Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Ruins of the Night

I once had a real dislike for poetry. Too pompous, I thought. Jonathan Swift's scatological poems have played a significant role in bringing me into the poetic fold. This is one of my favourites:

A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed

"Corinna, Pride of Drury-Lane,
For whom no Shepherd sighs in vain;
Never did Covent Garden boast
So bright a batter'd, strolling Toast;

No drunken Rake to pick her up,
No Cellar where on Tick to sup;
Returning at the Midnight Hour;
Four Stories climbing to her Bow'r;

Then, seated on a three-legg'd Chair,
Takes off her artificial Hair:
Now, picking out a Crystal Eye,
She wipes it clean, and lays it by.

Her Eye-Brows from a Mouse's Hide,
Stuck on with Art on either Side,
Pulls off with Care, and first displays 'em,
Then in a Play-Book smoothly lays 'em.

Now dextrously her Plumpers draws,
That serve to fill her hollow Jaws.
Untwists a Wire; and from her Gums
A Set of Teeth completely comes.

Pulls out the Rags contriv'd to prop
Her flabby Dugs and down they drop.
Proceeding on, the lovely Goddess
Unlaces next her Steel-Rib'd Bodice;

Which by the Operator's Skill,
Press down the Lumps, the Hollows fill,
Up hoes her Hand, and off she slips
The Bolsters that supply her Hips.

With gentlest Touch, she next explores
Her Shankers, Issues, running Sores,
Effects of many a sad Disaster;
And then to each applies a Plaster.

But must, before she goes to Bed,
Rub off the Daubs of White and Red;
And smooth the Furrows in her Front,
With greasy Paper stuck upon't.


CORINNA wakes. A dreadful Sight!
Behold the Ruins of the Night!

A wicked Rat her Plaster stole,
Half eat, and dragged it to his Hole.
The Crystal Eye, alas, was miss'd;
And Puss had on her Plumpers piss'd.

A Pigeon pick'd her Issue-Peas;
And Shock her Tresses fill'd with Fleas.
The Nymph, tho' in this mangled Plight,
Must ev'ry Morn her Limbs unite.

But how shall I describe her Arts
To recollect the scatter'd Parts?
Or show the Anguish, Toil, and Pain,
Of gath'ring up herself again?

The bashful Muse will never bear
In such a Scene to interfere.
Corinna in the Morning dizen'd,
Who sees, will spew; who smells, be poison'd."

The mixture of the comic and the tragic here really appeals to me. The poor lady is coming apart at the seams. She absolutely needs a trip to the doctor for those "Shankers, Issues, running Sores." It's all so overdone though, ending in that outrageous claim that anyone who looks at her can't help but vomit spontaneously. And all those animals eating her prosthetics during the night... it's like a Disney film gone horribly wrong.

And, oh look, its grotesque! At least, it is according to Arieh Sachs, who includes the poem in his collection The English Grotesque: An Anthology from Langland to Joyce.

Text from poemhunter.

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