Tobacco, The Muse

I recently came across a poetry collection compiled by Joseph Knight in 1895, Pipe and Pouch: the Smoker's Own Book of Poetry. The anthology consists of over 130 poems devoted to and inspired by pipes, tobaccos, and cigars. Names like Lord Byron and Rudyard Kipling stand out among the writers, with others coming from anonymous sources, foreign translations, newspaper clippings, and even an epitaph.

Smoking was certainly a societal staple of that era, but these poems go beyond simply putting a cultural norm to verse. They speak of a burning love for all things tobacco related, a deep commitment to pipe and leaf, on par with a spouse's vow and lover's intimacy. In fact, Kipling's speaker in "The Betrothed" goes as far as to choose cigars over his wife when forced into an ultimatum. Odes to meerschaums and Virginia leaf rival the affections of many a Shakespearean sonnet. The tragic love of Tristan and Isolde is mere infatuation compared to the emotional cries in Andrew Wytner's "Ode to My Pipe" as the protagonist laments the dying of his lit tobacco.

Granted, not every poem in the compilation is infused with unbridled passion — many are simply clever quips regarding a beloved hobby. One message remains constant though: these briar creations and blends of tobacco were and still are far more than just means to an end or pastimes for when there's nothing else to be done. A relationship exists between smoker and smoking companion, one strong enough to inspire creativity and art. In "Ad Nicotina," E.H.S. speaks of this relationship, wishing it never to end:

Sublime tobacco! may thy reign
Ne'er for one moment cease;
For thou, Great Plant, art kin to brain,
And synonym for peace.

As many of us know personally, pipes and tobacco hold a special place in our lives, with many memories intrinsically tied to the hobby. Feelings of peace, joy, sadness, reflection, anticipation, melancholy, and curiosity have all been abated and encouraged by tobacco, the muse. It's only fitting that we would write about it.

Comments

    • Jess G on June 2, 2019
    • I've read this book a long while back, but going back over it I'm struck with the idea that these would make a great audiobook. Maybe it's time to dig the mics out...

    • Gianluigi Fiori on September 16, 2019
    • Thank you for the book review, very interesting.

    • Jack G on January 4, 2020
    • Another great little book on this subject is "My Lady Nicotine" by J.M. Barrie (writer of "Peter Pan"). You can read it here: http://bit.ly/2QKTkX5

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