Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
 
Sweet Robbery
By William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
 
THE FORWARD 1 violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love’s breath? The purple pride,
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells,
In my love’s veins thou hast too grossly dyed.        5
The lily I condemnèd for thy hand 2
And buds of marjoram 3 had stolen thy hair;
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand, 4
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stolen of both,        10
And to his robbery had annexed thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker ate him 5 up to death.
    More flowers I noted; yet I none could see
    But sweet or colour 6 it had stolen from thee.        15
 
Note 1. Sonnet xcix., Shake-speare’s Sonnettes, 1609. [back]
Note 2. The lily I condemnèd for thy hand: i.e., condemns the lily for having stolen the whiteness of thy hand. [back]
Note 3. And buds of marjoram: cf. Suckling’s Tragedy of Brennoralt, act iv. sc. 1:
  Hair curling, and cover’d like buds of marjoram;
Part tied in negligence, part loosely flowing.
“Mr. H. C. Hart tells me,” writes Prof. Dowden (The Sonnets of Shakespeare, p. 214), “that buds of marjoram are dark purple-red before they open, and afterwards pink; dark auburn, I suppose, would be the nearest approach to marjoram in the colour of hair. Mr. Hart suggests that the marjoram has stolen not colour, but perfume from the young man’s hair. Gervase Markham gives sweet marjoram as an ingredient in ‘The water of sweet smells,’ and Culpepper says ‘marjoram is much used in all odoriferous waters.’ Cole (Adam in Eden, ed. 1657) says ‘Marjerome is a chief ingredient in most of those powders that Barbers use, in whose shops I have seen great store of this herb hung up.’” [back]
Note 4. On thorns did stand: an old proverbial phrase—to stand on thorns. [back]
Note 5. A vengeful canker eat him: cf. Venus and Adonis, line 1,656:
  This canker that eats up Love’s tender spring.
Note 6. But sweet or colour: scents. (Walker.) [back]
 
 
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