Ivor Gurney

Tobacco

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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 fortell,
Nor the imaginary hurt on the body's vessel;
Nor how tobacco then would steady disastered
Nerves, courage by grey terror almost mastered.
Gloucester men, half a day 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 inspiring the blood.

Or in those caves of dug-outs, men taking lazily
Smoke in luxuriously, of Woodbines easily.
For one stroke forgiving fate and its so mazily
Self-entangled knots. Easing the strained back,
Sonehow or other slipping unseen from the rack
Into tobacco scent, or savour or look;
The divine virtue of some contenting book
Multiplying; or in the sunniest quiet resting
Loll into restlessness or sleepy jesting.
Tobacco truly taken, as a thing.

Tobacco tasted exactly; in waves or ring
Noted; tobacco blown to the wind, or watched
Melt into ether's farthest smoother unmatched.
Keen sentries whiffing surreptitously,
Sly fatigue parties hidden from scrutiny,
Last breath favours begged desparately.

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

When I think of the Ark slapping hopeless waters -
Of neas's sailors cursed with unclean hunger -
Of Irus and his scorn, or the legions Germanicus
Met, and was nearly scotted by whose anger,
I know, I realize, and am driven to pity
By unscorched eternal days of Babylon city
And any unsoothed restless greedy clamour,
As hunger for Empire, any use of war's 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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Ivor Gurney