What is an explanation and themes of  "The Day of Judgement" by Jonathan Swift? http://www.readcentral.com/chapters/Jonathan-Swift/The-Poems-of-Jonathan-Swift-D.D.Volume-I-of-2/096

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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As the title suggests, this short poem, which was probably first written around 1731, has an apocalyptic theme. The speaker recounts his vision of the last day, the Day of Judgement. Swift however treats this solemn subject in a less-than-reverent manner. He also plays around with readers’ expectations.The Day of Judgement is of course a familiar Christian concept, and the poem starts off with a conventional enough picture of the dead rising from their graves at this solemn final hour to be judged by God. However, Swift then departs from Christian convention with with his sudden introduction of pagan mythology through the appearance of Jove, king of the Roman gods. Moreover, this particular divine ruler does not come across as particularly regal and majestic: he is grumpy rather than grand. Swift, then, subverts readers’ expectations at a double stroke: although dealing with a Christian theme he dispenses with the Christian framework, and his characterization of the divine judge is also unexpected.This is a good example of the kind of ironic puncturing that he is famous for, most particularly in his prose works. The Day of Judgement is an epic subject, but he chooses to treat it in a distinctly un-epic manner.

This poem exhibits Swift's usual tendency to satire, as he employs his formidable wit to tackle social, political and religious issues which are at once of his own time and also universal. He uses the theme of Christian apocalypse to criticize political and religious factions of his own day:'those who in different Sects have shammed/and come to see each other damned'. Jove observes sardonically that even on this final day of judgement for one and all, such people are still obsessed only with seeing the downfall of their enemies: ‘come to see each other damned’. Even at this final hour of judgement they’re not aware of their own faults or their fate. Thus Swift bitingly comments on those who foment political and religious conflicts - such as the ones that beset the Irish church of his own time. 

However, along with these contentious people, Swift also condemns those who have been too passive, or too aloof from things:  ‘you who thro’ Frailty step’d aside/ and you who never fell – thro Pride’. In the end Jove just appears fed up of such people rather than righteously wrathful; he does not dignify them even with the epithet of ‘sinners' but merely ridicules them as ‘blockheads’. There is a note of bleakness struck, perhaps, in the observation that that the 'World's mad Business ' is done with at last, but overall the tone remains quite wry. 

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