The Perfume

Original Text: 
Donne, John. The Elegies and the Songs and Sonnets of John Donne. Edited by Helen Gardner. London: Oxford University Press, 1965: 7-9.
1Once, and but once found in thy company,
2All thy suppos'd escapes are laid on me;
3And as a thief at bar is question'd there
4By all the men that have been robb'd that year,
5So am I, (by this traitorous means surpriz'd)
6By thy hydroptic father catechiz'd.
7Though he had wont to search with glazed eyes,
8As though he came to kill a cockatrice;
9Though he hath oft sworn that he would remove
10Thy beauty's beauty, and food of our love,
11Hope of his goods, if I with thee were seen,
12Yet close and secret, as our souls, we've been.
13Though thy immortal mother, which doth lie
14Still buried in her bed, yet will not die,
15Takes this advantage to sleep out daylight,
16And watch thy entries and returns all night;
17And, when she takes thy hand, and would seem kind,
18Doth search what rings and armlets she can find;
19And kissing notes the colour of thy face;
20And fearing lest thou'art swollen, doth thee embrace;
21To try if thou long, doth name strange meats;
22And notes thy paleness, blushing, sighs, and sweats;
23And politically will to thee confess
24The sins of her own youth's rank lustiness;
25Yet love these sorceries did remove, and move
26Thee to gull thine own mother for my love.
27Thy little brethren, which like fairy sprites
28Oft skipped into our chamber, those sweet nights,
29And kissed, and ingled on thy father's knee,
30Were brib'd next day to tell what they did see:
31The grim eight-foot-high iron-bound serving-man,
32That oft names God in oaths, and only then,
33He that, to bar the first gate, doth as wide
34As the great Rhodian Colossus stride
35Which, if in hell no other pains there were,
36Makes me fear hell, because he must be there
37Though by thy father he were hired to this,
38Could never witness any touch or kiss.
39But O, too common ill, I brought with me
40That, which betray'd me to mine enemy,
41A loud perfume, which at my entrance cried
42Even at thy father's nose; so were we spied.
43When, like a tyrant King, that in his bed
44Smelt gunpowder, the pale wretch shivered,
45Had it been some bad smell, he would have thought
46That his own feet, or breath, that smell had wrought;
47But as we in our isle imprisoned,
48Where cattle only and diverse dogs are bred,
49The precious unicorns strange monsters call,
50So thought he good strange, that had none at all.
51I taught my silks their whistling to forbear ;
52Even my oppressed shoes dumb and speechless were ;
53Only thou bitter sweet, whom I had laid
54Next me, me traitorously hast betrayed,
55And unsuspected hast invisibly
56At once fled unto him, and stayed with me.
57Base excrement of earth, which dost confound
58Sense from distinguishing the sick from sound;
59By thee the silly amorous sucks his death
60By drawing in a leprous harlot's breath;
61By thee the greatest stain to man's estate
62Falls on us, to be call'd effeminate;
63Though you be much loved in the prince's hall,
64There things that seem exceed substantial;
65Gods, when ye fum'd on altars, were pleased well,
66Because you were burnt, not that they liked your smell;
67You're loathsome all, being taken simply alone;
68Shall we love ill things join'd, and hate each one?
69If you were good, your good doth soon decay;
70And you are rare; that takes the good away:
71All my perfumes I give most willingly
72To embalm thy father's corpse; what? will he die?
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire, assisted by Ana Berdinskikh
RPO Edition: 
2009
Rhyme: 
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