This poem is Jonathan Swift’s portrayal of a typical morning in London during the early 1700s. When first reading the poem it seems as though Swift is trying to describe the daily grind of the morning. However, the poem is not as black and white as it sounds. It describes the different working conditions and social scenes of the people that live in this society. The characters in this poem are the workers: the two maids Betty and Moll, an apprentice, a coal vender, chimney sweeps, creditors, and bailiffs. Instead of working together to try and change their society, these characters are laboring day after day. In some cases they are creating more work for each other. All of these tedious daily routines blend together to form one long morning. The repetition of the work being done brings about an underlying theme of life cycles. Children are learning how to work at a young age to eventually fill the role of the laboring adults. Nothing is being done to try and change this society. The cycles are prevalent throughout the poem and there seems to be no end in sight.

A Description of the Morning

18th Century London

1 --Now hardly here and there a hackney-coach
----Appearing, showed the ruddy morn's approach.
----Now Betty from her master's bed had flown,
----And softly stole to discompose her own.
5 --The slipshod 'prentice from his master's door
----Had pared the dirt, and sprinkled round the floor.
----Now Moll had whirled her mop with dext'rous airs,
----Prepared to scrub the entry and the stairs.
----The youth with broomy stumps began to trace
10 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 a street.
15 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.


Now hardly here and there a hackney-coach
Appearing, showed the ruddy morn's approach.

With these two lines, Jonathan Swift is mocking the Greek God Apollo. Apollo is the God of the sun and he is often depicted riding in a spectacular chariot, through the sky, and over the sun. The hackney coach is a carriage that sits six people and it moves because it is being pulled by two horses. This would have been a pretty average sight for people in the 1700s. The ordinary hackney coach represents the impeccable chariot of Apollo. This indicates that Swift is making fun of the sun God. The ruddy morn represents a weak sunrise. Apollo is often shown riding his chariot over an immaculate and powerful sun. This dull sunrise resembles the amazing sunrise that is usually associated with Apollo. Swift has a dull coach appearing as this depressing sun rises and this seems to be another mock image directed at Apollo. Ruddy morn is not only an important word because of how it is used to mock Apollo but, it also sets the mood of the poem. A ruddy morn is a crummy and dull morning, so the initial mood indicator paints a glum and dreary picture, which gives the reader a hint that the ruddy morn could represent the poem's underlying mood.

The small-coal man was heard with cadence deep;
Till drowned in shriller notes of chimney sweep.

The words small-coal man are basically what they seem, a man that sells small pieces of coal. These pieces of coal were mainly used to light fires. What makes these words important is their association with cadence deep and chimney sweep. Cadence deep is used to describe the noise people heard coming from the man that is selling this coal. He has a deep cry of advertisement. These four words come together with chimney sweep. Chimney sweep is used to describe small boys that worked extremely hard in order to clean a chimney. This would be severe child labor nowadays and this was a dangerous job at such a young age. Together they help represent the daily grind.

1. The more that the small-coal man’s cries for cadence deep were heard------→the more coal he would sell.
2. The more coal the small-coal man sold------→ the more money he made.
3. The more coal that the small-coal man sold--------→ the more fires would be made.
4. The more that fire was made------→ the more dirty chimneys there were.
5. The more dirty chimneys there were------→ the more chimney sweeps had to work.

The small-coal man, cadence deep, and chimney sweep, all come together to represent the harshness and the grind of this morning. If the small-coal man wants to make money he in turn creates more work for these young boys. The small-coal man and the chimney sweeps were both hard workers and the morning was the start of their long, grueling, and tedious day.


Themes in A Description of the Morning
Notes on A Description of the Morning
Return to Jonathan Swift

Works Cited


Jake Rogal
Diane Aiken