Over the years a number of poets have found themselves so enamored of the charms of tea they have been driven to pen tributes to it. For a recent example of this sort of thing, take a look at this review of Elizabeth Darcy Jones’ Distinguished Leaves: Poems for Tea Lovers, which was published in 2011.
It’s hard to say who was the first person to write a poem about tea, but one suspects that it was a Chinese poet of ancient times. As for Europeans, one of the earliest such efforts may have been Panacea: A Poem Upon Tea in Two Canto’s. It was published in 1700 by Nehum Tate, a former English Poet Laureate, and I wrote about it here. Not long after, fans of tea verse were treated to A Poem in Praise of Tea, by Peter Anthony Motteux, which is available online in an edition dated 1712.
Motteux, an author and playwright, also founded the short-lived The Gentleman’s Journal, which some claim was the first English language magazine. Though tea (“The Muses’s Friend”) was still something of a luxury in England at the time, Motteux remarks in his brief introduction to the poem that “the Drinking of Tea is grown so general, that it needs the less Recommendation.”
He goes on to give a brief summary of some of the many health benefits attributed to tea at the time – though it should be noted that tea also had its share of detractors then. From here it’s on to the poem itself, but before waxing rhapsodic about tea, the poet starts out by discussing a few other beverages. He notes that “Tis vain in Wine to seek a solid Joy” and proceeds to detail what he perceives as the shortcomings and drawbacks of the fruit of the vine. He also takes a few digs at coffee, which he refers to as “the flowing Mud.”
But of course the bulk of the poem is about tea. It runs for more than ten pages in all and is a written in a florid, overblown style not uncommon to this era. Motteux spares no fancy turn of phrase in recounting the myriad charms of tea, which he aptly refers to, in the final line of the poem, as “the Nectar of the Gods.”
The Creative Inspiration of Tea
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