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De Vere Poem 2: Even as the Wax Doth Melt

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. 2: “Even as the Wax Doth Melt”

(May #2: 6 x 3)

1            Even as the wax doth melt, or dew consume away

2            Before the sun, so I behold, through careful thoughts decay,

3            For my best luck leads me to such sinister state

4            That I do waste with others’ love, that hath myself in hate,

5            And he that beats the bush, the wished bird not gets,

6            But such I see as sitteth still and holds the fowling nets.

 

7            The drone more honey sucks, that laboureth not at all,

8            Than doth the bee, to whose most pain least pleasure doth befall;

9            The gardener sows the seeds whereof the flowers do grow,

10          And others yet do gather them that took less pain, I know;

11          So I the pleasant grape have pulled from the vine,

12          And yet I languish in great thirst while others drink the wine.

 

13          Thus like a woeful wight I wove my web of woe;

14          The more I would weed out my cares, the more they seem to grow.

15          The which betokeneth hope, forsaken is of me,

16          That with the careful culver climbs the worn and withered tree

17          To entertain my thoughts, and there my hap to moan,

18          That never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone.

 

(1-2) Even as the wax doth melt, or dew consume away Before the sun

‘As is the morning’s silver melting dew Against the golden splendor of the sun’ (Lucrece, 23); ‘her wax must melt’ (3 Hen. VI, 3.2.51); ‘solid flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew’ (Ham., 1.2.129); ‘let virtue be as wax And melt in her own fire’ (Ham., 3.4.85); ‘when sun doth melt their snow’ (Lucrece, 1218); ‘that melted at the sweet tale of the sun’s’ (1 Hen. IV, 2.4.121); ‘cold snow melts with the sun’s hot beams’ (2 Hen. VI, 3.1.223); ‘As mountain snow melts with the midday sun’ (Venus, 750); ‘Scarce had the sun dried up the dewy morn’ (Pass. Pilg., 6.1); ‘That you in pity may dissolve to dew’ (Rich. II, 5.1.9); ‘melted away with rot­ten dews’ (Cor., 2.3.30).

The image of dew or wax melting under the influence of heat or the sun, framed as a simile in Oxford’s early poem, occurs frequently in Shakespeare.

(1) consume away

‘Therefore let Benedick, like cover’d fire, Consume away in sighs, waste inwardly’ (Much, 3.1.78); ‘consume away in rust’ (John, 4.1.65). In both samples, the phrase consume away is applied to the idea of the body being consumed by suppressed or overpowering emotion.

(2) so I behold, through careful thoughts

The use of the word careful here is idiomatically etymological, meaning thoughts which are “full of cares.” Cf. Oxford letters: “after so many storms passed of your heavy grace towards me, lightened and disbur[de]ned my careful mind” (Fowler 107); line 16 below (with the careful culver climbs the worn and withered tree).

Likewise in Shakespeare:

‘By Him that raised me to this careful height’ (Rich. III, 1.3.84); ‘The feast is ready, which the careful Titus hath ordain’d to an honourable end’ (Titus, 5.3.21-22). Careful means not that Titus prepared the feast with close attention to detail, but rather, did so while “full of cares.”

(4) that hath myself in hate

My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself’ (R&J, 2.2.55); ‘He scowls and hates himself for his offense’ (Lucrece, 738); ‘Whose deed hath made herself herself detest’ (Lucrece, 1566).

 

This theme of self-hatred is perhaps explored most elaborately in Richard III:

 

What do I fear? myself? there’s none else by:

Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.

Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am:

Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why:

Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?

Alack. I love myself. Wherefore? for any good

That I myself have done unto myself?

O, no! alas, I rather hate myself

For hateful deeds committed by myself!

I am a villain: yet I lie. I am not.

(5.3.198-207)

 

(5-6) And he that beats the bush, the wished bird not gets, But such I see as sitteth still and holds the fowling nets

See No. 1.25-26 (For he that beats the bush the bird not gets, But who sits still and holdeth fast the net).

(7-8) The drone more honey sucks, that laboureth not at all, Than doth the bee

See No. 1.13-14 (The idle drone that labours not at all Sucks up the sweet of honey from the bee).

(8) to whose most pain least pleasure doth befall

‘Having no other pleasure of his gain But torment that it cannot cure his pain’ (Lucrece, 860); ‘no pains, sir, I take pleasure in singing’ (Twelfth, 2.4.68).

(11) So I the pleasant grape have pulled from the vine

‘For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?’ (Lucrece, 215).

(13) wove my web of woe

‘Now she unweaves the web that she hath wrought’ (Venus, 991).

(14) The more I would weed out my cares, the more they seem to grow

‘To weed my vice and let his grow’ (Meas., 3.2.70).

(16-18) with the careful culver climbs the worn and withered tree To entertain my thoughts, and there my hap to moan That never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone

‘Towards him I [Benvolio] made, but he [Romeo] was ware of me And stole into the covert of the wood. I, measuring his affections by my own, Which then most sought where most might not be found [i.e., since I also wanted to be alone], Being one too many by my weary self, Pursued my humor, not pursuing his, And gladly shunned [him] who gladly fled from me’ (R&J, 1.1.122-28).

The Oxford lyric seems almost like an early draft of the scene so deftly described between Benvolio and Romeo, disconsolate teenagers perhaps recalling to the mature playwright the de Vere who penned the earlier lines, perhaps a moody teenager then himself.

[posted January 22, 2018]

About Bryan Wildenthal

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