A Description of a City Shower

by Jonathan Swift
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 353

Jonathan Swift's poem is, as the title suggests, a description of a rainy day in a city. It describes not only the period before the rain storm breaks out, when the washerwomen are bringing in their laundry and people are careful not to venture too far from home, but also the behavior of the various people in the city when the shower has broken out.

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One of the key themes in the poem pertains to the fact that this is a description of rain not in the country, but in a big city, a melting pot of different sorts of people. For Swift, what is most interesting about the rain storm is that it is experienced by everybody equally—the rain is a sort of universal leveler, with all humans seeking the same thing: shelter from this storm. When the storm happens, it brings together people from all walks of life, eradicating, for a brief period, their differences. Words like "joined" and "confluence" emphasize this theme: unity in the city comes from an unlikely source, as the rainstorm makes it evident that people who think they have nothing in common do, actually, share many fundamentally human qualities.

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Latest answer posted June 27, 2010, 6:15 pm (UTC)

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Swift illustrates this particularly with a joke about Tories and Whigs—members of two competing political parties in England at the time of writing—gathering beneath the same shelter in order to preserve their "wigs." Their political differences are, in this moment, less important to them than the natural instinct to hide from the downpour. Likewise, other people of "various fortunes" find themselves behaving in the same way and brushing shoulders with people from outside of their usual social circle because the rain is rushing through "all parts." Rain does not discriminate between the rich and the poor, but drums down upon everyone equally.

In large part, Swift's poem is intended to be comical, but it also seems to be making an overarching point about the universality of nature. While we as humans tend to focus upon the differences separating certain groups, nature does not observe any of this. Acts of God are the ultimate leveler.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 206

Swift remains the premier satirist in the English language. (His 1726 prose satire Gulliver’s Travels is arguably the finest satire in any language.) Besides a powerful intelligence and an essential dissatisfaction with the human condition, the satirist must possess an eye keen enough to discern the follies that so often arise from confusing appearance and reality—which is precisely what eighteenth century pastoral poetry routinely did. The facts of eighteenth century rural life were cold and hard. Farmers and rural workers lived lives at the other end of the spectrum from the hazily romantic imaginings of pastoral poetry. Like their lower-class counterparts in the city, they worked long, back-breaking hours, usually for little more than a subsistence wage. No amount of flowery language or elaborate, classical imagery could improve their lot or effectively substitute fantasy for reality.

It would be wrong, however, to imagine a savagely indignant Swift behind “A Description of a City Shower.” The tone, in fact, is much more one of wry amusement than anger, and even the poem’s array of frankly repellent images—from the poet’s filthy coat to the “Drowned Puppies,” decaying fish, and “Dead Cats” of the concluding lines—in the end seem more comically grotesque than offensive.

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