A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General
By Johnathan Swift
His 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 newspapers we’re told?
Threescore, I think, is pretty high;
’Twas time in conscience he should die
This world he cumbered 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 died.
Come hither, all ye empty things,
Ye bubbles raised 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,
Turned to that dirt from whence he sprung.
Summary of A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General
- Popularity of “A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General”: Written back in 1765, this elegy by Jonathan Swift, a popular English poet, mourns the loss of an English general, John Churchill. The poem expresses the speaker’s grief and feigning surprise over the death of the duke. He wonders how a prestigious man died peacefully without glorification. The poem has won popularity because it highlights that death has no distinction; it treats everyone equally.
- “A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General” as Representative Poem of Death and Status: This elegy accounts for the ordinary death of an influential duke, John Churchill. The poem begins when the speaker laments the loss of the general who died not in a battlefield but on his bed. It seems that his death did not cause any sorrow to anyone. The speaker thinks that Churchill had not left good memories so the people could mourn his demise. Instead, most of the people around him were glad that he is gone because he was an onerous person. As the poem goes on, the speaker states that people attending his funeral hade nothing good to say about the departed soul.
The final eight lines of the poem shift the narrative; the speaker requests humankind to take the general’s life and death as a lesson on pride and the destruction it causes. All the glitters and glory this man received in life were based on devious methods. Furthermore, he reflects on the nature of unavoidable death stating that everything material that we achieve in life no longer matters when death calls us.
- Major Themes in “A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General”: Death, pride, and man’s nature are the major themes of the poem. Although this poem is written to record the death of a famous historical figure, the poem has a lot more to say. It not only captures how the general died and what treatment he received after death but also states the reason for the indifferent behaviors of the people attending his funeral. This simple poem sheds light on a famous saying that the end justifies the means, implying that death speaks about how the deceased spent his life on earth. The attitude of the people attending his funeral suggests that the deceased has not done anything praiseworthy in life. Instead, he misused his power and created difficulties for the people. As a result, people showed no sympathy or kindness for his death. On a deeper level, the poem suggests that people regard only those who work for the betterment of others.
Analysis of Literary Devices Used in A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General
literary devices are modes that represent the writer’s ideas, feelings, and emotions. It is through these devices the writers make their few words appealing to the readers. Jonathan Swift has used literary devices in this poem, whose analysis is as follows.
- Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /e/ in “And, trust me, as the noise grows stronger” and the sound of /o/ in “And that’s the reason, some folks think.”
- Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession, such as the sound of /l/ in “last loud.”
- Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /t/ in “Threescore, I think, is pretty high” and the sound of /n/ in “He burnt his candle to the snuff.”
- Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;
“Twas time in conscience he should die
This world he cumbered long enough;”
- Irony: Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. The poem shows situational irony. The speaker wonders that instead of mourning the death of the duke, people are happy that he is gone.
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Swift used imagery in this poem such as “He’d wish to sleep a little longer” and “He burnt his candle to the snuff.”
- Rhetorical Question: Rhetorical question is a question that is not asked to receive an answer; it is just posed to make the point clear. The poet posed rhetorical questions in the first stanza of the poem to emphasize his point, such as “And could that mighty warrior fall?”
- Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols, such as death, pride, power, and man’s attitude.
Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General
Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.
- Diction: The poem shows descriptive diction having rhetorical devices, symbolism, and impressive images.
- End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. Jonathan Swift used end rhyme in this poem, such as; “fall/all”, “now/how” and “think/stink.”
- Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows ABAB rhyme Scheme, and this pattern continues till the end.
- Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are two stanzas in this poem, with each comprising a different number of verses.
- Tone: It means the voice of the text. The poem shows an ironic and lugubrious tone.
Quotes to be Used
The following lines are useful to quote when talking about the silent demise of a famed and acclaimed person.
“His Grace! impossible! what dead!
Of old age too, and in his bed!
And could that mighty warrior fall?
And so inglorious, after all!”