Which has inspired more poetic paeans of praise over the course of the years – tea or coffee? I can’t tell you for sure since my knowledge of coffee culture is next to nil. I’d be willing to place a small wager that the answer is tea, but I admit to a rather serious bias when it comes to this sort of thing.
What I can say for sure is that the eighteenth century seemed to be a good time for tea poetry. Not just flimsy little one or two stanza ditties, mind you, but fairly substantial works that, while they might not merit the term “epic,” are certainly in that general vicinity.
Our last examination of eighteenth century tea poetry was a closer look at A Poem in Praise of Tea, by Peter Anthony Motteux, which rolled out to a waiting world sometime around 1712. Prior to that we looked at an even earlier piece of verse, Panacea: A Poem Upon Tea in Two Canto’s, by Nehum Tate, an English poet who was renowned enough that he held the post of Poet Laureate there for about twenty years.
We move a few decades forward now, to 1729, and the publication of Tea. A Poem. Or, Ladies into China-Cups: A Metamorphosis. Penned by person or persons unknown, it apparently first saw the light of day in a publication called the Monthly Chronicle, before later being issued by a London publisher. About a decade and a half later it also made an appearance in a collection of light verse.
Hardly a serious work of verse, the poem, in one critic’s opinion, is “a short Ovidian mock-heroic poem, in rhyming couplets, about tea and female manners.” Ovidian, in this case, referring to Ovid, the popular Roman poet of ancient times who apparently provided some measure of inspiration for this work. The poem kicks off with the wacky notion that the “Cups of Nectar” beloved by “the jovial Goddesses” in some of Homer’s greatest works actually contained tea rather than wine or beer.
From here on the work is hardly any less fanciful, asking the reader to imagine said goddesses hanging out, drinking tea, behaving not so well and eventually sending the god Mercury down to India for a new shipment of tea. Though it was said to be a nectar earlier on, a good bit of the poem is actually devoted to trashing tea, which is said to produce effects that are worse “Than Brandy, Punch, or Grape’s red Juices.”
All of which is not that unusual for an era when as many people seemed to be deriding tea as praising it. For access to the full poem, in PDF format, look here.
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