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What is Desire? by Edward de Vere

What is Desire, which doth approve,
To set on fire each gentle heart ?
A fancy strange, or God of Love,
Whose pining sweet delight doth smart;
In gentle minds his dwelling is.

Is he god of peace or war ?
What be his arms ? What is his might ?
His war is peace, his peace is war;
Each grief of his is but delight;
His bitter ball is sugared bliss.

What be his gifts ? How doth he pay ?
When is he seen ? or how conceived ?
Sweet dreams in sleep, new thoughts in day,
Beholding eyes, in mind received;
A god that rules and yet obeys.

Why is he naked painted ? Blind ?
His sides with shafts ? His back with brands ?
Plain without guile, by hap to find;
Pursuing with fair words that withstands (mistranscribed),
And when he craves he takes no nays.

What were his parents ? Gods or no ?
That living long is yet a child;
A goddess’ son? Who thinks not so?
A god begot, beguiled;
Venus his mother, Mars his sire.

What labours doth this god allow?
What fruits have lovers for their pains?
Sit still and muse to make a vow
T.’ their ladies, if they true remain;
A good reward for true desire.


This poem was probably written by 1576. It was accepted as authentic by Dr. Grosart and published in the Fuller Worthies’ Library, Vol. IV (1872).

Professor Steven May lists this poem as ‘”wrongly attributed” to Oxford.

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