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Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
@stevewh16944270
10:43 AM 15th September 2021
arts

Poem Of The Week: 'One Cigarette' By Edwin Morgan (1920-2010)

One Cigarette

No smoke without you, my fire.
After you left,
your cigarette glowed on in my ashtray
and sent up a long thread of such quiet grey
I smiled to wonder who would believe its signal
of so much love. One cigarette
in the non-smoker’s tray.
As the last spire
trembles up, a sudden draught
blows it winding into my face.
Is it smell, is it taste?
You are here again, and I am drunk on your tobacco lips.
Out with the light.
Let the smoke lie back in the dark.
Till I hear the very ash
sigh down among the flowers of brass
I’ll breathe, and long past midnight, your last kiss.

Edwin Morgan. Image by Alex Boyd
Edwin Morgan. Image by Alex Boyd
Edwin Morgan’s hymn to a loved one is affecting in its sustained metaphorical simplicity. Settling into a groove of contemplation, his narrator transfigures reflection with an easeful line in rhyme and assonance; an ambling train of thought is articulated in the grammar of a discarded cigarette’s duration, the languid uphill spiral of its smoke as yonderly as the undirected mind’s eye.

Morgan’s conflation of the senses is corollary to absorption – the cig’s propensity for suggestion, for distilling intense emotion, overwhelms the capacity for identification, literally so in ‘Is it smell, is it taste?’. As effective a medium for focus as Coleridge’s ‘thin blue flame’, the ‘sudden draught’ is an inhalation of recognition, drawing the parting kiss of the loved object ever nearer, if only in the exquisite, near-silent delicacy of expiration:

‘Till I hear the very ash
sigh down among the flowers of brass
I’ll breathe, and long past midnight, your last kiss.’


‘One Cigarette’ is taken from A Second Life and was published by Edinburgh University Press.