17) I wait not at the mighty’s gate I scorn no poor

‘The poor mechanic porters crowding in Their heavy burdens at his narrow gate’ (Hen. V, 1.2.203-04).

A Shakespeare passage quoted in full in the comments to No. 18.1 also associates gate with poor:Sufficeth that I have maintains my state And send the poor well pleased from my gate’ (2 Hen. VI, 4.10.21-22).

(19) The Court ne cart I like ne loath

Ne” was a conjunction sometimes used in place of “or” in late-15th to mid-16th century English, already becoming archaic by the early Elizabethan period. Line 19 could thus be translated as “the [royal] court or [farmer’s] cart I like or loath,” or, more colloquially, “Royal court? Farmer’s cart? All the same to me!”

Relevant to our parallels here, “ne” appears seven times in the Shakespeare canon, twice in English, twice in Latin, and three times in French.

(22) fear no fall

‘Ours is the fall, I fear’ (Timon, 5.2.19); ‘Does fall in travail with her fear’ (Per., 3.prol.52); cf. ‘My love and fear glued many friends to thee; And, now I fall’ (3 Hen. VI, 2.6.5).

[posted January 22, 2018]

About Bryan Wildenthal

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