illustrated portrait of Irish author and satirist Jonathan Swift

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What are the themes and explanation of "The Day of Judgement" by Jonathan Swift?

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One of the most important lines in the poem is "You who in different sects were shamm’d." Here Swift is focusing his satire on those dissenting religious groups who were attempting to obtain the repeal of legislation that discriminated against them. Bitter attacks upon non-Anglican Protestants were a constant refrain in Swift's works, and in "The Day of Judgement" he is particularly unsparing in his contempt for those he believes to be undermining the stability of both state and society.

Yet what is particularly shocking is that Swift's contempt for Protestant dissenters is merely part of a thunderous condemnation of humankind as a whole. It's not just dissenters who are to be damned, but the entire human race. Not for the first time in his work Swift lets rip his rampant misanthropy, passing judgement on the common run of humanity, which he believes to be stupid, sinful, and ignorant. It's not just mighty Jove who's doing the judging in the poem, but Swift himself.

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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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What is a critical analysis of "The Day of Judgement" by Jonathan Swift?

The poem “The Day of Judgement” was written by Jonathan Swift. It describes the poet’s vision of the Day of Judgement, the day when all people must come before God and take responsibility for their actions. Therefore, it may well be that Swift was inspired by a biblical quote when writing his poem: “for we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). The author’s message in the poem is clear: all men must die, and all men will have to stand trial for their actions in the face of God. Therefore, the poem could well be interpreted as a warning to society: we should not become too complacent, and we must ensure that we lead a life that pleases God. Otherwise, we risk God's wrath: “I damn such fools! — Go, go, you're bit."

In order to bring this message across, the poet describes vividly how the dead come back to life in order to receive their verdict. In particular, the line “I saw the graves give up their dead” adds a very scary and almost spooky feel to this description, successfully setting the scene for what is going to be a very unpleasant experience for mankind. The poet wants to remind his readers that the Day of Judgement will come eventually and that everybody will find themselves very scared when it happens: “the world stands trembling at his throne!”

The poem is written in an iambic tetrameter, which means that there are eight syllables in each line, with every second syllable carrying the stress: “I sunk from reverie to rest.” In this line, for example, the fact that “sunk” and “rest” carry the stress clearly links back to the poet’s message: death will come; it can’t be avoided.

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