I’ll slip this one in, as poems seem to be popular here. However it’s a poem with a difference – it was written in the sixteenth century. The publisher W.W.Norton says that these words were written in 1588 by Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607), who

was a courtier, a friend of Sir Philip Sidney, and a patron of poets. Since he published nothing himself, not much poetry has survived that can be confidently assigned to him. But his contemporaries, such as Nashe, thought that he was the first “that repurified poetry from arts pedantism [presumably the learned language of the university] and that instructed it to speak courtly.”

His best-known lyric, “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is,” is one of the great expressions in English of the ideal of otium or the contented mind. It is of course related to the idyllic simplicity of pastoral, and to the glorification of the mean estate (moderate living) in Surrey’s poem “My Friend, the Things That Do Attain.”

However I came to this poem through listening to a recording of Wiliam Byrd’s consort songs, sung by Emma Kirkby. In early music the main credit seems to be given for the music, and the composer of the lyrics, where they exist, is not always credited; the sleeve notes for the Kirkby CD say only that this is “probably Dyer’s work”. However, W.W.Norton does not seem to be any doubt about the originator of the words, but note the comment below from Donna Stewart and Ron Andrico, who suggest it might be by Edward de Vere. The similarity of these names no doubt has not helped with its positive attribution.

Like the Spender poems I posted a few weeks back, there is variation, and the W.W.Norton version has two extra verses as well as a lot of other small differences. This version comes from the Kirkby CD sleeve.

I like it, but can’t make up my mind whether it’s not just a little too pious and “goody-goody” for comfort …

My mind to me a kingdom is;
Such perfect joy therein I find
That it excels all other bliss
Which God or Nature hath assign’d;
Though much I want that most men have,
Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

No princely port nor wealthy store,
No force to win a victory,
No wily wit to salve a sore,
No shape to win a loving eye;
To none of these I yield as thrall;
For why my mind despise them all.

I see that plenty surfeits oft,
And hasty climbers soonest fall;
I see that such as are aloft
Mishap doth threaten most of all;
These get with toil, and keep with fear,
Such cares my mind can never bear.

I press to bear no haughty sway;
I wish no more than may suffice;
I do no more than well I may;
Look, what I lack my mind supplies.
Lo, thus I triumph as a king,
My mind content with anything.

I laugh not at another’s loss,
Nor grudge not at another’s gain;
No worldly waves my mind can toss;
I brook that is another’s bane;
I fear no foe, nor fawn on friend;
I loathe not life, nor dread my end.

My wealth is health and perfect ease,
And conscience clear my chief defence;
I never seek by bribes to please,
Nor by desert to give offence.
Thus do I live, thus will I die;
Would all did so as well as I.

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