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Jonathan Swift -- Political Poet

Jonathan Swift is well-known for his biting satirical wit -- primarily for its use in fiction such as Gulliver's Travels, or essays such as A Modern Proposal. However, he wrote close to 300 poems in his lifetime as well.

The first example below is a fine illustration of how the meaning of a poem with political references can be obvious when it is written, but read centuries later the reader may get very confused.

Verses Said to be Written on the Union

The Queen has lately lost a part
Of her entirely English heart,
For want of which by way of botch,
She pieced it up again with Scotch.
Blessed revolution, which creates
Divided hearts, united states.
See how the double nation lies;
Like a rich cot with skirts of frieze:
As if a man in making posies
Should bundle thistles up with roses.
Whoever yet a union saw
Of kingdoms, without faith or law.
Henceforward let no statesman dare,
A kingdom to a ship compare;
Lest he should call our commonweal,
A vessel with a double keel:

Which just like ours, new rigged and manned,
And got about a league from land,
By change of wind to leeward side
The pilot knew not how to guide.
So tossing faction will o'erwhelm
Our crazed double-bottomed realm.

Jonathan Swift lived from 1667 to 1745.. The above was written in 1707 around the time of the Union of English and Scottish parliaments. Swift was opposed to the Union. He saw it as a 'monstrous alliance' with an undeserving nation. He would have preferred a Union of England and Ireland. Such a proposal by the Irish Parliament had been rejected in 1703, and the lost support of the Anglo-Irish community is probably what is referred to in line 1. It has absolutely nothing to do with America.

In the next poem we see evidence that the "ad hominem" attack is nothing new. Swift was a master of it, actually. There are those who claim that an attack of the politician's person as opposed to his policies is "low" and "ungentlemanly". These people advise one to stay away from such attacks. I am sure these people existed in Swift's day, he just ignored them.

Tom Mullinex is a half-crazed Dublin beggar with Tory sentiments. Dick is Richard Tighe, a Whig, and member of the Irish Parliament. Swift, as one might guess, disagreed with Tighe's politics.

Tom Mullinex and Dick

Tom and Dick had equal fame,
And both had equal knowledge;
Tom could write and spell his name,
But Dick had seen a college.

Dick a coxcomb, Tom was mad,
And both alike diverting,
Tom was held the merrier lad,
B ut Dick the best at farting.

Dick would cock his nose in scorn,
But Tom was kind and loving;
Tom a footboy bread and born,
But Dick was from an oven.

Dick could neatly dance a jig,
But Tom was best at borees;
Tom would pray for every Whig,
And Dick curse all the Tories.

Dick would make a woeful noise,
And scold at an election;
Tom huzza'd the blackguard boys,
And held them in subjection.

Tom could move with lordly grace,
Dick nimbly skip the gutter;
Tom could talk with solemn face,
But Dick could better sputter.

Dick was come to high renown
Since he commenced physician;
Tom was held by all the town
The deeper politician.

Tom had the genteeler swing,
His hat could nicely put on;
Dick knew better how to swing
His cane upon a button.

Dick for repartee was fit,
And Tom for deep discerning;
Dick was thought the brighter wit,
But Tom had better learning.

Dick with zealous no's and aye's,
Could roar as loud as Stentor;
In theHouse 'tis all he says;
But Tom is eloquenter.