A Description of a City Shower



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They say 'tis the best thing I ever writ, and I

think so too.

~Jonathan Swift









Introduction


Swift wrote A Description of a City Shower in 1710, satirizing Dryden's translation of Virgil's Georgics. It was published in the Tatler, a weekly newspaper published by Addison and Steele. Swift used the classical model of the idyllic, rural Georgics to satirize modern life in a city. It describes the reactions of city folk to the weather, allowing Swift to mock habits and show some of humanity's foibles.

A Description of a City Shower


1 Careful observers may foretell the hour
(By sure prognostics) when to dread a shower.
While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o'er
Her frolics, and pursues her tail no more.
5 Returning home at night you 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 shower your shooting corns presage,
10 Old aches throb, your hollow tooth will rage:
Sauntering in coffee-house is Dulman seen;
He damns the climate, and complains of spleen.

Meanwhile the South, rising with dabbled wings,
A sable cloud athwart the welkin flings;
15 That swilled 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 shower is borne aslope:
Such is that sprinkling which some careless quean
20 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.
Nor yet the dust had shunned th' unequal strife,
But aided by the wind, fought still for life;
25 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
30 Erects the nap, and leaves a cloudy stain.

Now in contiguous drops the flood comes down,
Threatening with deluge this devoted town.
To shops in crowds the daggled females fly,
Pretend to cheapen goods, but nothing buy.
35 The Templer spruce, while every spout's abroach,
Stays till 'tis fair, yet seems to call a coach.
The tucked-up seamstress walks with hasty strides,
While streams run down her oiled umbrella's sides.
Here various kinds by various fortunes led,
40 Commence acquaintance underneath a shed.
Triumphant Tories, and desponding Whigs,
Forget their feuds and join to save their wigs.
Boxed in a chair the beau impatient sits,
While spouts run clattering o'er the roof by fits;
45 And ever and anon with frightful din
The leather sounds; he trembles from within.
So when Troy chairmen bore the wooden steed,
Pregnant with Greeks, impatient to be freed;
(Those bully Greeks, who, as the moderns do,
50 Instead of paying chairmen, run them through)
Laocoon struck the outside with his spear,
And each imprisoned hero quaked for fear.

Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
55 Filths of all hues and odors, seem to tell
What streets they sailed 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,
60 Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge.
Sweepings from butchers' stalls, dung, guts, and blood,
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats and turnip tops come tumbling down the flood.



Analysis


31 Now in contiguous drops the flood comes down,
Threatening with deluge this devoted town.
To shops in crowds the daggled females fly,
Pretend to cheapen goods, but nothing buy.
35 The Templer spruce, while every spout's abroach,
Stays till 'tis fair, yet seems to call a coach.
The tucked-up seamstress walks with hasty strides,
While streams run down her oiled umbrella's sides.

Flood (line 31) vs. Deluge (line 32)
Swift's decision to use two different words to describe the rain emphasizes the intensity of the water flow as well as allows him to conjure slightly different meanings. By using the word 'Flood', Swift conjures images of the biblical flood covering the earth, suggesting that the duration and intensity of this storm is neverending but eventually worth it. Deluge, on the other hand, is not just a noun but a verb. To deluge this devoted town is different than to threaten with deluge this devoted town, a subtle but important difference. By using deluge as a noun, Swift binds 'deluge' and 'flood' even more inextricable together not only because of their synonymous meaning but because of the symmetrical nature of the two lines.

Daggled Females (line 33)
The definition of daggled according to the dictionary is to make wet or moisten. In this case it is referring to all the women on the streets who were stuck in the storm and ended up getting wet.

Cheapen Goods (line 34)
To haggle or to bargain for. In this case the women in the stores are trying to haggle or bargain for items which cost more than they have. They are trying to get them at a cheaper price.

Templer Spruce (line 35)
A tree or wood from a spruce tree. In this poem Swift is using the term Templer Spruce to refer to the wood of the houses in the town.

Spout's abroach (line 35)
Open or tapped so that liquid can flow through it. In this case Swift is referring to the drainage sprouts of the houses of the town.

Tucked-up (line 37)
To draw in or contract. This is said in the poem to represent how the people walk through the town. They tuck themselves under their umbrellas to avoid getting wet.

Oiled Umbrella (line 38)
To polish with oil. In the days of Jonathan Swift most umbrellas were oiled to allow the water to flow off them easier.

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Works Cited


  • Swift, Jonathan. "Description of a City Shower." from The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 3rd ed. David Damrosch. NY: Pearson Education, Inc, 2006
  • www.dictionary.com

Contributors


Matt Turoczy
Lindsay Milbourne
Diane Aiken