Critical Analysis Of Jonathan Swifts Verse English Literature Essay

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Swift's, Verses Written in a Lady's Ivory Table-Book, is a witty poem with elements of the complaint genre as it critically portrays the triviality of a Lady's affections which to the narrator are a seemingly obvious façade. It also brings into consideration the foolish behaviour of the 'coxcombs' and suitors who believe that her affections are real and obtainable. To these men, this book is a chance to, 'seest my owner's heart', but the narrator - and the Lady it would seem - knows better. It is a typical example of eighteenth century satire poetry, written from the narrative perspective of the Table-Book itself.

The personification of the Table-Book as the narrator and social commentator in the first instance provides Swift with a vessel in which all action can be fixed and examined. This notion of creating order out of chaos was a prevalent theme in eighteenth century writing, and has been utilised here as a way of pooling the ignorance of the Lady and the suitors into one concise location so that it can be satirised. The Book is an inanimate object and is therefore neutral in its observations as it cannot have any emotional attachment, which lends the poem an air of authority as a social commentary. Not deciding to use the voice of one of the Lady's jilted lovers, for example, avoids complicating the authority of the narration that could otherwise be undermined by bias. This type of book would have usually been left in a public place, 'exposed for every coxcomb's eyes', to 'peruse' at leisure. The triviality of her feelings and actions are therefore evident as every word that is written out of apparent affection can be read by another. This she appears to not care about as the narrator states that her character is as 'senseless, and as light' as the 'trifle' minutiae she scrawls in the book.

The language and the way it is used in this poem emphasises the concept of façade, truth and illusion since they depict the sense of deception and hidden meanings; which is the poems key theme. The word 'trifle' for example can refer to the items she writes, such as the 'receipt for paint', but also can be defined as a method of deception or a way of conveying a lie. [1] The way in which Swift places these notes in a catalogue of sorts, listing first a message from a suitor then immediately contrasting it with a rhyming entry from the Lady, emphasises and trivialises the meaning of such declarations as 'Madam, I die without your grace', and makes them just as important as her interest in her 'Item for half a yard of lace'. In a similar vein the narrator states that the suitors have the ability 'blot out' what has been written before without challenge and as if it had never been written, thereby destroying any meaning that it potentially had. The tokens and gestures made by these men, such as the 'billet-doux' which is traditionally a secret love letter, [2] should in theory be kept sacred and private, but this Lady is more than happy to have them displayed openly. Not only does it again suggest that the narrator is implying that this Lady is trivial with her feelings, but it could also be interpreted as a metaphor perhaps for her sexual infidelity; implying nothing is hidden from the public eye, not even her body.

However the narrator does not suggest that she is unaware or stupid for allowing these to be on display; on the contrary, she is highly aware of who can see it and makes sure the notes are 'hid with caution from the wise'. She knows that her reputation could be undermined if this book was to be seen by the wrong people. This does suggest that she is rather vain in her actions. All of her entries in the book concern appearance and materialistic items, such as the recipe for cosmetics and remedies for 'an ell breth'. This concurrently trivialises the love notes of the men but also adds to the idea that she is more concerned with her own impression and appearance of herself. The Book alludes to the fact that she probably allows for all these suitors because they are wealthy in the comment, 'Whoe'er…be wealthy, and a fool, // is in all points the fittest tool'. They are there to be used by her but they will never truly satisfy her heart or her appetite for material items as she needs many suitors. They are merely 'a gold pencil tipped with lead'. The pencil, a typically phallic male symbol, whilst covered in gold and so appears to be valuable to the outside, is inevitably tipped with lead; dull, dim yet useful. Swift acknowledges that any advances to gain 'such a heart' are impotent. A common trait of the male characters in Swift's other works.

It is difficult to interpret whether Swift's complaint is directed more at the flippancy of the Lady or the foolishness of the men. The title refers to 'a Lady' alluding perhaps to the idea that this is a universal complaint that all women are flippant with their hearts. The structure of the poem certainly indicates that there is more focus paid to the actions of the Lady. From the opening there is more attention on her character, as she is described as being uncaring and indifferent towards her suitors and whilst she is deemed a 'saint' by her suitors she is also a 'nymph'; a mythical figure notorious for sexual promiscuity. The tone and focus then changes at line 17 and after this point more attention is paid to the foolishness of the men and ends on the image of male impotence. As the final lines of a poem are usually those which resonate and stay with the reader, I would argue that perhaps Swift is more concerned with the actions of the men as victims of all women's façades.