Friday 23 August 2019

The Sunday poem: Anthony Cronin's personal anthology

Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift

Anthony Cronin

There have always been two views on the poetry of Jonathan Swift. One is that it doesn't exist - that the same harsh clear-sighted realism which characterised him as a prose-writer was so antipathetic to the spirit of poetry that we could not speak of anything resembling the poetic as a result.

Many readers would have agreed with Dryden who said, when shown the early verses, 'Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet.'  The other view of course is that the harsh if humourous realism that distinguishes the great prose works does not eliminate the poetic and if the poetic does not flourish in the verse that is surely as good as it is bad, a correction to, say, much of the Oxford Book of English Poetry or Palgrave's Golden Treasury. Even a recent selection by Derek Mahon which came down on the side of Swift as poet failed to settle the issue.

from Verses On The Death of Dr Swift

Jonathan Swift

From Dublin soon to London spread,

'Tis told at Court, the Dean is dead.

Kind Lady Suffolk in the Spleen,

Runs laughing up to tell the Queen.

The Queen, so Gracious, Mild and Good,

Cries, 'Is he gone? 'Tis time he shou'd.

He's dead you say; why, let him rot;

I'm glad the Medals were forgot.

I promis'd them, I own, but when?

I only was the Princess then;

But now as Consort of the King,

You know 'tis quite a different Thing.'

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