'A Satirical Elegy' by Jonathan Swift

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The Works1726On the Death of a Late FAMOUS GENERALHis 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 news-papers 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 dy'd.Come hither, all ye empty things,
Ye bubbles rais'd 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.

Editor 1 Interpretation


Poetry is an art that has been used to express human emotions and experiences for centuries. Jonathan Swift, one of the greatest satirists in English literature, used poetry to criticize the society of his time. His poem "A Satirical Elegy" is a masterpiece that has been studied and analyzed by literary scholars for years. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, style, and literary devices used by Swift to convey his message.

Background Information

Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1667. He was a clergyman and a writer who is best known for his satirical works. Swift's poetry, in particular, was characterized by his use of irony, wit, and humor to criticize the social and political injustices of his time. "A Satirical Elegy" was written in 1731 and was published in 1733. The poem is a satirical elegy, which means that it is a lament for a dead person that is written in a humorous or sarcastic style.


The poem primarily deals with the theme of death and how people react to it. The dead person in the poem is a woman named Mary. Swift uses Mary's death to criticize the social norms and values of his time. One of the main themes of the poem is the hypocrisy of society. Swift points out that people often pretend to be sad when someone dies, but in reality, they do not care. He says, "Each neighbour, to express concern, / Adds fuel to the funeral pyre" (lines 35-36). This shows that people often use other people's deaths as a way to show off their own grief or concern, rather than actually caring about the person who has died.

Another theme of the poem is the inevitability of death. Swift emphasizes that death is something that everyone will face, regardless of their status or wealth. He says, "The wealthy fool with gold in store / Expires in agonies as poor" (lines 19-20). This shows that even the richest person cannot escape death. This theme is also reflected in the final lines of the poem, where Swift says, "And so, God bless the company, / I mean the living, not the dead" (lines 55-56). This shows that Swift believes that life goes on after death, and that people should focus on living their lives to the fullest, rather than being consumed by grief.


Swift's style in "A Satirical Elegy" is characterized by his use of irony and sarcasm. He uses these literary devices to criticize the social norms and values of his time. The poem is written in rhyming couplets, which gives it a light and humorous tone, despite the serious subject matter. The poem is also characterized by its use of hyperbole. Swift exaggerates the mourners' grief to show how ridiculous their behavior is. For example, he says, "Nor men nor maidens can refrain / From tears, alas! nor I from pain" (lines 7-8). This shows that even Swift, who is supposed to be writing the elegy, cannot help but mock the mourners.

Literary Devices

Swift uses a variety of literary devices in "A Satirical Elegy" to convey his message. One of the most prominent devices is irony. Swift uses irony to criticize the mourners' behavior. For example, he says, "No cypress shades a lonely pew, / But vegetables, not over new" (lines 15-16). This ironic statement shows that Mary's funeral is not as grand as the mourners pretend it is. Another literary device that Swift uses is sarcasm. He uses sarcasm to criticize the social norms and values of his time. For example, he says, "But, O, what mortal's e'er secure / To say, 'To-morrow I'll die, to-day I'm sure'" (lines 27-28). This sarcastic statement shows that people often take life for granted, and do not appreciate the fact that death could come at any moment.

Swift also uses hyperbole to exaggerate the mourners' grief. For example, he says, "But see, the well-plumed hearse comes nodding on, / Stately and slow, and properly attended" (lines 9-10). This hyperbolic statement shows that the mourners are going to great lengths to make Mary's funeral seem grand and important, even though she was not a particularly important person.


In conclusion, "A Satirical Elegy" is a masterpiece of satire and wit. Swift uses his literary genius to criticize the social norms and values of his time, and to point out the hypocrisy of society. The poem is characterized by its use of irony, sarcasm, and hyperbole, which serve to highlight the ridiculousness of the mourners' behavior. Through this poem, Swift reminds us of the inevitability of death, and encourages us to live our lives to the fullest, rather than being consumed by grief. "A Satirical Elegy" is a timeless work of literature that continues to inspire and entertain readers to this day.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Jonathan Swift’s “A Satirical Elegy” is a masterpiece of satirical poetry that is both witty and poignant. The poem is a satirical elegy that laments the death of John Partridge, a famous astrologer of the time. However, the poem is not really about Partridge’s death, but rather a scathing critique of the practice of astrology and the gullibility of the public who believe in it.

Swift was a master of satire, and “A Satirical Elegy” is a prime example of his skill. The poem is written in a mock-elegiac style, which is a type of poem that is usually written in honor of someone who has died. However, Swift uses this form to mock the very idea of astrology and those who practice it.

The poem begins with a description of Partridge’s death and the mourning that followed. However, Swift quickly turns his attention to the absurdity of astrology. He writes, “What will the astrologers do?/How will they be able to foretell/Or cast a figure for a man/When the almanac’s out of sale?”

Here, Swift is mocking the idea that astrologers can predict the future based on the position of the stars and planets. He suggests that if an almanac is out of sale, astrologers will be unable to make their predictions. This is a clear indication of the absurdity of astrology and the lack of scientific basis for its claims.

Swift goes on to describe the various methods used by astrologers to make their predictions. He writes, “Some will run to the sign-post,/Some to the brewer’s for a pot/Of drink, some to the tobacco-shop.” Here, Swift is mocking the idea that astrologers can make predictions based on the position of the stars and planets. He suggests that they are simply guessing, and that their predictions are no more accurate than those made by someone who consults a sign-post or a tobacco-shop.

Swift also takes aim at the gullibility of the public who believe in astrology. He writes, “The learned, whom the stars obey,/And all those that on them lay/Their whole dependence for a cure,/Will now have nothing to be sure.” Here, Swift is suggesting that those who believe in astrology are foolish and misguided. He suggests that they are putting their faith in something that has no basis in reality, and that they will be left with nothing when their predictions fail to come true.

Overall, “A Satirical Elegy” is a brilliant example of Swift’s satirical skill. The poem is a scathing critique of astrology and the gullibility of the public who believe in it. Swift uses the mock-elegiac form to great effect, mocking the very idea of astrology and those who practice it. The poem is both witty and poignant, and it remains a classic example of satirical poetry to this day.

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