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Summarize the poem " A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General, " by...

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sallysal1987 | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted May 12, 2013 at 10:12 PM via web

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Summarize the poem " A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General, " by Jonathan Swift.

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 13, 2013 at 4:06 AM (Answer #1)

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This poem, a sort of parody of an eulogy, was written following the death of John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough in 1722. The Duke, who was intimately connected to royalty, was viewed by Swift (no fan of military men in general) as an unscrupulous man who had amassed wealth through war-profiteering. The poem begins with a response one might expect to the death of a public figure in eighteenth-century Britain:

Churchill is dead! And in that Word is lost/the bravest leader of the bravest host...through half the sever'd Globe obtain'd Renown/and with its brightest Gems adorn'd the British crown...

Swift soon makes it clear that he has little use for Churchill, observing that the world would have been a better place if he had died earlier:

'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.

This passage is vintage Swiftian satire, using the image of a candle burned to the end and smoking, along with the smell of a death-chamber, to indicate that the legacy the Duke left behind, in the final analysis, stinks. He goes on to show that the death of the Duke should demonstrate to the high and mighty that death is a great leveller. Churchill, in the end, took all of his honors with him to the grave: "Let pride be taught by this rebuke/How very mean a thing's a Duke..." 

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