Jun 26, 2008

Swift's fictive self-portraiture poetry

Haply you judge these lines severely writ
Against the proud usurpers of the pit;
Stay while I tell my story, short, and true;
To draw conclusions shall be left to you;

Jonathan Swift, "to mr. congreve" 1693

I wish I could have transcribed my own work this well. Alas, my gift is for the lens, not pens...

excerpt from page 107 in "Contemporary Studies of Swift's Poetry" By John Irwin Fischer

"Perhaps most significant of Swift's reasons for writing his poetry of fictive self-portraiture is the desire to leave a record of himself to combat what he described in the "Ode to the Athenian Society" as "Careless and Ignorant Posterity".

In some part Swift may have wanted to "turn private crisis into public example" as Geoffrey Hill suggests, but in the main his self-absorption seems more personal, more a question of mastering private crisis by establishing his own version of it. By controlling in art what he knew could not be controlled in reality, Swift could exorcise those threats to the self that he found so fearful, those judgements – whether malicious, uninformed, or merely imagined – which gave him less than his due.

Swift's poetry of fictive self-portraiture is a response to what Robert C. Elliott calls the satirist's "primordial demand" for overcoming, through ordering and controlling within the verbal universe of his art, those fears and confusions inspired by the self's troubling encounters not only with the world but with its own spirit as well."

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