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Short poem

Charles Lamb (1775-1834)

A Farewell to Tobacco

              1May the Babylonish curse,
              2Strait confound my stammering verse,
              3If I can a passage see
              4In this word-perplexity,
              5Or a fit expression find,
              6Or a language to my mind,
              7(Still the phrase is wide or scant)
              8To take leave of thee, GREAT PLANT!
              9Or in any terms relate
            10Half my love, or half my hate:
            11For I hate, yet love, thee so,
            12That, whichever thing I shew,
            13The plain truth will seem to be
            14A constrained hyperbole,
            15And the passion to proceed
            16More from a mistress than a weed.
            17Sooty retainer to the vine,
            18Bacchus' black servant, negro fine;
            19Sorcerer, that mak'st us dote upon
            20Thy begrimed complexion,
            21And, for thy pernicious sake,
            22More and greater oaths to break
            23Than reclaimed lovers take
            24'Gainst women: thou thy siege dost lay
            25Much too in the female way,
            26While thou suck'st the laboring breath
            27Faster than kisses or than death.
            28Thou in such a cloud dost bind us,
            29That our worst foes cannot find us,
            30And ill fortune, that would thwart us,
            31Shoots at rovers, shooting at us;
            32While each man, thro' thy heightening steam,
            33Does like a smoking Etna seem,
            34And all about us does express
            35(Fancy and wit in richest dress)
            36A Sicilian fruitfulness.
            37Thou through such a mist dost shew us,
            38That our best friends do not know us,
            39And, for those allowed features,
            40Due to reasonable creatures,
            41Liken'st us to fell Chimeras,
            42Monsters that, who see us, fear us
            43Worse than Cerberus or Geryon,
            44Or, who first lov'd a cloud, Ixion.
            45Bacchus we know, and we allow
            46His tipsy rites. But what art thou,
            47That but by reflex can'st shew
            48What his deity can do,
            49As the false Egyptian spell
            50Aped the true Hebrew miracle?
            51Some few vapours thou may'st raise,
            52The weak brain may serve to amaze,
            53But to the reigns and nobler heart
            54Can'st nor life nor heat impart.
            55Brother of Bacchus, later born,
            56The old world was sure forlorn,
            57Wanting thee, that aidest more
            58The god's victories than before
            59All his panthers, and the brawls
            60Of his piping Bacchanals.
            61These, as stale, we disallow,
            62Or judge of thee meant - only thou
            63His true Indian conquest art
            64And, for ivy round his dart,
            65The reformed god now weaves
            66A finer thyrsus of thy leaves.
            67Scent to match thy rich perfume
            68Chemic art did ne'er presume
            69Through her quaint alembic strain,
            70None so sov'reign to the brain.
            71Nature, that did in thee excel,
            72Fram'd again no second smell.
            73Roses, violets, but toys
            74For the smaller sort of boys,
            75Or for greener damsels meant;
            76Thou art the only manly scent.
            77Stinking'st of the stinking kind,
            78Filth of the mouth and fog of the mind,
            79Africa, that brags her foyson,
            80Breeds no such prodigious poison,
            81Henbane, nightshade, both together,
            82Hemlock, aconite --
            83Nay, rather, Plant divine, of rarest virtue;
            84Blisters on the tongue would hurt you.
            85'Twas but in a sort I blam'd thee;
            86None e'er prosper'd who defam'd thee;
            87Irony all, and feign'd abuse,
            88Such as perplext lovers use,
            89At a need, when, in despair
            90To paint forth their fairest fair,
            91Or in part but to express
            92That exceeding comeliness
            93Which their fancies doth so strike,
            94They borrow language of dislike;
            95And, instead of Dearest Miss,
            96Jewel, Honey, Sweetheart, Bliss,
            97And those forms of old admiring,
            98Call her Cockatrice and Siren,
            99Basilisk, and all that's evil,
          100Witch, Hyena, Mermaid, Devil,
          101Ethiop, Wench, and Blackamoor,
          102Monkey, Ape, and twenty more;
          103Friendly Trait'ress, loving Foe, --
          104Not that she is truly so,
          105But no other way they know
          106A contentment to express,
          107Borders so upon excess,
          108That they do not rightly wot
          109Whether it be pain or not.
          110Or, as men, constrained to part
          111With what's nearest to their heart,
          112While their sorrow's at the height,
          113Lose discrimination quite,
          114And their hasty wrath let fall,
          115To appease their frantic gall,
          116On the darling thing whatever
          117Whence they feel it death to sever,
          118Though it be, as they, perforce,
          119Guiltless of the sad divorce.
          120For I must (nor let it grieve thee,
          121Friendliest of plants, that I must) leave the.
          122For thy sake, TOBACCO, I
          123Would do any thing but die,
          124And but seek to extend my days
          125Long enough to sing thy praise.
          126But, as she, who once hath been
          127A king's consort, is a queen
          128Ever after, nor will bate
          129Any tittle of her state,
          130Though a widow, or divorced,
          131So I, from thy converse forced,
          132The old name and style retain,
          133A right Katherine of Spain;
          134And a seat, too, 'mongst the joys
          135Of the blest Tobacco Boys;
          136Where, though I, by sour physician,
          137Am debarr'd the full fruition
          138Of thy favours, I may catch
          139Some collateral sweets, and snatch
          140Sidelong odours, that give life
          141Like glances from a neighbour's wife;
          142And still live in the by-places
          143And the suburbs of thy graces;
          144And in thy borders take delight,
          145An unconquer'd Canaanite.


1] Babylonish: the Chaldee city on the Euphrates, near present-day Bagdad, once the capital of cursed Nebuchadezzar, and to-be domain of the Whore of Babylon damned in the Apocalypse.

14] hyperbole: huge exaggeration.

18] Bacchus: Roman god of wine.

31] rovers: pirates.

33] Etna: active volcano in Sicily.

41] Chimeras: mythic Greek she-monsters possessing a goat's torso, a lion's head, and a snake's tail.

43] Cerberus: mythic three-headed dog supposed to guard Hades.
Geryon: mythic Greek monster with three bodies and heads whom Hercules killed.

44] Ixion: the father of the centaurs whom Zeus punished by binding him forever on a fiery wheel in Hades for having dared to seduce Juno.

51] vapours: mind-muddling exhalations from the body.

60] Bacchanals: worshippers of Bacchus.

66] thyrsus: staff used in Bacchanalian rituals.

69] alembic: a still that refines something by distilling it.

75] greener: younger, less mature.

79] foyson: plenty.

81] Henbane: a form of the nightshade plant and source of the poison sometimes termed belladonna.

82] Hemlock: poison extracted from a herb of the carrot family, famous for having been administered to Socrates.
aconite: a sedative made from the root of the herb monkhood.

98] Cockatrice: a mythic serpent whose looks was said to kill.

99] Basilisk: a mythic reptile whose look and breath kill.

101] Blackamoor: moor.

108] wot: know.

129] tittle: a little bit.

133] Katherine of Spain: Roman-Catholic first wife of Henry VIII and mother of Mary I.

145] Canaanite: member of an ancient Middle Eastern Semitic tribe.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Charles and Mary Lamb, Poems and Plays (London: Methuen, 1912): 34-38. PR 4860 A2 1912 Trinity College Library
First publication date: 1811
Publication date note: The Reflector 4 (1811); The Works of Charles Lamb (London: Ollier, 1818), 2 vols. B-10 7222 Fisher Rare Book Library
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/17

Composition date: 1805
Form: Short Couplets

Other poems by Charles Lamb