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So oft ich meine Tobackspfeife BWV 515a

Part of a series or song cycle:

Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach

So oft ich meine Tobackspfeife

Sooft ich meine Tabakspfeife,
Mit gutem Knaster angefüllt,
Zur Lust und Zeitvertreib ergreife,
So gibt sie mir ein Trauerbild -
Und füget diese Lehre bei,
Dass ich derselben ähnlich sei.
Die Pfeife stammt von Ton und Erde,
Auch ich bin gleichfalls draus gemacht.
Auch ich muss einst zur Erde werden -
Sie fällt und bricht, eh ihr’s gedacht,
Mir oftmals in der Hand entzwei,
Mein Schicksal ist auch einerlei.
Die Pfeife pflegt man nicht zu färben,
Sie bleibet weiß. Also der Schluss,
Dass ich auch dermaleinst im Sterben
Dem Leibe nach erblassen muss.
Im Grabe wird der Körper auch
So schwarz wie sie nach langem Brauch.
Wenn nun die Pfeife angezündet,
So sieht man, wie im Augenblick
Der Rauch in freier Luft verschwindet,
Nichts als die Asche bleibt zurück.
So wird des Menschen Ruhm verzehrt
Und dessen Leib in Staub verkehrt.
Wie oft geschieht’s nicht bei dem Rauchen,
Dass, wenn der Stopfer nicht zur Hand,
Man pflegt den Finger zu gebrauchen.
Dann denk ich, wenn ich mich verbrannt:
O, macht die Kohle solche Pein,
Wie heiß mag erst die Hölle sein?
Ich kann bei so gestalten Sachen
Mir bei dem Toback jederzeit
Erbauliche Gedanken machen.
Drum schmauch ich voll Zufriedenheit
Zu Land, zu Wasser und zu Haus
Mein Pfeifchen stets in Andacht aus.

Each time I take my pipe ’n tobacco

Each time I take my pipe ’n tobacco
With goodly wad filled to the brim
For fun and passing time with pleasure,
It brings to me a thought so grim
And adds as well this doctrine fair:
That I’m to it quite similar.
The pipe is born of clay terrestrial,
Of this I am as well conceived.
Ah, one day I’ll become earth also –
It falls and breaks, before ye know’t,
And often cracks within my hand:
My destiny is much the same.
The pipe our wont is not to color,
It’s always white. And thus I think
That I as well one day while dying
In flesh at least shall grow as pale.
But in the tomb my body will
Be black like it when used at length.
When now the pipe is lit and burning,
We witness how within a trice
The smoke into thin air doth vanish,
Nought but the ashes then are left.
And thus is mankind’s fame consumed,
Its body, too, in dust assumed.
How oft it happens when we’re smoking
That, when the tamper’s not at hand,
We use our finger for this service.
Me thinks, then, when I have been burned:
Oh, if these cinders cause such pain,
How hot indeed will hell yet be?
I can amidst such formulations
With my tobacco ev’rytime
Such practical ideas ponder.
I’ll smoke therefore contentedly
On land, at sea and in my house
My little pipe adoringly.
Translations by Z. Philip Ambrose are published in J.S. Bach: The Extant Texts of the Vocal Works in English Translations with Commentary Volume 1: BWV 1-200; Volume 2: BWV 201- (Philadelphia: XLibris, 2005) and online at

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Johann Sebasian Bach (31 March [O.S. 21 March] 1685 – 28 July 1750) was a German composer and musician of the Boroque period. He enriched established German styles through his skill in counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organisation, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France. Bach's compositions include the Brandenburg concertos, th Goldburg Variations, the Mass in B minor, two Passions, and over three hundred cantatas of which around two hundred survive. His music is revered for its technical command, artistic beauty, and intellectual depth.

Bach's abilities as an organist were highly respected during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest in and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time.

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