Jonathan Swift: Poems

Retrenching morality vs. Poetic Imagination

Jonathan Swift played the misanthrope; that is, such was his thorough enjoyment in moralising those practices he perceived to be symptomatic of the rancid condition of human nature, that this vehemence became as much a part of his poetry as the derision itself. In many of his poems, Swift combined elusive irony and the parody of Juvenalian satire with scabrous detail, the cumulative effect being a poetry clearly fascinated at some level with the objects of its poetic and satirical scorn. Yet, in 'The Lords of Limit', Geoffrey Hill seems to create a lucid dichotomy between Swift as the 'moralist' and Swift as the 'artist', and although Hill admits Swift in his poetry 'to be at once resistant and reciprocal' to human corruption, he seems to be reluctant to acknowledge Swift's ability to hold in tension both his contempt and his stylistic indulgence in the detail of that which he despises. The overtones of self-righteousness present in 'retrenching' and 'stand at guard' seem to imply Hill's surprise that Swift can focus on the objects of his satire at such an intense level. However, in examining the so-called 'Scatological' poems, it is possible to deduce that this...

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