Helen Gardner (ed.), John Donne: The Elegies and The Songs and Sonnets

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pg 7The Perfume

  • 1Once, and but once found in thy company,
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus2All thy suppos'd escapes are laid on mee;
  • 3And as a thiefe at barre, is question'd there
  • Critical Apparatus4By all the men, that have beene rob'd that yeare,
  • 5So am I, (by this traiterous meanes surpriz'd)
  • Editor’s Note6By thy Hydroptique father catechiz'd.
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus7Though he had wont to search with glazed eyes,
  • 8As though he came to kill a Cockatrice,
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus9Though hee have oft sworne, that hee would remove
  • Editor’s Note10Thy beauties beautie, and food of our love,
  • 11Hope of his goods, if I with thee were seene,
  • 12Yet close and secret, as our soules, we'have beene.
  • 13Though thy immortall mother which doth lye
  • 14Still buried in her bed, yet will not dye,
  • Critical Apparatus15Take this advantage to sleepe out day-light,
  • 16And watch thy entries, and returnes all night,
  • 17And, when she takes thy hand, and would seeme kind,
  • 18Doth search what rings, and armelets she can finde,
  • 19And kissing notes the colour of thy face,
  • 20And fearing least thou'art swolne, doth thee embrace;
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus21And to trie if thou long, doth name strange meates,
  • Critical Apparatus22And notes thy palenesse, blushings, sighs, and sweats;
  • 23And politiquely will to thee confesse
  • 24The sinnes of her owne youths ranke lustinesse;
  • 25Yet love these Sorceries did remove, and move
  • 26Thee to gull thine owne mother for my love.
  • Editor’s Note27Thy little brethren, which like Faiery Sprights
  • 28Oft skipt into our chamber, those sweet nights,
  • pg 8Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus29And, kist and ingled on thy fathers knee,
  • Critical Apparatus30Were brib'd next day, to tell what they did see:
  • Critical Apparatus31The grim eight-foot-high iron-bound serving-man,
  • 32That oft names God in oathes, and onely than,
  • 33He that to barre the first gate, doth as wide
  • Editor’s Note34As the great Rhodian Colossus stride,
  • 35Which, if in hell no other paines there were,
  • 36Makes mee feare hell, because he must be there:
  • Critical Apparatus37Though by thy father he were hir'd for this,
  • Editor’s Note38Could never witnesse any touch or kisse.
  • 39But Oh, too common ill, I brought with mee
  • 40That, which betray'd mee to mine enemie:
  • 41A loud perfume, which at my entrance cryed
  • Critical Apparatus42Even at thy fathers nose, so wee were spied.
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus43When, like a tyran King, that in his bed
  • Critical Apparatus44Smelt gunpowder, the pale wretch shivered.
  • 45Had it beene some bad smell, he would have thought
  • 46That his owne feet, or breath, that smell had wrought.
  • 47But as wee in our Ile emprisoned,
  • 48Where cattell onely,'and diverse dogs are bred,
  • 49The pretious Unicornes, strange monsters, call,
  • 50So thought he good, strange, that had none at all.
  • 51I taught my silkes, their whistling to forbeare,
  • Editor’s Note52Even my opprest shoes, dumbe and speechlesse were,
  • Editor’s Note53Onely, thou bitter sweet, whom I had laid
  • 54Next mee, mee traiterously hast betraid,
  • 55And unsuspected hast invisibly
  • 56At once fled unto him, and staid with mee.
  • Editor’s Note57Base excrement of earth, which dost confound
  • 58Sense, from distinguishing the sicke from sound;
  • 59By thee the seely Amorous sucks his death
  • Critical Apparatus60By drawing in a leprous harlots breath;
  • pg 961By thee, the greatest staine to mans estate
  • 62Falls on us, to be call'd effeminate;
  • 63Though you be much lov'd in the Princes hall,
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus64There, things that seeme, exceed substantiall;
  • 65Gods, when yee fum'd on altars, were pleas'd well,
  • Critical Apparatus66Because you'were burnt, not that they lik'd your smell;
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus67You'are loathsome all, being taken simply'alone:
  • 68Shall wee love ill things joyn'd, and hate each one?
  • Editor’s Note69If you were good, your good doth soone decay;
  • 70And you are rare, that takes the good away.
  • 71All my perfumes, I give most willingly
  • 72To'embalme thy fathers corse; What? will hee die?

Notes Settings


Critical Apparatus
The Perfume (Elegy IV Gr). Title from 1635: Discovered by a perfume B
Critical Apparatus
2 suppos'd escapes] supposed scapes Dob, O'F, S 96, Cy, P, B
Editor’s Note
l. 2. escapes: peccadilloes, but used by Shakespeare in a stronger sense for breaches of chastity.
Critical Apparatus
40mine Σ: my 1633, C 57, H 49, Cy, Gr
Editor’s Note
l. 6. Hydroptique: dropsical. The normal form of the adjective from 'hydropsy' would be 'hydropic'. The earliest use of 'hydroptic', an erroneous formation on the model of 'epileptic', cited in O.E.D. is from one of Donne's letters and the word occurs no less than six times in his poems.
Critical Apparatus
7–8 Though … Cockatrice Σ: omit 1633, C 57, H 49, B
Editor’s Note
ll. 7–8.
  • Though he had wont to search with glazed eyes,
  • As though he came to kill a Cockatrice,
This couplet, omitted by an obvious eye-slip to l. 9 in the manuscripts of Group I is missing in 1633. Grieson took 'glazed' to mean 'glaring', referring to Julius Caesar, I. iii. 20–22 for the sense 'glare' and to the Shakespearian use of the past for present participle. It seems more likely that the father peers through eyes 'bleared' by age and sickness, or possibly he is peering through spectacles.
Pliny relates that the Cockatrice, or Basilisk, can kill by its glance alone (Nat. Hist. xxix. 66). A later development of this legend, wrongly fathered on Pliny, was that the basilisk's glance kills only if it sees a man before it is seen by him; if it is seen first it falls dead itself. See Albertus Magnus, De Animalibus, ed. Stadler, Munster, 1916–20, xxv. 18. This error (of destruction depending on 'priority of aspection') is discussed by Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, book iii, chap. vii.
Critical Apparatus
9 have TC, W, A 25, JC, P: hath 1633, C 57, H 49, Dob, O'F, S 96, Cy, P, B, S,Gr
Editor’s Note
ll. 9 and 15. havetake. I have adopted the subjunctives of W and II. Grierson noted that it was undoubtedly Donne's practice to use the subjunctive in concessive clauses and that he had found only seven examples of the indicative (including these two) against over ninety of the subjunctive.
Editor’s Note
l. 10. Thy beauties beautie, and food of our love. Grierson takes it that the young man is cynical here; but he may be only quoting the father's accusation that he is after the girl's money.
Critical Apparatus
15 take TC, O'F, S 96, W,A 25, JC, Cy, P, B: takes 1633, C 57, H 49, Dob, S,Gr
Critical Apparatus
21 And TC, O'F, S 96, W, A 25, JC: omit 1633, C 57, H 49, Dob, Cy, P, B, S, Gr; see note
meates,] meates. 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 21. And to trie. I adopt the reading of W and II, supported by O'F and S 96. It gives a ten-syllable line that, though awkward, can be scanned:
Lines of poetry with graphic scansion
The reading of 1633 and I gives a line with a defective third foot:
Lines of poetry with graphic scansion
There are examples of lines of this kind in the Divine Poems and in other Elegies; see Gardner, Divine Poems, p. 62 and notes to 'Going to Bed', ll. 17 and 43, 'Change', l. 23, and 'On his Mistress', l. 49. In all these examples there is a marked pause which compensates for metrical deficiency; but here there is no reason for a pause at 'long'.
Critical Apparatus
22 blushings Σ: blushing 1633, TCC, A 25, JC
Editor’s Note
ll. 27–38. The 'little brethren' and the 'serving-man' are joint subjects of the verb 'could'.
Editor’s Note
l. 27. like Faiery Sprights. The simile might have been suggested by the close of A Midsummer Night's Dream where the fairies trip through the house to bless the lovers.
Critical Apparatus
29 And, kist] And kist, 1633
ingled] nigled H 49, TC, Cy: iuggled B: dandled Dob, O'F, S 96; see note
Editor’s Note
l. 29. ingled: fondled. 'Nigled' (H 49 and II) and 'iuggled' (B), both with the sense of 'tricked' give less good sense and may be regarded as misreadings of 'ingled'. 'Dandled' (III) presents a genuine alternative.
Critical Apparatus
30 see:] see. 1633
Critical Apparatus
31 grim eight … high iron] grim-eight … high-iron 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 34. Rhodian Colossus. The statue of Apollo at Rhodes, said by Pliny to have been seventy cubits high, was one of the seven wonders. It was traditionally held that its feet rested on two moles, forming the entrance to the harbour, and ships passed between its legs.
Critical Apparatus
37 for Σ: to 1633, S, Gr
Editor’s Note
38 kisse.] kisse 1633
Critical Apparatus
42 wee were Σ: were wee 1633, C 57, O'F, Cy, Gr
Critical Apparatus
43 When] Then Dob, O'F, S 96
Editor’s Note
l. 43. When. 'Then' (III) makes easier sense, connecting this couplet with what follows; but the weight of authority is behind 'When'. It may be taken as a connective, meaning 'And then'. I follow Grierson in strengthening the stop after 'shivered'.
Critical Apparatus
44 shivered.] shivered; 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 52. my opprest shoes, dumbe and speechlesse were. 'Pressing', the peine forte et dure, was inflicted on those arraigned for felony who stood mute and refused to plead.
Editor’s Note
ll. 53–70. The attack on perfume reads like a parody of a scholastic disputation with its use of theological and philosophic arguments, and its rebutting of possible defences.
Editor’s Note
l. 57. Base excrement of earth. Cf. Touchstone on civet: 'the very uncleanly flux of a cat', As You Like It, III, ii. 60.
Critical Apparatus
60 breath;]. breath, 1633
Critical Apparatus
64 substantiall;] substantiall. 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 64. things that seeme, exceed substantiall: either 'Semblance is more highly valued than substance', or 'There are more things with the semblance of worth than with the reality'.
Critical Apparatus
66 smell;] smell, 1633
Critical Apparatus
67 simply'alone:] simply alone, 1633
Editor’s Note
ll. 67–68. You'are loathsome all, &c. 'You are altogether loathsome when un-compounded: are we to love bad things when they are joined together and hate them when separated?' This is the reverse of Sidney's argument in defence of tragi-comedy: 'if severed they be good, the conjunction cannot be hurtful'.
Editor’s Note
ll. 69–70. If you were good, &c. It is the nature of 'the good' to be stable and universal. Cf. Paradox 4: 'That good is more common than ill', where it is said that 'Good … hath this for nature and perfection to bee common.'
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