A Description of a City Shower

By Jonathan Swift


Careful observers may foretell the hour,
(By sure prognostics,) when to dread a shower.
While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o’er
Her frolics, and pursues her tail no more.
Returning home at night, you’ll find the sink
Strike your offended sense with double stink.
If you be wise, then, go not far to dine:
You’ll spend in coach-hire more than save in wine.
A coming shower your shooting corns presage,
Old a-ches[2] throb, your hollow tooth will rage;
Sauntering in coffeehouse is Dulman seen;
He damns the climate, and complains of spleen.

Meanwhile the South, rising with dabbled wings,
A sable cloud athwart the welkin flings,
That swill’d more liquor than it could contain,
And, like a drunkard, gives it up again.
Brisk Susan whips her linen from the rope,
While the first drizzling shower is borne aslope;
Such is that sprinkling which some careless quean
Flirts on you from her mop, but not so clean:
You fly, invoke the gods; then, turning, stop
To rail; she singing, still whirls on her mop.
Not yet the dust had shunn’d the unequal strife,
But, aided by the wind, fought still for life,
And wafted with its foe by violent gust,
‘Twas doubtful which was rain, and which was dust.[3]
Ah! where must needy poet seek for aid,
When dust and rain at once his coat invade?
Sole[4] coat! where dust, cemented by the rain,
Erects the nap, and leaves a cloudy stain!

Now in contiguous drops the flood comes down,
Threatening with deluge this devoted town.
To shops in crowds the daggled females fly,
Pretend to cheapen goods, but nothing buy.
The Templar spruce, while every spout’s abroach,
Stays till ’tis fair, yet seems to call a coach.
The tuck’d-up sempstress walks with hasty strides,
While streams run down her oil’d umbrella’s sides.
Here various kinds, by various fortunes led,
Commence acquaintance underneath a shed.
Triumphant Tories, and desponding Whigs,[5]
Forget their feuds, and join to save their wigs.
Box’d in a chair the beau impatient sits,
While spouts run clattering o’er the roof by fits,
And ever and anon with frightful din
The leather sounds; he trembles from within.
So when Troy chairmen bore the wooden steed,
Pregnant with Greeks impatient to be freed,
(Those bully Greeks, who, as the moderns do,
Instead of paying chairmen, ran them through,)
Laocoon[6] struck the outside with his spear,
And each imprison’d hero quaked for fear.
Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all hues and odour, seem to tell
What street they sail’d from, by their sight and smell.
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,
From Smithfield to St. Pulchre’s shape their course,
And in huge confluence join’d at Snowhill ridge,
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn bridge.[7]
Sweeping from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts, and blood,
Drown’d puppies, stinking sprats, all drench’d in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip-tops, come tumbling down the flood.



[Footnote 1: Swift was very proud of the “Shower,” and so refers to it in the Journal to Stella. See “Prose Works,” vol. ii, p. 33: “They say ’tis the best thing I ever writ, and I think so too. I suppose the Bishop of Clogher will show it you. Pray tell me how you like it.” Again, p. 41: “there never was such a Shower since Danäe’s,” etc.—W. E. B.]

[Footnote 2: “Aches” is two syllables, but modern printers, who had lost the right pronunciation, have aches as one syllable; and then to complete the metre have foisted in “aches will throb.” Thus, what the poet and the linguist wish to preserve, is altered and finally lost. See Disraeli’s “Curiosities of Literature,” vol. i, title “Errata,” p. 81, edit. 1858. A good example occurs in “Hudibras,” Part III, canto 2, line 407, where persons are mentioned who “Can by their Pangs and Aches find All turns and changes of the wind.”—W. E. B.]

[Footnote 3: “‘Twas doubtful which was sea and which was sky.” GARTH’S Dispensary.]

[Footnote 4: Originally thus, but altered when Pope published the
“His only coat, where dust confused with rain,
Roughens the nap, and leaves a mingled stain.”—Scott.]

[Footnote 5: Alluding to the change of ministry at that time.]

[Footnote 6: Virg., “Aeneid,” lib. ii.—W. E. B.]

[Footnote 7: Fleet Ditch, in which Pope laid the famous diving scene in
“The Dunciad”; celebrated also by Gay in his “Trivia.” There is a view of
Fleet Ditch as an illustration to “The Dunciad” in Warburton’s edition
of Pope, 8vo, 1751.—W. E. B.]