Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IX. Tragedy: Humor
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IX. Tragedy: Humor.  1904.
 
Humorous Poems: II. Miscellaneous
A Farewell to Tobacco
Charles Lamb (1775–1834)
 
  MAY the Babylonish curse
Straight confound my stammering verse,
If I can a passage see
In this word-perplexity,
Or a fit expression find,        5
Or a language to my mind
(Still the phrase is wide or scant),
To take leave of thee, GREAT PLANT!
Or in any terms relate
Half my love, or half my hate;        10
For I hate, yet love, thee so,
That, whichever thing I show,
The plain truth will seem to be
A constrained hyperbole,
And the passion to proceed        15
More from a mistress than a weed.
 
  Sooty retainer to the vine!
Bacchus’ black servant, negro fine!
Sorcerer! that mak’st us dote upon
Thy begrimed complexion,        20
And, for thy pernicious sake,
More and greater oaths to break
Than reclaimèd lovers take
’Gainst women! Thou thy siege dost lay
Much, too, in the female way,        25
While thou suck’st the laboring breath
Faster than kisses, or than death.
 
  Thou in such a cloud dost bind us
That our worst foes cannot find us,
And ill fortune, that would thwart us,        30
Shoots at rovers, shooting at us;
While each man, through thy heightening steam,
Does like a smoking Etna seem;
And all about us does express
(Fancy and wit in richest dress)        35
A Sicilian fruitfulness.
 
  Thou through such a mist dost show us
That our best friends do not know us,
And, for those allowed features
Due to reasonable creatures,        40
Liken’st us to fell chimeras,
Monsters,—that who see us, fear us;
Worse than Cerberus or Geryon,
Or, who first loved a cloud, Ixion.
 
  Bacchus we know, and we allow        45
His tipsy rites. But what art thou,
That but by reflex canst show
What his deity can do,—
As the false Egyptian spell
Aped the true Hebrew miracle?        50
Some few vapors thou mayst raise
The weak brain may serve to amaze;
But to the reins and nobler heart
Canst nor life nor heat impart.
 
  Brother of Bacchus, later born!        55
The old world was sure forlorn,
Wanting thee, that aidest more
The god’s victories than, before,
All his panthers, and the brawls
Of his piping Bacchanals.        60
These, as stale, we disallow,
Or judge of thee meant: only thou
His true Indian conquest art;
And, for ivy round his dart,
The reformèd god now weaves        65
A finer thyrsus of thy leaves.
 
  Scent to match thy rich perfume
Chemic art did ne’er presume,
Through her quaint alembic strain,
None so sovereign to the brain.        70
Nature, that did in thee excel,
Framed again no second smell.
Roses, violets, but toys
For the smaller sort of boys,
Or for greener damsels meant;        75
Thou art the only manly scent.
 
  Stinkingest of the stinking kind!
Filth of the mouth and fog of the mind!
Africa, that brags her foison,
Breeds no such prodigious poison!        80
Henbane, nightshade, both together,
Hemlock, aconite—
                    Nay rather,
Plant divine, of rarest virtue;
Blisters on the tongue would hurt you!
’T was but in a sort I blamed thee;        85
None e’er prospered who defamed thee;
Irony all, and feigned abuse,
Such as perplexèd lovers use
At a need, when, in despair
To paint forth their fairest fair,        90
Or in part but to express
That exceeding comeliness
Which their fancies doth so strike,
They borrow language of dislike;
And, instead of dearest Miss,        95
Jewel, honey, sweetheart, bliss,
And those forms of old admiring,
Call her cockatrice and siren,
Basilisk, and all that ’s evil,
Witch, hyena, mermaid, devil,        100
Ethiop, wench, and blackamoor,
Monkey, ape, and twenty more;
Friendly trait’ress, loving foe,—
Not that she is truly so,
But no other way they know,        105
A contentment to express
Borders so upon excess
That they do not rightly wot
Whether it be from pain or not.
 
  Or, as men, constrained to part        110
With what ’s nearest to their heart,
While their sorrow ’s at the height
Lose discrimination quite,
And their hasty wrath let fall,
To appease their frantic gall,        115
On the darling thing, whatever,
Whence they feel it death to sever,
Though it be, as they, perforce,
Guiltless of the sad divorce.
 
  For I must (nor let it grieve thee,        120
Friendliest of plants, that I must) leave thee.
Would do anything but die,
And but seek to extend my days
Long enough to sing thy praise.
But, as she who once hath been        125
A king’s consort is a queen
Ever after, nor will bate
Any tittle of her state
Though a widow, or divorced,
So I, from thy converse forced,        130
The old name and style retain,
A right Katherine of Spain;
And a seat, too, ’mongst the joys
Of the blest Tobacco Boys;
Where, though I, by sour physician,        135
Am debarred the full fruition
Of thy favors, I may catch
Some collateral sweets, and snatch
Sidelong odors, that give life
Like glances from a neighbor’s wife;        140
And still live in the by-places
And the suburbs of thy graces;
And in thy borders take delight,
An unconquered Canaanite.
 
 
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