Jonathan Swift uses the commonplace occurrence of a brief rain to illustrate the various elements of London’s urban scene. Instead of showing how the rain pleasantly refreshes the air, Swift emphasizes the filth in the streets, which must be washed away, and the dank mud that results.
The speaker begins by telling us how different people (and cats) predict that a shower is coming. They warn the reader to take precautions, such as taking a cab home and not lingering over one’s wine at dinner. People feel it in their bones and the corns on their feet. He compares the dark, billowing clouds to bellies swollen from drinking liquor. Women pull their laundry in from off the clothesline.
One problem the speaker mentions is the wind, which, along with the first drops, blows wet dust around like a maid flinging her mop, “but not so clean.” The poet goes looks for an escape, as the wet dust will become hard as cement and stain their coat. As it starts to rain harder, the speaker describes the various actions people take, such as ducking into shops, hailing a coach, or crowding into a shed where strangers get acquainted. Even political opponents—Tories and Whigs—have a common purpose: staying dry. One young man is trapped inside a sedan chair, which the speaker compares to the Trojan horse.
As the shower gains in force, the streets become impassable. The open sewers fill up and run over so that “Filth of all hues and odors” overtakes the streets; its exact origin can be pinpointed by particular “sight and smell.” The speaker lists a number of different streets that they say would have a precise odor, and then provides the point where the run-off would converge.
The last three lines graphically portray just how disgusting a scene can result from one shower. The street markets included open-air butchers, from whose stalls “dung, guts, and blood” rushes down the streets. The resulting flood sweeps away dead animals and garbage as well.
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.