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The Fallen Values of the Fallen Humankind: Urban Pastoral of Swift’s “A Description of a City Shower” and “A Description of the Morning” Explicatory Essay


Despite all the advantages that technology and progress have to offer to the humankind, there has always been a tendency to romanticize the nature and cultivate the idea of returning into the lapse of innocence where the concept of money and other vulgar attributes of civilization is no longer in existence.

The given tendency has been prevailing among the world’s most renowned poets since the dawn of the Greek civilization, and the literature of the XVIII century did not seem to bring anything new to the table. To give the poets of the Enlightenment credit, though, they did attempt at making the idea of the fallen values seem somewhat original, making it take a shape of the literature genre known as urban pastoral.

The typical elements of urban pastoral can be easily traced in the poems of such authors as Jonathan Swift. Although Swift conveys the same idea of moral decay and the need to reconsider the key human values, he uses a fairly original way to do so in his “A Description of a City Shower” and “A Description of the Morning” with the help of several peculiar stylistic devices and a specific mood of the poems.

The formal elements of the poem, however, also help convey the message typical for the urban pastoral of the time. To start with, the meter of each poem serves the purpose well.

The iambic pentameter couplets, the trademark of “A Description of a City Shower” and “A Description of the Morning,” help the audience immerse into the atmosphere of a heroic verse style and, therefore, realize the significance and the scale of the moral issues that the world is facing.

Indeed, shifting the emphasis on the second syllables, Swift makes the poems sound like something that a passer-by would say about a city and its daily routine while traveling to a place where the troubles of the mundane life are no longer the focus of attention.

In addition, the self-repeating iambic structure makes one think of something inescapable that makes the citizens return to their self-centered and vain ways: “Careful observers may foretell the hour/ (By sure Prognostiks) when to dread a shower” (Swift line 1) sounds like an impending doom with the help of the iambic pattern. Another important element of a poem, rhyme is an integral part of both Swift’s poems.

It is quite peculiar that both poems are structured in the same meter, i.e., AABB type; the lines rhyme in pairs in both “A Description of the Morning” and “A Description of a City Shower”: “hour–shower,” “wings–flings” (Swift “A Description of a City Shower”), “coach–approach,” “own–flown” (Swift “A Description of the Morning”).

The given meter allows for a focus on the content instead of noticing the structure; therefore, the poem can be easily digested and understood. A much smaller poem, “A Description of the Morning” allows for more wiggle room for various stylistic effects, such as assonances and alliterations.

The latter can be traced in such lines as “The kennel-edge where wheels had worn the place” (Swift), where the repetitive “w” sound creates the impression of a boring daily routine, thus, contributing to the effect that urban pastorals are supposed to have on the audience.

Another peculiar alliteration can be traced in the line “Had pared the dirt and sprinkled round the floor” (Swift “A Description of the Morning”), where the repetitive “d” adds to the image of a place dirty in all meanings of the word. The numerous stylistic devises that Swift utilizes in both poems are also worth mentioning. To start with, each of the poems has a character that the author refers or addresses to.

It is quite peculiar that “A Description of the Morning” has a bunch of characters to whom the author refers to in third person; therefore, the focus of the poem is the humankind in general, which makes the poem all the stronger in terms of its meaning, yet makes the author lose the touch with the readers.

Quite the opposite of the previous case, “A Description of a City Shower” addresses the reader directly with the help of a pronoun “you”: “If you be wise, then go not far to dine” (Swift). In terms of rendering the key message, i.e., that the moral values of the humankind have reached their lowest point, the second example proves the most efficient, mostly because of a direct address.

While the examples of adultery and other unappealing elements of reality do contribute to the effect of “A Description of the Morning,” the third person does not allow the reader relate to the sinful characters, and, therefore, partially ruins the effect of the poem.

However, “A Description of a City Shower” makes efficient use of litotes, unlike “A Description of the Morning,” which, in fact, has none. Instead of looking for a shorter way to tell the story in “A Description of a City Shower,” Swift stresses that the cat “pursues her tail no more” (Swift); likewise, Swift warns to “go not far” to dine (Swift), instead of using the word like “near”; the mop is not dirty, but “not so clear” (Swift), etc.

The repetitive use of the “no” and “not” particles adds to the atmosphere of a place that clearly lacks something – a place that lacks cleanness in every meaning of the word. In their turn, the metaphors used in the poem also help create the image of a “fallen civilization.”

Speaking of the metaphors, however, it is important to say a couple of words about Swift’s noteworthy attitude towards metaphors as a stylistic device. As one might have guessed after taking a closer look at more examples of his poetry, Swift avoided splitting his poems into a dribble of metaphors.

Instead, he either preferred talking to the reader without the use of any side meaning, or turned the entire poem into a certain person, object or phenomenon (Wyrick 141). For example, the entire “A Description of a City Shower” seems to be a metaphor of purification, as it has been mentioned above, Symbolizing the Flood, the shower turns into the weapon of God to get the world rid of sin and vice.

In contrast to “A Description of a City Shower,” “A Description of the Morning” is not a metaphor in itself, yet it has certain metaphoric elements as well. For instance, the dirt that “the slip-shod ‘prentice from his master’s door/Had par’d” (Swift) is likely to be the symbol of vice.

Finally, the image of Betty emerging out of her master’s bedroom (Swift) is an obvious attempt to name specific vices, like adultery. Therefore, in a very weird way, the shortest poem actually turned out to be the one that is packed with the largest amount of metaphors.

However, not only the formal elements of the poems differ greatly; the images and concepts behind them are also very diverse, even though both poems eventually come to the same urban pastoral morale.

As Barnett explains, the ingeniousness of both poems begins with their titles. According to what Barnett says, such titles as “A Description of the Morning” or “A Description of a City Shower” make one jump immediately to the inspiring images of urban landscapes. However, the anticipation of breathtaking scenes is immediately shattered to pieces with the very first lines of the poems.

“Now hardly here and there a hackney-coach/Appearing” (Swift “A Description of the Morning” lines 1–2) and “Careful observers may foretell the hour/(By sure prognostics) when to dread a shower” (Swift “A Description of a City Shower” lines 1-2) make the reader plunge into the murky world of the XVIII-century London suburbia.

In Barnett’s own words, “The title ‘A Description of the Morning’ sets up pastoral expectations that are immediately rebuked by the first-line revelation of the urban setting” (Barnett 129). Needless to say, the gloomy scenery that Swift portrays does not make the reader’s opinion of the city scenery any better. In this aspect, both poems use the same technique to shock the reader into paying attention.

However, the further choices that Swift makes in each of the poems, are rather unique. It is essential that Swift lists the routine work without pointing any of the elements out. With the help of the list of the daily actions that people perform without giving time to think of the meaning of these actions adds to the image of “the amoral urban automata” (Barnett 129).

Barnett also notices that Swift avoids portraying the citizens in a traditional urban pastoral negative manner. Rather, he shows that they are roboticized and that sin is not their intrinsic value, but the result of the lack of thinking that the automaton-like city lifestyle develops in city dwellers. “A Description of a City Shower,” on the contrary, does not offer obvious stereotypes for the audience to point out.

As an alternative Swift uses the image of “careful observers,” the city dwellers who have stuck in their daily routine up to their necks. The latter is, again, a sympathetic image of a city dweller instead of portraying the latter as the lowest of the low, who lives in the pit of sin.

If the rain in the poem represents, indeed, the Biblical Flood, as Fox claims it does (Fox 82), the citizens are portrayed not as despicably immoral spawns of the sinful era, but the people who have little to no time to think of what morality actually is, and who have put themselves and their moral values into peril.

Though the strong allusion to the Biblical disaster does make one think that Swift hints at a catastrophe waiting ahead, it can be assumed that there is a hope for redemption expressed in the poem.

The line “Sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts, and blood,/Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud” (Swift “Description of a City Shower”) says that the entire city is going to be swept away by a gust of wind and a flood. However, as soon as the storm is over, there will be a blank spot for the humankind to start from.

Therefore, it can be considered that in terms of keeping with the traditions of the urban pastoral, “A Description of a City Shower” follows the key motifs more closely.

It is shot through with the idea that the world is ridden with sin and that the wrath of God is the only power that can make the world a purer place. Therefore, it offers a much harsher perspective on the declining moral standards than “A Description of the Morning” does.

Even though “A Description of a City Shower” and “A Description of the Morning” still remain within the margins of the genre and that they still convey the same idea of vice as the intrinsic value of any human being, it is still clear that both poems manage to make a statement in a new and original way.

Much credit should be given to the form that the poem takes; with the help of a careful choice of stylistic devices, Swift managed to create a cadence of images that impress the reader immensely and enhance the power of the initial message.

The exact specimen of urban pastoral, “A Description of a City Shower” and “A Description of the Morning” manage to create a very graphic and unappealing picture of the profit motif with the help of metaphors and a chain of timeless images that can be attributed to the ideas of morality in the Enlightenment era.

Works Cited

Barnett, Louise. Swift’s Poetic Words. East Brunswick, NJ: Associated University Press, 1981. Print.

Fox, Christopher. The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Swift. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

Swift, Jonathan. “A Description of the Morning.” Portable Poetry, n. d. Web. <>.

Swift, Jonathan. “A Description of a City Shower.” Poetry Foundation, n. d. Web. <>.

Wyrick, Deborah Baker. Jonathan Swift and the Vested World. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1988. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2019, June 14). The Fallen Values of the Fallen Humankind: Urban Pastoral of Swift’s “A Description of a City Shower” and “A Description of the Morning”. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-fallen-values-of-the-fallen-humankind-urban-pastoral-of-swifts-a-description-of-a-city-shower-and-a-description-of-the-morning-essay/

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"The Fallen Values of the Fallen Humankind: Urban Pastoral of Swift’s “A Description of a City Shower” and “A Description of the Morning”." IvyPanda, 14 June 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/the-fallen-values-of-the-fallen-humankind-urban-pastoral-of-swifts-a-description-of-a-city-shower-and-a-description-of-the-morning-essay/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Fallen Values of the Fallen Humankind: Urban Pastoral of Swift’s “A Description of a City Shower” and “A Description of the Morning”." June 14, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-fallen-values-of-the-fallen-humankind-urban-pastoral-of-swifts-a-description-of-a-city-shower-and-a-description-of-the-morning-essay/.


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IvyPanda. "The Fallen Values of the Fallen Humankind: Urban Pastoral of Swift’s “A Description of a City Shower” and “A Description of the Morning”." June 14, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-fallen-values-of-the-fallen-humankind-urban-pastoral-of-swifts-a-description-of-a-city-shower-and-a-description-of-the-morning-essay/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Fallen Values of the Fallen Humankind: Urban Pastoral of Swift’s “A Description of a City Shower” and “A Description of the Morning”." June 14, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-fallen-values-of-the-fallen-humankind-urban-pastoral-of-swifts-a-description-of-a-city-shower-and-a-description-of-the-morning-essay/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Fallen Values of the Fallen Humankind: Urban Pastoral of Swift’s “A Description of a City Shower” and “A Description of the Morning”'. 14 June.

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