John Donne

(24 January 1572 - 31 March 1631 / London, England)

Elegy IV: The Perfume


Once, and but once found in thy company,
All thy supposed escapes are laid on me;
And as a thief at bar is questioned there
By all the men that have been robed that year,
So am I (by this traiterous means surprized)
By thy hydroptic father catechized.
Though he had wont to search with glazed eyes,
As though he came to kill a cockatrice,
Though he hath oft sworn that he would remove
Thy beauty's beauty, and food of our love,
Hope of his goods, if I with thee were seen,
Yet close and secret, as our souls, we've been.
Though thy immortal mother, which doth lie
Still-buried in her bed, yet wiil not die,
Takes this advantage to sleep out daylight,
And watch thy entries and returns all night,
And, when she takes thy hand, and would seem kind,
Doth search what rings and armlets she can find,
And kissing, notes the colour of thy face,
And fearing lest thou'rt swol'n, doth thee embrace;
To try if thou long, doth name strange meats,
And notes thy paleness, blushing, sighs, and sweats;
And politicly will to thee confess
The sins of her own youth's rank lustiness;
Yet love these sorceries did remove, and move
Thee to gull thine own mother for my love.
Thy little brethren, which like faery sprites
Oft skipped into our chamber, those sweet nights,
And kissed, and ingled on thy father's knee,
Were bribed next day to tell what they did see:
The grim eight-foot-high iron-bound servingman,
That oft names God in oaths, and only then,
He that to bar the first gate doth as wide
As the great Rhodian Colossus stride,
Which, if in hell no other pains there were,
Makes me fear hell, because he must be there:
Though by thy father he were hired to this,
Could never witness any touch or kiss.
But Oh, too common ill, I brought with me
That which betrayed me to my enemy:
A loud perfume, which at my entrance cried
Even at thy father's nose, so were we spied;
When, like a tyran King, that in his bed
Smelt gunpowder, the pale wretch shivered.
Had it been some bad smell he would have thought
That his own feet, or breath, that smell had wrought.
But as we in our isle imprisoned,
Where cattle only, and diverse dogs are bred,
The precious Unicorns strange monsters call,
So thought he good, strange, that had none at all.
I taught my silks their whistling to forbear,
Even my oppressed shoes dumb and speechless were,
Only, thou bitter sweet, whom I had laid
Next me, me traiterously hast betrayed,
And unsuspected hast invisibly
At once fled unto him, and stayed with me.
Base excrement of earth, which dost confound
Sense from distinguishing the sick from sound;
By thee the seely amorous sucks his death
By drawing in a leprous harlot's breath;
By thee the greatest stain to man's estate
Falls on us, to be called effeminate;
Though you be much loved in the Prince's hall,
There, things that seem, exceed substantial.
Gods, when ye fumed on altars, were pleased well,
Because you were burnt, not that they liked your smell;
You're loathsome all, being taken simply alone,
Shall we love ill things joined, and hate each one?
If you were good, your good doth soon decay;
And you are rare, that takes the good away.
All my perfumes I give most willingly
T' embalm thy father's corse; What? will he die?

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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