“Tobacco's But an Indian Weed”


Tobacco is offered as a parable for life: "Grows green at morn, cut down at eve." "The pipe... Is broke with a touch -- man's life is such." "The smoke... shows us man's life must have an end." The moral: "Think on this when you smoke tobacco."

Supplemental text

Tobacco's But an Indian Weed
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***


As printed by W. H. Logan, The Pedlar's Pack of Ballads and Songs,
p. 263. From a manuscript copy.

Tobacco is an Indian weed,
Grows green in the morn, cut down in eve,
  It shows our decay,
  We come from the clay;
Think of this when you're smoking tobacco.

The pipe that is so lily white,
In which most men take great delight,
  It's broke with a touch,
  Men's lives are such;
Think of this when you're smoking tobacco.

The pipe that is so foul within,*
It shows men's souls are stain'd with sin,
  For it doth require
  To be cleansed by the fire;
Think of this when you're smoking tobacco.

The smoke that from the pipe doth fly,
It shows we are nothing but vanity,
  For it's gone with a puff,
  Like all earthly stuff;
Think of this when you're smoking tobacco.

The dust that from the pipe doth fall,
It shows we are nothing but dust at all,
  For we came from the dust,
  And return we must,
Think of this when you're smoking tobacco.

* The book appears to print a period after "within," but this
is surely an error.


This also appears as a portion of a poem, "Smoking Spiritualized." The remaining portion is said to be "very inferior." "Smoking Spiritualized" was published under the name of Rev. Ralph (or "Ebenezer") Erskine in a book of _Gospel Sonnets_. Although some have thought that the Erskine version is older than that in _Pills_, the fact that Erskine was born in 1685 argues that the song is older than his work.

Ault offers an even earlier claim, crediting the piece to "Wisdome" and dating the poem "before 1568" (I'm not sure if that is based on the Trinity College manuscript or the dates for Wisdome or just pure fancy; my suspicion is the last). - RBW

Beck credits this to "some moralizing shanty boy of 1892." Surprise! - PJS


  1. Beck 93, "A Peculiar Sermon for Shanty Boys" (1 text)
  2. Logan, pp. 262-263, "Tobacco" (1 text)
  3. Chappell/Wooldridge II, pp. 78-79, "Tobacco's But an Indian Weed" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. BBI, ZN2658, "Tobacco is but an Indian weed"
  5. ADDITIONAL: Norman Ault, _Elizabethan Lyrics From the Original Texts_, pp. 56-57, "A Religious Use of Taking Tobacco" (1 text)
  7. ST Log262 (Full)
  8. Roud #1457
  9. BI, Log262


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1699 (Pills to Purge Melancholy); also in Trinity College (Dublin) MS. G.2.21
Keywords: nonballad drugs
Found in: Britain(England)