A Description of the Morning by Jonathan Swift (1709)

by on Mar 23, 2016

Now hardly here and there a hackney-coach
Appearing, show’d the ruddy morn’s approach.
Now Betty from her master’s bed had flown,
And softly stole to discompose her own.
The slip-shod ‘prentice from his master’s door
Had par’d the dirt, and sprinkled round the floor.
Now Moll had whirl’d her mop with dext’rous airs,
Prepar’d to scrub the entry and the stairs.
The youth with broomy stumps began to trace
The kennel-edge, where wheels had worn the place.
The small-coal man was heard with cadence deep;
Till drown’d in shriller notes of “chimney-sweep.”
Duns at his lordship’s gate began to meet;
And brickdust Moll had scream’d through half a street.
The turnkey now his flock returning sees,
Duly let out a-nights to steal for fees.
The watchful bailiffs take their silent stands;
And schoolboys lag with satchels in their hands.

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The Tattler, a London Journal that published news and local gossip, sometimes accurate, often fabricated (like today’s Onion) published Jonathan Swift’s poem “A Description of the Morning” in 1709.

The poem is 18 lines of 9 heroic couplets (rhyming pair of lines in iambic pentameter), but despite its brevity, Swift allows us to peer into the lives of working class people as well as an assortment of bill collectors, cops, and corrupt jailers in the noisy, filthy city of 18th century London.

His language is clear and blunt; Swift does not use elevated language to describe the ‘prentice using worn-out cleaning brushes (broomy stumps) to sweep the gutter (kennel), the maid who sleeps with her boss, the corrupt jailer who, for a price, lets inmates out at night so they can steal, or the police, who just stand around and watch.

Instead of ‘rosy tipped dawn’ He calls London’s dawn ‘the ruddy morn’s approach.’ Swift is known primarily as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, written almost 20 years later. Although he died in 1745, Jonathan Swift’s poetry is as pertinent as any rap artist or street poet’s work is today.

–Andrea Wyatt

 


Andrea Wyatt writes poetry and fiction and is the author of three poetry collections and co-editor of Selected Poems by Larry EignerCollected Poems by Max Douglas, and The Brooklyn Reader. Her work appears or is forthcoming in BY&BY, The Copperfield Review, Gargoyle, Hanging Loose and Blast Furnace.

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