Poetry Interlude: Edifying Thoughts of a Tobacco Smoker, by Johann Sebastian Bach

05 Apr

René Magritte’s famous painting of a pipe, which he helpfully points out isn’t a pipe itself.

Most of us know Bach as a music composer.  But he also wrote some verse, including the following intriguing one, where he explains how smoking his pipe makes him contemplate higher things (other Christians have said similar things, BTW; e.g. see here (HT: CL) ):

Whene’er 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 earthen clay;

To earth I too shall be returning,

And cannot halt my slow decay.

My well used pipe, now cracked and broken,

Of mortal life is but a token.


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,

Likewise the pipe, if oft it burn.


Or when the pipe is fairly glowing,

Behold then instantaneously,

The smoke off into thin air going,

‘Til naught but ash is left to see.

Man’s fame likewise away will burn

And unto dust his body turn.


How oft it happens when one’s smoking,

The tamper’s missing from it’s 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, at sea, at home, abroad,

I smoke my pipe and worship God.


(Note: slightly different version from the one I posted in the comments on another post; I presume translation from the German has produced some different English versions.)


Posted by on April 5, 2012 in poetry


12 responses to “Poetry Interlude: Edifying Thoughts of a Tobacco Smoker, by Johann Sebastian Bach

  1. Svar

    April 7, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    This inspired me to listen to some Bach…. and buy some Grizzly Wintergreen.

  2. Will S.

    April 7, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    I tried the Grizzly pouches a few weeks back; they were good; far cheaper and tastier than Skoal Bandits. 🙂

  3. Svar

    April 7, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    Grizz is really strong.

  4. Will S.

    April 7, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    Oh yes, ’tis! Another selling point in their favour, over other brands. 🙂

  5. Svar

    April 8, 2012 at 12:30 am

    Definitely. First time I had it I was walking at a normal pace down the hall way and it felt like I was sprinting. Crazy stuff.

    First time I ever had dip(skoal), my legs got wobbly and I fell to my knees lightheaded. I was laughing the entire time.

    Most people vomit their first time.

  6. Will S.

    April 8, 2012 at 8:24 am

    Vomit? Yikes! Guess I was lucky; I never did.

  7. Svar

    April 8, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    I was lucky too. Haha, I remember your first time. You were so hyperactive; it was like you took some adderall and downed it with a six pack of red bulls.

  8. Will S.

    April 8, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Yeah, it made me higher than a kite, lol.

  9. Matthew

    April 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Ah, the pipe. I’m chagrined to not be smoking mine for a few months; had dental extractions and implants that supposedly don’t react well to smoking.

  10. Will S.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    I’ve always wanted to try a pipe.


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