The Definition of ‘Sublime’

sublime [sə-ˈblīm] adj

1  a:  lofty in conception or expression : grand or exalted in thought or manner
    b:  elevated or exalted in character : of outstanding spiritual, intellectual, or moral worth
    c:  tending to inspire awe or uplifting emotion usually by reason of elevated beauty, nobility, grandeur, solemnity, or similar character

Cigarettes and Coffee
Music by Eddie Thomas, Jerry Butler and J. Walker
Performed by Otis Redding
The Soul Album (1966)

Sublime Tobacco

Photo by Nicolas Tikhomiroff: Orson Welles, 1964

Sublime tobacco! which, from east to west,
Cheers the Tar’s labor or the Turkman’s rest;
Which on the Moslem’s ottoman divides
His hours, and rivals opium and his brides;
Magnificent in Stamboul, but less grand,
Though not less loved, in Wapping or the Strand;
Divine in hookahs, glorious in a pipe,
When tipped with amber, mellow, rich and ripe;
Like other charmers, wooing the caress
More dazzlingly when daring in full dress;
Yet they true lovers more admire, by far,
Thy naked beauties – Give me a cigar!

Lord Byron
The Island, Canto II, stanza XIX (1823)

Photo by Nicolas Tikhomiroff: Orson Welles, 1964

The End of the Dream


In the end, of all our reasons only ashes remain – the least trace of motives that are momentarily shaped but, like them, left to vanish – and the persisting butt, the next-to-nothing-left  of a cigarette that remains only to be discarded. Abandoning the butt deflates the delicate mood that the cigarette installs and restores the reality principle – stubs out the little dream that the cigarette elicited. Butts are the end, the last word or punctuation of smoking that serves to mark the close of the parenthesis the cigarette has opened. But there are good butts and bad. In France, there is a whole vocabulary of butts among clochards, the street people who are the most discriminating collectors of discarded cigarettes. A butt (mégot), for example, may be called an ophelin [an orphan] if it is too short to be smoked. A good one is called a boni, a word attested in French since the sixteenth century – not the plural of bonus, a premium or dividend that comes on top of what is normally due, but from the Latin alquid boni, something good. When the butt is not the end of a smoke but the beginning of another, the profit seems infinite – something has been gotten for nothing: a free lunch. A good butt that can be smoked entertains the illusion that the dream of smoking, the smoking dream, can go on being consumed – with no remainder. But the illusion veils the cruel fact that every butt that is smoked in turn leaves a butt that must be discarded. In the end, the dream is stubbed out.

Richard Klein
Cigarettes Are Sublime (1993)

The Whole Soul Summed Up

Smoke rings

Toute l’âme résumée
Quand lente nous l’expirons
Dans plusieurs ronds de fumée
Abolis en autres ronds

Atteste quelque cigare
Brûlant savamment pour peu
Que la cendre se sépare
De son clair baiser de feu

Ainsi le chœur des romances
À la lèvre vole-t-il
Exclus-en si tu commences
Le réel parce que vil

Le sens trop précis rature
Ta vague littérature.

The whole soul summed up
When slowly we exhale it
In several rings of smoke
Abolished in other rings

Attests some cigar
Burning cannily if
The ash separates at all
From its bright kiss of fire

Thus if the chorus of romances
Flies to your lips
Exclude therefrom if you begin [to compose]
The real because [it’s] vile

A too-precise meaning crosses out
Your vague literature.

Stéphane Mallarmé
Poésies (1899)