On Swift's Poetry

On Swift's Poetry

On Swift's Poetry

On Swift's Poetry

Excerpt

Though he tells it as badly as he does every anecdote, Patrick Delany's story of a conversation between Swift in old age and his friend Thomas Sheridan is an especially significant and illuminating one. Apparently Swift had been talking violent politics for some time when he noticed that Sheridan was unmoved. Exasperated, he asked his friend "whether the corruption and villainy of men in power, did not eat his flesh, and exhaust his spirits? [Sheridan] answered, that in truth they did not: [Swift] then asked in a fury, why,--why,--how can you help it, how can you avoid it? His friend calmly replied, because I am commanded to the contrary. Fret not thyself because of the ungodly. This raised a smile." .

Swift's smile, I suspect, was genuine but wry--a wintry smile of self-recognition. . For the impasse at which the story points was familiar to him. Possessed of an immensely powerful personality, all his life he burned to judge absolutely of right and wrong among his fellow men--and generally he found them in the wrong. Thus, early in his career as a poet, he threatens to direct such lines against the bulk of mankind as would "stab" and "blast," "like . . .

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