Jonathan Swift Poetry

Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745) was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and Anglican cleric best remembered in the literary world for his satirical novel, Gulliver’s Travels. As a writer, he developed close, lifelong friendships with poet Alexander Pope, John Gay, and John Arbuthnot, who formed the core of the Martinus Scriblerus Club (founded in 1713). It was in the Club that the idea for Gulliver’s Travels was born. Swift’s poetry is often humorous or satirical.

Poetry by Jonathan Swift 

Birthplace of Jonathan Swift.

“The house in which Jonathan Swift was born”, illustration from The Life of Jonathan Swift by John Francis Waller, 1865, illustrated by T. Morten.
Houghton Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Advice to the Grub Street Verse Writers

YE poets ragged and forlorn,
⁠Down from your garrets haste;
Ye rhymers dead as soon as born,
⁠Not yet consigned to paste.

I know a trick to make you thrive;
⁠O, ’tis a quaint device:
Your stillborn poems shall revive,
⁠And scorn to wrap up spice.

Get all your verses printed fair,
⁠Then let them well be dried;
And Curll must have a special care
⁠To leave the margin wide.

Lend these to paper-sparing Pope;
⁠And when he sits to write,
No letter with an envelope
⁠Could give him more delight.

When Pope has fill’d the margins round,
⁠Why then recall your loan;
Sell them to Curll for fifty pound,
⁠And swear they are your own.


The Dog and the Thief

QUOTH the thief to the dog, let me into your door,
⁠And I’ll give you these delicate bits.
Quoth the dog, I shall then be more villain than you’re,
⁠And besides must be out of my wits.

Your delicate bits will not serve me a meal,
⁠But my master each day gives me bread;
You’ll fly, when you get what you came here to steal,
⁠And I must be hang’d in your stead.

The stockjobber thus from ‘Change alley goes down,
⁠And tips you the freeman a wink;
Let me have but your vote to serve for the town,
⁠And here is a guinea to drink.

Says the freeman, your guinea tonight would be spent!
⁠Your offers of bribery cease:
I’ll vote for my landlord, to whom I pay rent,
⁠Or else I may forfeit my lease.

From London they come, silly people to choose,
⁠Their lands and their faces unknown:
Who’d vote a rogue into the parliament house,
⁠That would turn a man out of his own?


On Ink

I am jet black, as you may see,
The son of pitch and gloomy night;
Yet all that know me will agree,
I’m dead except I live in light.

Sometimes in panegyric high,
Like lofty Pindar, I can soar,
And raise a virgin to the sky,
Or sink her to a filthy —-.

My blood this day is very sweet,
To-morrow of a bitter juice;
Like milk, ’tis cried about the street,
And so applied to different use.

Most wondrous is my magic power:
For with one color I can paint;
I’ll make the devil a saint this hour,
Next make a devil of a saint.

Through distant regions I can fly,
Provide me but with paper wings;
And fairly show a reason why
There should be quarrels among kings;

And, after all, you’ll think it odd,
When learned doctors will dispute,
That I should point the word of God,
And show where they can best confute.

Let lawyers bawl and strain their throats
‘Tis I that must the lands convey,
And strip their clients to their coats;
Nay, give their very souls away.


A Description of a City Shower

CAREFUL Observers may fortel the Hour
(By sure Prognosticks) when to dread a Show’r:
While Rain depends, the pensive Cat gives o’er
Her Frolicks, and pursues her Tail no more.
Returning Home at Night, you’ll find the Sink
Strike your offended Sense with double Stink.

If you be wise, then go not far to Dine,
You spend in Coach-hire more than save in Wine.
A coming Show’r your shooting Corns presage,
Old Aches throb, your hollow Tooth will rage.
Sauntring in Coffee-house is Dulman seen;
He damns the Climate, and complains of Spleen.

Mean while the South rising with dabbled Wings,
A Sable Cloud a-thwart the Welkin flings,
That swill’d more Liquor than it could contain,
And like a Drunkard gives it up again.
Brisk Susan whips her Linen from the Rope,
While the first drizzling Show’r is born aslope,
Such is that Sprinkling which some careless Quean
Flirts on you from her Mop, but not so clean.

You fly, invoke the Gods; then turning, stop
To rail; she singing, still whirls on her Mop.
Not yet, the Dust had shun’d th’unequal Strife,
But aided by the Wind, fought still for Life;
And wafted with its Foe by violent Gust,
‘Twas doubtful which was Rain, and which was Dust.

Ah! where must needy Poet seek for Aid,
When Dust and Rain at once his Coat invade;
Sole Coat, where Dust cemented by the Rain,
Erects the Nap, and leaves a cloudy Stain.
Now in contiguous Drops the Flood comes down,
Threat’ning with Deloge this Devoted Town.
To Shops in Crouds the dagled Females fly,
Pretend to cheapen Goods, but nothing buy.
The Templer spruce, while ev’ry Spout’s a-broach,
Stays till ’tis fair, yet seems to call a Coach.

The tuck’d-up Sempstress walks with hasty Strides,
While Streams run down her oil’d Umbrella’s Sides.
Here various Kinds by various Fortunes led,
Commence Acquaintance underneath a Shed.
Triumphant Tories, and desponding Whigs,
Forget their Fewds, and join to save their Wigs.

Box’d in a Chair the Beau impatient sits,
While Spouts run clatt’ring o’er the Roof by Fits;
And ever and anon with frightful Din
The Leather sounds, he trembles from within.
So when Troy Chair-men bore the Wooden Steed,
Pregnant with Greeks, impatient to be freed,
(Those Bully Greeks, who, as the Moderns do,
Instead of paying Chair-men, run them thro’.)

Laoco’n struck the Outside with his Spear,
And each imprison’d Hero quak’d for Fear.
Now from all Parts the swelling Kennels flow,
And bear their Trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all Hues and Odours seem to tell
What Streets they sail’d from, by the Sight and Smell.

They, as each Torrent drives, with rapid Force
From Smithfield, or St.Pulchre’s shape their Course,
And in huge Confluent join at Snow-Hill Ridge,
Fall from the Conduit prone to Holborn-Bridge.
Sweepings from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts, and Blood, }
Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud, }
Dead Cats and Turnips-Tops come tumbling down the Flood. }

Poems by Jonathan Swift

When will you read Jonathan Swift’s poetry in Excellence in Literature?

You will study Swift and Gulliver’s Travels in EIL Module 1.9

Jonathan Swift Resources

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