Thursday, February 28, 2008

Swift - softly stole to discompose her own

A Description of the Morning

Now hardly here and there an Hackney-coach
Appearing, showed the ruddy Morns Approach.
Now Betty from her Masters bed had flown,
And softly stole to discompose her own;
The Slipshod Prentice from his Masters Door
Had par'd the Dirt, and sprinkled round the Floor.
Now Moll had whirled 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 drowned in shriller Notes of Chimney-sweep:
Duns at his Lordship's Gate began to meet,
And Brickdust Moll had screamed through half the 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.

A short, lovely Jonathan Swift poem, as published in 1709, Germanic capitalization and all. We start on the street, presumably in London, move inside a rich man's house (into his bed, actually), then into his courtyard, then return to the street.

There are a lot of good jokes here, for such a short poem. The servant Betty sleeping with the boss, the debt collectors (Duns) up early to squeeze out what they can, the prisoners returning to prison after a night of crime and dissipation. That last part's not really a joke. And we end a step away from the corruption and dirt, with the curiosity and liveliness of the schoolboys.


  1. I didn't "see" any of it until I read it aloud - it's purely wonderful.

    I particularly like the sounds that burst through in the middle.

  2. Yes, "The Youth with broomy Stumps", etc, right?. Beautiful words on ugly subjects.