Search This Blog

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I made an amusing blunder at a convivial dinner party with a few good friends (luckily good friends), demonstrating that I am incurably fixated on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

"Today, I read a wonderfully biting poem by Jonathan Swift," I announced.  "It was a satirical elegy to the death of Wellington."

"That's impossible," a literary friend immediately objected.  His very good reason?  The great Anglo-Irish satirist, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) died a long time before Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), of Battle of Waterloo fame.  Before he was even born, in fact.

Swift's Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General was aimed at John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, of course -- but it seems to apply to a lot of generals, forcing the reader to reflect that it does seem strange that men who send so many thousands to a violent death, creating thousands of widows and orphans, should die of old age in their beds.  Do they indeed have cause to dread the last Trump, and the Day of Judgement that awaits?  And note how Swift uses punctuation marks like bludgeons.

His Grace! impossible! what, dead!
Of old age, too, and in his bed!
And could that Mighty Warrior fall?
And so inglorious, after all!
Well, since he's gone, no matter how,
The last loud trump must wake him now;
And, trust me, as the noise grows stronger,
He'd wish to sleep a little longer.
And could he be indeed so old
As by the newspapers we're told?
Threescore, I think, is pretty high;
'Twas time in conscience he should die.
This world he cumbered long enough;
He burns his candle to the snuff;
And that's the reason some folks think,
He left behind so great a stink.
Behold his funeral appears,
Nor widow's sighs, nor orphan's tears,
Wont at such times each heart to pierce,
Attend the progress of his hearse.
But what of that, his friends may say,
He had those honours in his day.
True to his profit and his pride,
He made them weep before he died.

No comments: