The Poets

March 21, 2012

Happy Birthday Bach!

Today is the 327th birthday of one of the most popular and most talented Baroque composers known, Johann Sebastian Bach. The Baroque period is by far my favorite period in classical music (Vivaldi being my all time favorite composer).

Anyhow, although very familiar with Bach and his works, I was quite surprised to find out from my cousin that- apart from being a great classicalist- he was also a great writer of poetry. Wow! I had no idea.

My cousin, Chris May, posted one of Bach’s poems to me on Facebook- I loved it! Bach’s definitely a good writer of verse- no question about it. He just went up a notch in my Book of Creative Minds (… I don’t literally own such a book).

Here’s that poem, let me know what you think …


Edifying Thoughts of a Tobacco Smoker

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.

-J.S. Bach

Of the Poem (Poetic Parameters):

Stanza: Sestet (in this case, a quatrain with a couplet).
Meter: apart from lines 1 and 3, all of the lines are done in tetrameter (i.e. eight syllables); lines 1 and 3 are a nine syllable count.
The rhyme scheme is pretty obvious: a.b.a.b.c.c.

Notice that Bach extends lines 1 and 3 by ending, what would otherwise be a tetrameter, the lines with multi-syllable words. Cool stuff … and the content of the poem- wow.

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