A Description of a City Shower

by Jonathan Swift

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Last Updated on November 16, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 366

Jonathan Swift's poem describing a rainstorm in a city and how this changes the life of that city is defined by how many different characters it contains. It does not linger very long on any one person, but part of Swift's point in writing is that people of "various" kinds all exist in a big city, and it is never more clear how many forms people come in than when something like a rainstorm draws them all together in the search for shelter.

The characters Swift mentions, then, span a wide range. At the beginning of the poem, there is the cat who realizes it is soon going to rain and retreats to her home. There is Dulman, a man who lingers in coffeehouses and is presumably of some wealth. Bringing in her washing from the line on which she had hung it in anticipation of the coming rainstorm is Brisk Susan, a washerwoman. A "careless quean," or working-class woman, is mopping in the street, and her mop will splash water upon anyone walking near her. A "sempstress," or seamstress, walks hastily through the rain under the shelter of a large umbrella.

Whigs and Tories—members of two competing political parties in England at the time of Swift’s writing—gather together under the same shelter, putting aside their political differences out of a shared desire not to get wet.

Swift alludes to himself also within the poem, imagining himself as a "needy poet" who might find himself caught up in such a rainstorm as the one he describes, and in need of shelter for himself.

Another character in the poem is, of course, the "you" to whom Swift is addressing his words. He imagines this audience involved in the various scenes he depicts, suggesting that, were this person—the reader—in London, they might experience these things, too.

Swift, in this poem, is also focusing on the character of the city itself, which seems to underpin the hustle and bustle of activity for all of these people. There is a certain fondness conveyed in the idea that one city might be home to people from so many different walks of life, and their animals, too.

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