A Description of the Morning

by Jonathan Swift

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What is the subject matter of the poem ''A Description of the Morning'' by Jonathan Swift?

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"A Description of the Morning" speaks to the social isolation that is inherent in a capitalist, and particularly, industrialized capitalist society. The poem describes that stark social separation between the working and upper classes, and has a general anti-industrialization feel. The description of the morning has a unnatural feel to it. Rather than the natural ways of rising in the morning, that has a generally gentle feel to it of preparing for the day in the gentle light of dawn, the author speaks about the immediate hard and tedious tasks that the working class must endure. The upper class are able to enjoy the early hours of the morning in peace and serenity while the working class must throw themselves into hard work solely for the benefit of the upper class.

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"A Description of the Morning" is a satiric poem about the industrialization of London, the daily routines of ordinary people, and the general lack of personal contact that each person has with others. People in that era were either upper-class or lower-class, and the two classes rarely interacted. A good example of this is in the first lines, when Betty, a servant, leaves "her master's bed" before the household wakes up. Since this sort of dalliance would be unthinkable (causing her to be fired and he to be embarrassed) she returns to her room and messes up her own bed, so the other servants will think that she slept alone. Their affair has no "reality," instead existing in a societal shadow. Another example comes as:

The youth with broomy stumps began to trace
The kennel-edge, where wheels had worn the place.
The small-coal man was heard with cadence deep;
Till drown'd in shriller notes of "chimney-sweep."
(Swift, "A Description of the Morning," poetryfoundation.org)

The "youth" is searching for lost nails, which he can sell for a pittance to live on (this is explained in a note from Swift). Meanwhile, the slightly-higher-class coal seller (since all classes need coal) is overshouted by the chimney sweep, who must work harder for his pay; coal is needed every day, while the chimney only needs to be swept once or twice a week. With the upper-class not making their appearance, it can be seen how the lower-class makes the day ready, doing the essential jobs that make each day possible.

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