Ode to the Cigar - Part I

The Betrothed

“You must choose between me and your cigar.”
— Breach of Promise Case, circa 1885.

Rudyard Kipling


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 knew 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 Larranaga, 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—grey 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

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 a while.
Here is a mild
Manila—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 nought 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

I will take no heed to their raiment, nor food for their mouths
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 to give 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 twelvemonth clear,
But I have been Priest of
Cabanas 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