A poem about pipe smoking

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is far more well known as a composer than a poet.  But in fact he wrote some poetry, including this little ditty about pipe smoking.

Edifying Thoughts of a Tobacco Smoker

Whene’re I take my pipe and stuff it
And smoke to pass the time away,
My thoughts as I sit there and puff it,
Dwell on a picture sad and grey:
It teaches me that very like
Am I myself unto my pipe.
Like me, this pipe so fragrant burning
Is made of naught but earth and clay;
To earth I too shall be returning.
It falls and, ere I’d think to say,
It breaks in two before my eyes;
In store for me a like fate lies.
No stain the pipe’s hue yet doth darken;
It remains white. Thus do I know
That when to death’s call I must harken
My body too, all pale will grow
To black beneath the sod ’twill turn.
Or when the pipe is fairly glowing,
Behold then, instantaniously,
The smoke off into thin air going,
Till naught but ash is left to see.
Man’s frame likewise away will burn
And unto dust his body turn.
How oft it happens when one’s smoking:
The stopper’s missing from the shelf,
And one goes with one’s finger poking
Into the bowl and burns oneself.
If in the pipe such pain doth dwell,
How hot must be the pains of Hell.
Thus o’er my pipe, in contemplation
Of such things, I can constantly
Indulge in fruitful meditation
And so, puffing contentedly,
On land, on sea, at home, abroad,
I smoke my pipe and worship God.

Johann Sebastian Bach

(photo courtesy of Marcin’s Pipes and Tobacco blog)

8 Responses to “A poem about pipe smoking”

  1. 1 Sam
    August 9, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Wonderful. Thanks for sharing, Smith. My professional musician Dad read over my shoulder and didn’t much appreciate it, but he’s an old fart who doesn’t like smoking anyway. And it made me chuckle to see his face when he read the part about God. Christians can’t smoke, right? 🙂

    Oh, I don’t know about that. Better to smoke here than in the hereafter, right? 😉

  2. August 9, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    To earth I too shall be returning.
    I liked the twist of ashes to ashes.
    The poem itself was a bit stodgy, IMHO
    Some interesting ideas though . . .

  3. August 10, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Cool poem but I’m glad he didn’t quit his dayjob.

  4. August 18, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Michael and Evyl:

    You’re both right. Shakespeare he wasn’t. But let’s not forget he was a composer first and foremost. He did in fact set this to music in an arrangement for Baritone and harpsichord. I know, you both want to know where you can get a copy, right? 😉


  5. July 2, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Actually, the poem is by an anonymous author. Bach, who may or may not have written it, never claimed authorship.

  6. 6 nate
    November 19, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Christians have liberties to do things that do not dishonor God or his laws or hurt there own bodies. Just like drinking is not wrong for a Christian in moderation, so smoking a pipe, especially without inhaling it, thus causing little harm to the body, in moderation, is fine. And all things a Christian does should be tothe glory of God so I think the poem is awesome.

  7. January 9, 2017 at 8:49 pm

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taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood" ~ Dr. John H. Watson ************************
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