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< 5. Death (iii) >

Jonathan Swift

< A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General  >


The Duke of Marlborough, by Godfrey Kneller, currently in the National Portrait Gallery, London
Probably not quite what Swift had in mind.

Works (1765, d20)
composed 1722 (55)

His Grace! impossible! what, dead!
Of old age too, and in his bed!
And could that Mighty Warrior fall?
And so inglorious, after all!
Well, since he’s gone, no matter how,
The last loud trump must wake him now;
And, trust me, as the noise grows stronger,
He’d wish to sleep a little longer.
And could he be indeed so old
As by the newspapers we’re told?
Threescore, I think, is pretty high;
‘Twas time in conscience he should die.
This world he cumber’d long enough;
He burnt his candle to the snuff;
And that’s the reason, some folks think,
He left behind so great a stink.
Behold his funeral appears,
Nor widow’s sighs, nor orphan’s tears,
Wont at such times each heart to pierce,
Attend the progress of his hearse.
But what of that? his friends may say
He had those honours in his day.
True to his profit and his pride,
He made them weep before he died.

Come hither, all ye empty things,
Ye bubbles raised by breath of kings
Who float upon the tide of state;
Come hither, and behold your fate!
Let pride be taught by this rebuke,
How very mean a thing’s a duke;
From all his ill-got honours flung,
Turn’d to that dirt from whence he sprung. 

General : Famous General : John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough died on 16 June 1722, aged 72.   Trump : The last loud trump : the trumpet call at the resurrection.  Funeral : His funeral appears : Marlborough had a state funeral at Westminster Abbey.

A bitter and stupid poem this, arguably funny, and also clever, but mired in ill-will at a time when even the most virulent hatred is normally a little assuaged by the death of the object of vituperation. Not so for Swift, who carries his hatred beyond the grave.

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