Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, D.S.P.D. consists of 484 lines of jaunty, satirical iambic tetrameter couplets, with strategic footnotes supplied by the poet, purporting to examine the cynical maxim of Duc François de La Rochefoucauld: “In the adversity of our best friends, we find something that doth not displease us” (from Réflexions, 1665). The poem may be conveniently divided into three parts. In the opening section (lines 1-70), Jonathan Swift’s narrator persona finds that the maxim perfectly describes his own jealousy: “In Pope [Alexander Pope, the outstanding poet of his age and Swift’s lifelong friend], I cannot read a line,/ But with a sigh, I wish it mine,” declaring himself as guilty of its truth as anyone. Though the maxim was often denounced as immoral and unchristian, the narrator, representing Swift, an Anglican priest, finds it perfectly accurate: “As Rochefoucauld his maxims drew/ From nature, I believe ’em true.”
In the poem’s second part (lines 71-298), the narrator imagines how his death will be received among friends, acquaintances, and enemies. His fame will not last a year before his books will be sold as scrap, his friends will shed a tear or two but soon forget him, and enemies will list his faults and resurrect old grievances. Everyone will enjoy his death—the ladies at cards, the gossips at court, and the wits at the tavern. Here the satire is generally bitter, naming names, heaping ridicule, and rehearsing grudges from a generation before—so much so that Pope and others published an abbreviated and censored version of...
(The entire section is 655 words.)