Ivor Gurney

(1890-1937 / England)

Tobacco - Poem by Ivor Gurney

When tobacco came, When Raleigh did first bring in
The unfabled herb, the plant of peace, the king
Of comfort bringers, then indeed new hope
Came to the host of poets - with new scope
New range of power, since henceforth one might sit
Midnight-on and still further, while the war of wit
More kindly became and coloured till dawn came in;
Piercing shutter-chinks with pale daylight thin

Raleigh he knew, but could not the impossible
War of swift steel and hurtled bronze foretell
Nor the imaginary hurt on body's vessel,
Nor how tobacco then would steady disastered
Nerves courage by gray terror almost mastered.
Gloucester men half a day or more would hide
Five cigarettes and matches well inside
Their breasts, the one thing unsodden, while despair
Dripped incessantly without interest from the air
Or go supperless
The better next day's tobacco taste to bless.
Wonder at fogs, stars, posts till headaches came
Those chief of trouble-comforts still the same -
Watch Verey lights, sandbags, grasses, rifle-sights, mud
Crampt in uncouth postures men crouched or stood -
A Woodbine breakfast inspiriting the blood.

Or in those caves of dugouts, man taking lazily
Smoke in luxuriously, of Woodbines easily,
For one stroke forgiving Fate and its so mazily
Self tangled knots. Easing the strained back,
Somehow or other slipping unseen from the rack
Into tobacco scent, or savour or look,
The divine virtue of some contenting book
Multiplying or in sunniest quiet resting
Loll into restlessness or sleepy jesting.
Tobacco truly taken, neat, as a Thing.
Tobacco tasted exactly: in waves or ring
Noted; tobacco blown to the wind, or watched
Melt into ether's farthest smother unmatched.
Keen Sentries whiffing surreptitiously,
Sly Fatigue parties hidden from scrutiny
Last breath favours begged desperately.

Over all the breath of the airy vapour is known
Life's curtain rises on it and Deaths trembles down
Heroism has taken it for sufficient crown

When I think of the Ark slapping hopeless waters
Or Aeneas' sailors cursed with unclean hunger
Or Irus and his scorn, or the legions Germanicus
Met, and was nearly scotted by whose anger,
I know, I realise, and am driven to pity
By sun scorched eternal days of Babylon City
And any unsoothed restless greedy clamour
As hunger for Empire, any use of Wars hammer,
Tea and tobacco after decent labour
Would bring again England of pipe and tabor
Merry England again, after four centuries,
Of dawn-rising and late talking and go-as you please


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010



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