Saturday, December 24, 2011

Metaphysical Tobacco

Michael East (ca. 1580-1648) (alternative spellings of his last name include Easte, Est, and Este) is the author of our next old poem on tobacco. He was an English composer, organist, and choirmaster and Lichfield Cathedral. He wrote a number of hymns, anthems, and madrigals, perhaps his most famous being the 5-part madrigal "Hence Stars" which is in the collection of madrigals dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I entitled Triumphs of Oriana. The madrigal we address in this posting is a short madrigal entitled "O metaphysical tobacco" written circa 1606.*

O metaphysical tobacco!
Fetch'd as far as from Morocco:
They searching fume
Exhales the rheum;**
O metaphysical tobacco!

*E. H. Fellowes, English Madrigal Verse: 1588-1632 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1920), 81.
**Rheum is ultimately derived from Latin rheuma which itself is a borrowing from Greek rheuma (ῥεῦμα), meaning that which flows, has current, or is in flux, such as in, e.g., a stream or fortune.

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