Candle wax.


Sealing wax.


Ear wax.


To wax lyrical.


Cheese wax.


But I come back to the lyrical. Attribute it to the writer in me. To wax lyrical about something is to heap praise on it. There’s something suspicious about it, like purple prose – an overabundance of feeling that we’re not supposed to have because it’s unseemly or because there’s something impure about our motivations.


Wax builds up. It accumulates slimily. Candle wax and ear wax and cheese wax are all forms of detritus, to be swept away. Maybe this is why children are so often tempted to (and so often do) put wax from their ears into their mouths. Forbidden fruit. If art, too, is a kind of excess, a surplus, then maybe that’s why there are those restaurants in which hardened, once-molten wax is not thrown away but retained as decoration. There is something beautiful about it. Maybe this is in its obsolescence, maybe because I find it often resembles natural formations – mountains, perhaps, or concentrations of quartz.


Wax is also time. If an unused candle is a symbol of time not yet passed, then its wax, once melted, symbolises time that has passed, and that cannot be regained. Perhaps this is part of the reason why candles, and candlelight, feature so heavily in our ceremonies of life, love, and death – the light of hope, transfigured over time, into memento mori.


I’ve been trying to imagine, while writing this, the physical sensation of wax. It’s both slippery, greasy almost, and (when not molten) firm but still malleable. I think it has a smell as it burns but it must be a faint one because I can’t really bring it to mind. I wonder, as I write these words, where the smell in those scented candles you can buy, or make, comes from. Is the wax impregnated with it, or does the wick release it as it burns down?


A sudden memory – early primary school, year one or year two, and one of those miscellaneous lessons, probably delivered by a relief teacher, in the ‘wet area’ of my school. Smocks donned. The smell of paint. That faint air of excitement that comes from a break in routine, any break. I remember one-litre milk cartons cut in half, and wax poured into them to set for candles. Multi-layered, multi-coloured. A gift to my mother?


What else acts like wax, gradually solidifying into the inverse shape of the thing it’s poured into? Water. Cement. Plaster of Paris. Children maybe.


2 thoughts on “Wax

  1. Thanks, Janet. Sometimes what you don’t think of is as interesting as what you do. A little research reveals that ‘wax lyrical’ comes from the imagery of the waxing moon (from the verb wax, meaning to grow, as opposed to wane, which is to decrease in size).


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