Description of a city shower

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A" Jonathan Swift (1710) In his mock tribute to the aggravation that a heavy rain inflicted upon London, Jonathan Swift used some elevated language in "A Description of a City Shower," casting it in the satirical light shared by most of his poetry. Examples may be found in its opening lines:

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.

His use of the terms foretell, prognostics, and depends, meaning in this instance "impends," contrast with the image of a thoughtful cat that has stopped chasing her tail. Swift intends to promote humor with his description of the revolting contents of the sewers, which washed onto the city streets during this common occurrence.

Definitely not considered traditional subject matter for the typically high language of poetry, the shower allowed Swift to make fun of those poets who took themselves and their art too seriously. He writes of physical signals of the approach of rain, such as "shooting corns," or foot pain caused by the horny growths that should not be a topic of civil conversation, as well as of a raging "hollow tooth" and "old aches" that throb in signal of rising humidity and barometric change. He continues this approach in lines 14-16, which contain heightened terminology including "A sable cloud" and "the welkin" then compare the swol len rain cloud to a drunk, as it "swilled more liquor than it could contain." The lovely shepherdess of traditional pastoral poetry, which often celebrated nature, is replaced by "some careless quean," defined in Swift's day as a slut, flinging mop water that might splatter on the passer-by. Even that water would be cleaner than the drops that dampen the city dweller during this sprinkle. The speaker remarks, "Ah! Where must needy poet seek for aid, / When dust and rain at once his coat invade?" While those dwelling in the city may tout its advantages over country living, Swift's imagery makes clear that dust and rain mix to form mud, whatever the location.

Additional verses build the few drops into a flood, "Threatening with deluge this devoted town." Women walking on the streets take refuge in shops, where they pretend to bargain for goods but actually have little interest in purchases. As "every spout's abroach," or streaming water, students and seamstresses alike must seek cover and become unwilling acquaintances as they share shelter. Even "Triumphant Tories and desponding Whigs / forget their feuds, and join to save their wigs." Swift cannot resist a reference to the political unrest that cheated him after the death of Queen Anne of the government appointment that he so richly deserved.

Finally "from all parts the swelling kennels," meaning open gutters, "flow, / And bear their trophies with them as they go." The speaker includes little of a subtle nature as he observes of the mock "trophies," that "Filth of all hues and odors seem to tell / What street they sailed from, by their sight and smell." He then makes specific for the perhaps unwilling reader what floats from the sewers and into the streets, including "sprats," or small herring fish:

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.

According to critics, Swift designed his concluding triplet with its final alexandrine as a burlesque on


poetry by John Dryden, as well as formal poetry by other Restoration writers. The editor of a 1735 edition of Swift's writings claimed that by using the triplet and alexandrine in such low manner, Swift ended its use permanently. "A Description of a City Shower" perfectly fits the 18th-century approach in which poets sought to subvert the reader's traditional expectations of poetry.

"DESCRIPTION OF A RELIGIOUS HOUSE" Richard Crashaw (1646) Known for his abundant descriptive excess, Richard Crashaw occasionally produced work not overburdened by hyperbole, as in "Description of a Religious House." His use of what was later labeled the baroque style for its ornate diction fit well his religious energy. It is that passion for spirituality that inhabits this poem, which lacks the abundant and often bizarre figurative language for which Crashaw gained a reputation. The idea of a house as an eternal reward he draws from the King James version of the Bible in John 14:2-3, which reads, "In my Father's house, are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."

The tone is one of praise and deep devotion as Crashaw begins by describing what is missing from a house in which religion is practiced:

No roofs of gold o'er riotous tables shining

Whole days and suns, devour'd with endless dining;

No sails of Tyrian silk, proud pavements sweeping,

Nor ivory couches costlier slumber keeping.

He creates vivid imagery of overindulgence, his rich diction making clear his broad training in languages. Words such as riotous and devour'd and proud suggest not simple luxury but decadence in the use of the material. The table is a traditional symbol for the center of a house, its spirit and life force, as used in the Bible. Crashaw also uses from these beginning lines the alliteration that continues throughout his 39

lines. He continues in this vein, noting "flaring gems" that produce "False lights," offering near-PARADOX in coupling terms such as tumultuous joys and introducing what some critics identify as homoeroticism in the line "Halls full of flattering men and frisking boys." This house, which could be a metaphor for the human body as used commonly in the Bible, is home to corrupting influences. It offers "false shows of short and slippery good" that "Mix the mad sons of men in mutual blood," the eye rhyme of good and blood calling attention to their strong contrast in effect on the reader.

The ninth line begins with the transition "But," signaling a long rendition of descriptors applied to a more desirable lifestyle. They tumble one over the other, the continuing alliteration promoting a momentum in form that imitates the personal drive the speaker feels. Souls are "unforc'd and genuine," lodgings are "hard and homely" as fare that is "chaste and cheap," just like the clothes those who live in a religious house wear. He adds,

Obedient slumbers, that can wake and weep,

And sing, and sigh, and work, and sleep again;

Still rolling a round sphere of still-returning pain.

G. A. Simcox judges the skill in construction of the line "Obedient slumbers that can wake and weep" worthy of Alexander Pope. Crashaw's inclusion of eight sibilants or s sounds in all three of those lines suggests a whisper as well as a smooth and sliding movement supporting the imagery of the pain that acts as an ever-turning sphere. A sphere is a slippery shape, lacking corners and angles, an image Crashaw skillfully contrasts with the idea of unrelenting pain and its often stabbing effect on the human body. The reader encounters pain again in the next line, one of several words that begin with the letter p, reinforcing the idea of its constant repetition, or return, to intrude into the human condition: "Hands full of hasty labours; pains that pay / And prize themselves." Crashaw pulls readers up short with the insertion of a semicolon after the word themselves, forcing a caesura. He continues with much additional repetition of sounds and imagery, again reinforcing the idea of a turning sphere, which alludes to the earth and its natural forces that man cannot control: "do much, that more they may, / And work for work, not wages." Regardless of the harsh scene he constructs, Crashaw makes clear that work for the sake of work yields a more desirable reward than that of things material. He invokes thoughts of baptism with the line "New drops wash off the sweat of this day's sorrows" and continues emphasizing the fact that we are basically born to die with the next two lines, "A long and daily dying life, which breathes / A respiration of reviving deaths."

With the use of another transition, But, to begin his next line, Crashaw moves into the unrhyming line, number 27, inserted to shatter the effect of the accompanying 19 sets of couplets. He writes, "But neither are there those ignoble stings / That nip the blossom of the word's best things, / And lash Earth-labouring souls." At this point, the reader is asked to focus on the fact that alternatives exist, that humankind may make important choices regarding lifestyle that might ennoble the constant movement toward death. In the religious house, "reverent discipline, and religious fear, / And soft obedience, find sweet biding." In addition, "Silence, and sacred rest; peace, and pure joys; / Kind loves keep house, lie close, and make no noise." Again using sibilants, Crashaw allows readers to glide through this house, to contrast the rest it promotes to the jangling, jarring life one finds surrounding those "riotous tables" mentioned in the first line. The center of the religious house proves magnetic, drawing all of those who need not only the physical nurture suggested by tables bearing food, but also nurture for the spirit, too often distracted by the "long and daily dying" of life alluded to earlier.

Crashaw continues his use of biblical allusions, calling to mind Christ's promise of his father's mansion, which has many rooms to house the faithful after death: "And room enough for monarchs, while none swells / Beyond the kingdoms of contentful cells." The imagery of a heavenly house remains strong in the two concluding couplets, which offer readers hope for life that is bound not by the physical constraints of geography, the cultural constraints of lifestyle, or the arbitrary constraints of time. Rather, its metaphysical existence expands the manner by which humans may define themselves:

The self-remembring soul sweetly recovers her kindred with the stars; not basely hovers Below: but meditates her immortal way Home to the original source of Light and intellectual day.

At last, the house has become a home, with all of its connotations of life. Where a house is simply a structure that could stand vacant, a home is a happily inhabited place. This Home is further distinguished by note as the "original source of Light," where the uppercase L indicates this Light as distinctive and distinguished, the term often applied to Christ in the Bible. A notable reference appears in the King James Bible (1611) translation of John 1:4-5, as the writer describes God's creation of the Earth and his introduction of Christ, present as both "the Word" and "the light." The verses read, "In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." In John 8, Christ himself declares, "I am the light of the world."

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  • porfirio
    What does the three part development of the rain in swifts a description of a city shower dramatize?
    2 months ago
  • lisa
    What is the tone of a description of a city shower?
    20 days ago

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