Inspired by yesterday's poem...
(Poem #1922) The Betrothed
"You must choose between me and your cigar." --BREACH OF PROMISE CASE, CIRCA 1885. Open the old cigar-box, get me a Cuba stout, For things are running crossways, and Maggie and I are out. We quarrelled about Havanas--we fought o'er a good cheroot, And I know she is exacting, and she says I am a brute. Open the old cigar-box--let me consider a space; In the soft blue veil of the vapour musing on Maggie's face. Maggie is pretty to look at--Maggie's a loving lass, But the prettiest cheeks must wrinkle, the truest of loves must pass. There's peace in a Laranaga, there's calm in a Henry Clay, But the best cigar in an hour is finished and thrown away-- Thrown away for another as perfect and ripe and brown-- But I could not throw away Maggie for fear o' the talk o' the town! Maggie, my wife at fifty--gray and dour and old-- With never another Maggie to purchase for love or gold! And the light of Days that have Been the dark of the Days that Are, And Love's torch stinking and stale, like the butt of a dead cigar-- The butt of a dead cigar you are bound to keep in your pocket-- With never a new one to light tho' it's charred and black to the socket. Open the old cigar-box--let me consider awhile-- Here is a mild Manilla--there is a wifely smile. Which is the better portion--bondage bought with a ring, Or a harem of dusky beauties fifty tied in a string? Counsellors cunning and silent--comforters true and tried, And never a one of the fifty to sneer at a rival bride. Thought in the early morning, solace in time of woes, Peace in the hush of the twilight, balm ere my eyelids close. This will the fifty give me, asking naught in return, With only a Suttee's passion--to do their duty and burn. This will the fifty give me. When they are spent and dead, Five times other fifties shall be my servants instead. The furrows of far-off Java, the isles of the Spanish Main, When they hear my harem is empty, will send me my brides again. I will take no heed to their raiment, nor food for their mouths withal, So long as the gulls are nesting, so long as the showers fall. I will scent 'em with best Vanilla, with tea will I temper their hides, And the Moor and the Mormon shall envy who read of the tale of my brides. For Maggie has written a letter that gives me my choice between The wee little whimpering Love and the great god Nick o' Teen. And I have been servant of Love for barely a twelve-month clear, But I have been Priest of Partagas a matter of seven year; And the gloom of my bachelor days is flecked with the cheery light Of stumps that I burned to Friendship and Pleasure and Work and Fight. And I turn my eyes to the future that Maggie and I must prove, But the only light on the marshes is the Will-o'-the-Wisp of Love. Will it see me safe through my journey or leave me bogged in the mire? Since a puff of tobacco can cloud it, shall I follow the fitful fire? Open the old cigar-box--let me consider anew-- Old friends, and who is Maggie that I should abandon you? A million surplus Maggies are willing to bear the yoke; And a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke. Light me another Cuba--I hold to my first-sworn vows, If Maggie will have no rival, I'll have no Maggie for spouse!
This is one of those poems that I remembered mostly because I liked a fragment of it, in this case the wonderfully flowing line And a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke. In truth, when I went to read it again, I was rather disappointed - the premise is clever enough, and there are some nice lines, but overall the poem felt like it was trying to squeeze too much out of a single idea, and ended up sounding rather dull in consequence. I do have to wonder, considering my usual high regard of Kipling's poetry, whether this is at least in part because, not being a smoker myself, I have no emotional or visceral reaction to anything in the poem, and that makes potentially moving, stirring or humorous lines fall flat. What say those of you who do indulge? Is this actually one of Kipling's nail-on-the-head poems that I simply lack the context to appreciate? Or is this indeed one of the rare times when he has simply missed the mark? martin