Adnax Publications

Theme 3. The City (i) >

Jonathan Swift

< A Description of the Morning  >

engraving by Hogarth, the Enraged Musician 

Now hardly here and there a hackney-coach
Appearing, showed the ruddy morn's approach.
Now Betty from her master's bed had flown,
And softly stole to discompose her own;
And slipshod 'prentice from his master's door
Had pared the dirt, and sprinkled round the floor.
Now Moll had whirled her mop with dext'rous airs,
Prepared to scrub the entry and the stairs.
The youth with broomy stumps began to trace
The kennel-edge, where wheels had worn the place.
The small-coal man was heard with cadence deep,
Till drowned in shriller notes of chimney-sweep.
Duns at his lordship's gate began to meet,
And brickdust Moll had screamed through half a street.
The turnkey now his flock returning sees,
Duly let out a-nights to steal for fees.
The watchful bailiffs take their silent stands,
And schoolboys lag with satchels in their hands.

Hackney coach : a coach for hire. They began operating in London in 1625 and soon there were so many that Charles I issued an order restricting them.
Broomy stumps : worn out brushes.  Kennel : gutter.  mall-coal : little pieces used to light fires.
Duns : to dun is to make persistent demands for payment, after Joe Dun, bailiff of the town of Lincoln.
Moll : brickdust Moll : painted prostitute, presumably using brickdust on her cheeks as a cheap form of rouge.
Turnkey : the gaolor, who let out convicts for a fee to steal during the night.

First published in the Tatler, the poem was introduced as follows: ‘the town has, this half age, been tormented with insects called easy writers .... Such jaunty scribblers are so justly laughed at for their sonnets on Phillis and Chloris, and fantastical descriptions in 'em, that an ingenious kinsman of mine, of the family of the Staffs, Mr. Humphrey Wagstaff by name, has, to avoid their strain, run into a way perfectly new, and described things exactly as they happen: he never forms trees, or nymphs, or groves, where they are not, but makes the incidents just as they really appear. For an example of it: I stole out of his manuscript the following lines: they are a description of the morning, but of the morning in town; nay, of the morning at this end of the town, where my kinsman at present lodges.’

go to index of poets

copyright © Adnax Publications, all rights reserved