“With a Copy of Swift’s Works” is a short poem in couplets, totalling twelve lines. It is divided into two sentences; the first is a couplet, and the second is a single thought elaborated over ten lines. The title refers to the occasion of the poem. The speaker is looking at the literary works of the Irish author Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), who was best known for such satirical prose works as Gulliver’s Travels and “A Modest Proposal.” Swift also wrote poetry, contributed essays to literary periodicals, and authored a fourteen-volume History of the Reign of Queen Anne. The initial reference in the poem to the pseudonyms of two of Swift’s female friends, “Stella” and “Vanessa,” suggests that the speaker is thinking of Swift’s poetry. Swift helped several eighteenth century Irish women authors, using his editorial, critical, and business skills to connect Dublin-based women writers with publishers in both Dublin and London. He also wrote poetry to Esther Johnson and Esther Vanhomrigh. Johnson was Stella, and Vanhomrigh was Vanessa. Swift’s poems on “Stella’s” birthdays are very well-known. The use of pseudonyms was common in verse written by both men and women in the eighteenth century.
Cunningham’s poem was written in Palo Alto, California, on May 20, 1944. It became one of the forty-three poems that comprise the “Epigram Journal” of his 1947 book, The Judge Is Fury. Swift, too, wrote...
(The entire section is 600 words.)