St. Amant writes here on smoking as an aid to reflection and introspection. And indeed, it does look from the outside as if a man is never alone when smoking a pipe… But here, smoking a pipe is an accessory to melancholy rather than a route to satisfaction.
Assis sur un fagot, une pipe à la main,
Tristement accoudé contre une cheminée,
Les yeux fixés vers terre, et l’âme mutinée,
Je songe aux crautés de mon sort inhumain.
L’espoir qui me remet du jour au lendemain,
Essaye à gagner temps sur ma peine obstinée,
Et me venant promettre une autre destinée,
Me fait monter plus haut qu’un Empereur Romain.
Mais à peine cette herbe est-elle mise en cendre,
Qu’en mon premier estat il me convient descendre,
Et passer mes ennuis à redire souvent :
Non, je ne trouve point beaucoup de différence
De prendre du tabac à vivre d’espérance,
Car l’un n’est que fumée, et l’autre n’est que vent.
The first stanza of this sonnet depicts the poet sitting on a pile of firewood by the fireplace, his eyes downcast, and reflecting on his unhappy condition in life.
The second stanza evokes the continual hope the poet feels that things will get better tomorrow, and his imagination puts him on a par with a Roman Emperor. However it is clear in the second line of this stanza that hope for a better future is waging a battle with the discomfort and sorrow of today.
The final six lines of the poem recount the effect of lighting up his pipe. As soon as the tobacco lights up, putting the poet in a reflective, introspective mood, hope vanishes and he realises that he is stuck in his initial state of discomfort or deprivation. So hope is like tobacco, tobacco goes up in smoke, while hope is just hot air.
So the pipe in this poem allows the poet to wallow in self-pity, rather than be comforted.
The poem works well both as a description of the psychology of the poet smoking his pipe, but also as a visual image of the disillusioned man sitting by the fire, his pipe in his mouth or hand, looking down at the ground with a doleful expression. I’m sure I have seen paintings like that from the sixteenth or seventeenth century.
The Poetry Dude