Adnax Publications

A selection of English Poetry from Swift to Gray

Jonathan Swift (1678-1745)

Well, this was no joke. The King of Brobdingnag is here seen examining his little friend Gulliver, and coming to the conclusion that he was 'one of the most pernicious, odious little reptiles that nature ever suffer'd to crawl upon the face of the earth', which was pretty much Swift's own view of his fellow humans. It's not a very auspicious start in the business of writing poetry, which, fundamentally, needs to address the universal concerns of mankind in a sympathetic way which will convince and engage generations of readers. But one thing is sure, the fundamental desire to laugh at the foibles of others is always present, in every generation, and probably in everybody. The more intelligent, rapid, unprincipled, savage, and funny the satire the better. But surely, somewhere behind the savagery we are going to find a human heart? In the case of Swift, I'm not sure.

Stella's Birthday, March 13th, 1727

A Description of the Morning

A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late, Famous General

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

Pope's villa at Twickenham on the Thames

Very gifted from a very early age, Alexander Pope was also very small and hunchbacked. Life was not easy in a society which was not particular about giving offence concerning physical disability, and the consequence was that a good part of Pope's immense gift for poetry was actually spent on vituperation. His Dunciad, arguably his major achievement, is a poem that 'celebrates the goddess Dulness and the progress of her chosen agents as they bring decay, imbecility, and tastelessness to the Kingdom of Great Britain'. What fun! Academics amuse themselves by tediously identifying what particular historical character is intended to be attacked in each succeeding verse. One would have hoped that both they and Pope himself could have found better things to do.

What we have selected here are two poems from very early in his career which demonstrate his undeniable poetic gift.

Ode on Solitude

The Dying Christian to his Soul

Thomas Gray (1716-1771)

Thomas Gray was a studious and serious man who seemed to have been most at home in the reading room of the British Library translating Icelandic, Norse and Welsh poetry. His Elegy written in a Country Churchyard was a huge success, but subsequent poetry was criticised as obscure, and he effectively gave up writing imaginative poetry, concentrating rather on private study.

Elegy written in a Country Churchyard

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