Uni[versity] assignment, personal response to poem.

Jonathan Swift, ‘Description of a City-Shower’ (1710)............................................................ 2

Personal Response to Description of a City-Shower................................................................. 3

Works Cited............................................................................................................................... 5

Jonathan Swift, ‘Description of a City-Shower’ (1710) 


Careful Observers may foretell the Hour
(By sure Prognosticks) when to dread a Shower;
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 for to dine,
You'll 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.
Sauntering 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 athwart 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 borne 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 shunn'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;
His only Coat, where Dust confus'd with Rain
 Roughen the Nap, and leave a mingled Stain.

Now in contiguous Drops the Flood comes down,
Threat'ning with Deluge this devoted Town.
To Shops in Crowds the daggled 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 Street they sail'd from, by their 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'd at Snow-Hill Ridge,
Fall from the Conduit, prone to Holbourn-Bridge.
Sweeping from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts, and Blood,
Drown'd Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench'd in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.

Personal Response to Description of a City-Shower


The poem written by Jonathan Swift is neatly described in the title of the piece, “Description of a City-Shower” which instantly conjures images of a gentle rainfall in a city. This image is shattered when a flood is described, as each tiny droplet of rain, adds to the flood.


As someone with a nearly unhealthy obsession with literature from the times before 1910, reaching as far back to the Iliad of Ancient Greece, this poem instantly sang to me; even though it is written before the birth of my favourite genre – Gothic literature tends to have the accepted beginnings in the 1760s with the publication of The Castle of Otranto – the poem still tugged at that little part of me that wants the Golden Age of literature to return.


As an experienced spoken word poet and performer, the word-play of “Whigs...Wigs” (Swift, 1710)[1] as well as the references of Whigs and Tories, appeals to that inner performer in me. The comedic element of the line gives a break from the rest of the melancholy in the piece. In addition, the rain is not prejudiced; it falls on both the wigs of the Tories and of the Whigs. This is a hopeful thought, that, perhaps, one day, there will be no discrimination and we will all be like the rain, treating everyone the same. At the same time, there is a suggestion of pathos to it, as it is highly unlikely that humanity as an entire species will never judge.


The steady iambic pentameter (Roberts, 2000) (Furniss & Bath, 2007) does give the sense of the steadily falling rain, but as a poet who hates the use of rhyme and metre, and prefers the aesthetics of a poem rather than looking into its symbolism, the use of the metre distracts me from the rest of the poem. It took a few attempts before I could get over the metre. The use of the iambic pentameter does give an appropriate pace to the poem, but it could have worked just as well without the metre.


The final triplet forms an alexandrine; this goes against the rest of the poem’s unfixed rhyme and steady metre, which also changes the tone of the poem. The rest of the poem is about a shower, a simple rainfall; the final triplet is more about a flood, how the rain has turned into a flood. The triplet adds to the rain; the rain increases during the triplet, before ending on the word “Flood.” (Swift, 1710)[2]


Also as an aesthete, I can see the strongly painted pictures the poem gives. It is easy to see the unwritten things as well, such as: the women are running to find shelter as best they could; the horses which pull the carriages are getting wet from the rain but not having anywhere to go, and just obeying commands, and so on. The images that are painted in the actual words are just as strong: the rain drops streaming off the umbrellas as the ladies try to stay dry, the politicians joining together in a protest against the rain destroying their hair, and the alcoholic complaining about everything to anyone who goes past. This gives the poem a very visual quality to it, adding to the false sense of security that the poem is a realistic description of what happens when the rain falls on the city of London.


The very clear reference in the poem[3] to the Aeneid (Virgil, First: 29BC)[4] gives the poem that timeless feel; rain will always fall in the cities even with global warming, people will always do their best to stay dry, and so on and so forth. At the same time, people will always have conflicts, like the relationship between Dido and Aeneas in the Aeneid, and try to find their own fate and destiny, whilst thinking they may just be the plaything of the gods. Although it was, at the time, a dominantly Christian society, Classical references showed the type of education the person had. A well accomplished lady had to be fluent in Latin, Greek, French, Hebrew and German; she had to play the piano, sing, and generally be able to entertain her husband. As an anti-feminist, who believes women should go back to being like the ladies in the past, the poem appeals to that part of me, as the women are trying to decrease the prices but never buying anything. That is how shopping should be, in my opinion.


The Gothic elements towards the end, of the “Dung, Guts and Blood” (Swift, 1710)[5] echoes the typical “blood, guts and gore” which almost acts as a checklist for modern horrors. This hints at the then future of literature, where the Gothic elements then later became a whole genre, and, in my opinion, the best genre of literature ever written.


After having to suffer through two years of torturous A Levels and constantly being told to contextualise the piece in a whole variety of useless ways, my mind unfortunately thinks back to the history of when any piece of literature was written. I do strongly disagree with contextualisation, and its effects on the classics; a piece of literature should stand on its own, living purely in the words the author writes, rather than being a part of history. Although the poem does demonstrate clearly what life was like, when it was written, it does have a timeless feel; this makes it less bound by its historical context, making it feel somewhat classic, a universal theme which nearly all people have experienced at some point in their lives. Therefore, the line regarding the poverty of the poet, is somewhat striking. At the time it was written, Britain was in deep poverty (Christ, et al., 2006) and the two political parties of the Tories and the Whigs (Langford, 2000), were both trying to get Britain out of the terrible poverty, mainly by using propaganda against the other party. Since the death of the bard and the minstrel, poets have, somewhat famously, lived beneath the poverty line. With only their words to sell, and copyrighting only a very recent idea, poets were often extremely poor. Swift had not yet had his moment of fame with Gulliver’s Travels, but was already known for his simplicity in language in his prose and poetry. In a time when the words themselves were beautiful, Swift rebelled against it, and used more simple words, handing the beauty over to the images painted, rather than the actual words.


As with most poems I come across, there are elements to this that I adore; the way the rain itself is not described, but instead it is shown through the reactions of the people, is a fantastic trick. In contrast, I hate the rhyme, the metre and the way the poet has used the people to add to the scene, but has given very few of them individual characteristics. As a spoken word poet, if I were to rewrite the poem I would focus more on the euphony of each line, rather than sticking to the metre.


Works Cited

Christ, David, Lewalski, Lipking, Logan, Lynch, et al. (2006). The Norton Anthology: English Literature (8th Edition ed., Vol. I). W.W. Norton & Company.

Furniss, T., & Bath, M. (2007). Reading Poetry: An Introduction. Great Britain: Pearson Education Limited.

Langford, P. (2000). A Very Short Introduction: Eighteenth Century Britain. Oxford University Press.

Roberts, P. (2000). How Poetry Works (2nd Edition ed.). Penguin.

Swift, J. (1710). Description of a City-Shower.

Virgil. (First: 29BC). Aeneid. (D. West, Ed., & D. West, Trans.) Penguin.



[1] Stanza 4, lines 41-42

[2] Stanza 4, last line

[3] Stanza 3, lines 47-53

[4] Book 2, lines 40-53

[5] Stanza 5, line 61

Submitted: January 09, 2010

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