Ralph Erskine on Smoking

My wife is pretty cool. She has no problem with me drinking anything from beer and whisk(e)y to mixed drinks and liquer. She’s also really cool with the variety of music I listen to: bluegrass and punk to metal and indie. She even tolerates my movie choice. One thing, however, that she does not tolerate in any sense is smoking. This includes me, smoking cigars. We have fun little discussions every once in a while about it where it usually deteriorates into me pleading on my knees for a Monte Cristo or a Cohiba. To no avail. You see, my wife works in a pathology lab in a hospital and her main task is to diagnose cancer. Thus, she sees first hand the ravages of cigarette addiction. She gives no quarter even to the occasional cigar much to her husband’s chagrin!

Maybe my wife needs to read this awesome poem [HT: Daily Scroll] by the excellent Ralph Erskine (1685-1752), Scottish Divine and Marrow Man who spiritualises smoking. It’s brilliant. I print the whole thing here for your enjoyment:


This Indian weed now wither’d quite,
‘Tho’ green at noon, cut down at night,
Shows thy decay;
All flesh is hay.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The pipe so lily-like and weak,
Does thus thy mortal state bespeak.
Thou art ev’n such,
Gone with a touch.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the smoke ascends on high,
Then thou behold’st the vanity
Of worldly stuff,
Gone with a puff.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the pipe grows foul within,
Think on thy soul defil’d with sin;
For then the fire,
It does require.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And seest the ashes cast away;
Then to thyself thou mayest say
That to the dust
Return thou must.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.


Was this small plant for thee cut down?
So was the plant of great renown;
Which mercy sends
For nobler ends.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Doth juice medicinal proceed
From such a naughty foreign weed?
Then what’s the pow’r
Of Jesse’s flow’r?
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The promise, like the pipe, inlays,
And by the mouth of faith conveys
What virtue flows
From Sharon’s rose.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
In vain th’ unlighted pipe you blow;

Your pains in inward means are so,
‘Till heav’nly fire
Thy heart inspire.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
The smoke, like burning incense tow’rs

So should a praying heart of yours,
With ardent cries,
Surmount the skies.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.



Filed under misc

12 responses to “Ralph Erskine on Smoking

  1. My wife is exactly the same way! I’ve tried begging too – even teared up a bit. She’s got a heart of stone that one.

  2. I may get in great deal of trouble for this and cannot say that I shouldn’t, but your post has reminded me of a quote, It comes from Rudyard Kipling:

    – “A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.”

    But he also said – “A woman’s guess is much more accurate than a man’s certainty.”

  3. I remember standing on the roof of the TBS residences enjoying my pipe. You guys need to grow beards.

  4. good grief

    I think the logic of the poem runs something like, “eat drink for tomorrow we die”

  5. You might point out that the occasional use of tabacoo or the use of tabacoo in modertation is probably ok for instance an occasional cigar or pipe not inhaled and smoked outside. All things in moderation!

    • That’s what I tell her all the time! And she actually agrees and knows that, but she has a mental block for some reason. She must envision me with mouth cancer having to get my tongue amputated. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing! Shut me up a bit.

  6. marknen


    If the beard is patchy, you could pass for a Cuban marxist revolutionary.

    Since when has Jerry Garcia had a beard? As far as I am concerned Pigpen is still alive too…

  7. JS Bach wrote a very similar poem, “Edifying Thoughts of a Tabacco Smoker” I’ll see if I can fetch it for you, and post it

  8. Just to add some balance, I have a poem in response:

    The pipe, with solemn interposing puff,
    Makes half a sentence at a time enough;
    The dozing sages drop the drowsy strain,
    Then pause, and puff— and speak, and pause again.
    Such often, like the tube they so admire,
    Important triflers ! have more smoke than fire.
    Pernicious weed ! whose scent the fair annoys,
    Unfriendly to society’s chief joys,
    Thy worst effect is banishing, for hours,
    The sex whose presence civilizes ours :
    Thou art, indeed, the drug a gardener wants,
    To poison vermin that infest his plants;
    But are we so to wit and beauty blind,
    As to despise the glory of our kind.
    And show the softest minds and fairest forms
    As little mercy, as he grubs and worms ?
    They dure not wait the riotous abuse,
    Thy thirst-creating steams at length produce,
    When wine has given indecent language birth.
    And forced the floodgates of licentious mirth

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