by John Donne

ONCE, and but once, found in thy company,
All thy supposed escapes are laid on me ;
And as a thief at bar is question'd there
By all the men that have been robb'd that year,
So am I—by this traiterous means surprized—
By thy hydroptic father catechized.
Though he had wont to search with glazèd 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 will 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 swollen, 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 fairy sprites
Oft skipp'd into our chamber, those sweet nights,
And kiss'd, and ingled on thy father's knee,
Were bribed next day to tell what they did see ;
The grim-eight-foot-high-iron-bound serving-man,
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 O ! too common ill, I brought with me
That, which betray'd me to mine enemy,
A loud perfume, which at my entrance cried
Even at thy father's nose ; so were we spied.
When, like a tyrant 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 oppress'd shoes dumb and speechless were ;
Only thou bitter sweet, whom I had laid
Next me, me traiterously hast betray'd,
And unsuspected hast invisibly
At once fled unto him, and stay'd with me.
Base excrement of earth, which dost confound
Sense from distinguishing the sick from sound !
By thee the silly 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 call'd 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 join'd, 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
To embalm thy father's corpse ; what? will he die?

Donne, John. Poems of John Donne. vol I.
E. K. Chambers, ed.
London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1896. 107-110.

Raphael. Lady with Unicorn. c.1505.
From CGFA.
to Works of John Donne

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