Swift’s birthday poems to Stella

 

 
I. STELLA'S BIRTH-DAY MARCH 13, 1718-19
 
 
Stella this day is thirty-four,
(We shan't dispute a year or more:)
However, Stella, be not troubled,
Although thy size and years are doubled
Since first I saw thee at sixteen,
The brightest virgin on the green;
So little is thy form declined;
Made up so largely in thy mind.
  O, would it please the gods to split
Thy beauty, size, and years, and wit!
No age could furnish out a pair
Of nymphs so graceful, wise, and fair;
With half the lustre of your eyes,
With half your wit, your years, and size.
And then, before it grew too late,
How should I beg of gentle fate,
(That either nymph might have her swain,)
To split my worship too in twain.

 

II. STELLA'S BIRTH-DAY.[1] 1719-20
 
WRITTEN A.D. 1720-21.--_Stella_.
 
 
All travellers at first incline
Where'er they see the fairest sign
And if they find the chambers neat,
And like the liquor and the meat,
Will call again, and recommend
The Angel Inn to every friend.
And though the painting grows decay'd,
The house will never lose its trade:
Nay, though the treach'rous tapster,[2] Thomas,
Hangs a new Angel two doors from us,
As fine as daubers' hands can make it,
In hopes that strangers may mistake it,
We[3] think it both a shame and sin
To quit the true old Angel Inn.
  Now this is Stella's case in fact,
An angel's face a little crack'd.
(Could poets or could painters fix
How angels look at thirty-six:)
This drew us in at first to find
In such a form an angel's mind;
And every virtue now supplies
The fainting rays of Stella's eyes.
See, at her levee crowding swains,
Whom Stella freely entertains
With breeding, humour, wit, and sense,
And puts them to so small expense;
Their minds so plentifully fills,
And makes such reasonable bills,
So little gets for what she gives,
We really wonder how she lives!
And had her stock been less, no doubt
She must have long ago run out.
  Then, who can think we'll quit the place,
When Doll hangs out a newer face?
Nail'd to her window full in sight
All Christian people to invite.
Or stop and light at Chloe's head,
With scraps and leavings to be fed?
  Then, Chloe, still go on to prate
Of thirty-six and thirty-eight;
Pursue your trade of scandal-picking,
Your hints that Stella is no chicken;
Your innuendoes, when you tell us,
That Stella loves to talk with fellows:
But let me warn you to believe
A truth, for which your soul should grieve;
That should you live to see the day,
When Stella's locks must all be gray,
When age must print a furrow'd trace
On every feature of her face;
Though you, and all your senseless tribe,
Could Art, or Time, or Nature bribe,
To make you look like Beauty's Queen,
And hold for ever at fifteen;
No bloom of youth can ever blind
The cracks and wrinkles of your mind:
All men of sense will pass your door,
And crowd to Stella's at four-score.
 
 
[Footnote 1: Collated with Stella's own copy transcribed in her
volume.--_Forster_.]
 
[Footnote 2: Rascal.--_Stella_.]
 
[Footnote 3: They.--_Stella_.]

 

III. TO STELLA ON HER BIRTH-DAY, 1721-2
 
 
While, Stella, to your lasting praise
The Muse her annual tribute pays,
While I assign myself a task
Which you expect, but scorn to ask;
If I perform this task with pain,
Let me of partial fate complain;
You every year the debt enlarge,
I grow less equal to the charge:
In you each virtue brighter shines,
But my poetic vein declines;
My harp will soon in vain be strung,
And all your virtues left unsung.
For none among the upstart race
Of poets dare assume my place;
Your worth will be to them unknown,
They must have Stellas of their own;
And thus, my stock of wit decay'd,
I dying leave the debt unpaid,
Unless Delany, as my heir,
Will answer for the whole arrear.

 

IV. STELLA'S BIRTH-DAY:
A GREAT BOTTLE OF WINE, LONG BURIED, BEING THAT DAY DUG UP. 1722-3
 
 
Resolv'd my annual verse to pay,
By duty bound, on Stella's day,
Furnish'd with paper, pens, and ink,
I gravely sat me down to think:
I bit my nails, and scratch'd my head,
But found my wit and fancy fled:
Or if, with more than usual pain,
A thought came slowly from my brain,
It cost me Lord knows how much time
To shape it into sense and rhyme:
And, what was yet a greater curse,
Long thinking made my fancy worse.
  Forsaken by th'inspiring Nine,
I waited at Apollo's shrine:
I told him what the world would say,
If Stella were unsung to-day:
How I should hide my head for shame,
When both the Jacks and Robin came;
How Ford would frown, how Jim would leer,
How Sheridan the rogue would sneer,
And swear it does not always follow,
That _semel'n anno ridet Apollo_.
I have assur'd them twenty times,
That Phoebus help'd me in my rhymes;
Phoebus inspired me from above,
And he and I were hand and glove.
But, finding me so dull and dry since,
They'll call it all poetic license;
And when I brag of aid divine,
Think Eusden's[1] right as good as mine.
  Nor do I ask for Stella's sake;
'Tis my own credit lies at stake:
And Stella will be sung, while I
Can only be a stander by.
  Apollo, having thought a little,
Return'd this answer to a tittle.
  Though you should live like old Methusalem,
I furnish hints and you shall use all 'em,
You yearly sing as she grows old,
You'd leave her virtues half untold.
But, to say truth, such dulness reigns,
Through the whole set of Irish deans,
I'm daily stunn'd with such a medley,
Dean White, Dean Daniel, and Dean Smedley,
That, let what dean soever come,
My orders are, I'm not at home;
And if your voice had not been loud,
You must have pass'd among the crowd.
  But now, your danger to prevent,
You must apply to Mrs. Brent;[2]
For she, as priestess, knows the rites
Wherein the god of earth delights.
First, nine ways looking,[3] let her stand
With an old poker in her hand;
Let her describe a circle round
In Saunders'[4] cellar on the ground:
A spade let prudent Archy[5] hold,
And with discretion dig the mould.
Let Stella look with watchful eye,
Rebecca,[6] Ford, and Grattans by.
  Behold the bottle, where it lies
With neck elated toward the skies!
The god of winds and god of fire
Did to its wondrous birth conspire;
And Bacchus for the poet's use
Pour'd in a strong inspiring juice.
See! as you raise it from its tomb,
It drags behind a spacious womb,
And in the spacious womb contains
A sov'reign med'cine for the brains.
  You'll find it soon, if fate consents;
If not, a thousand Mrs. Brents,
Ten thousand Archys, arm'd with spades,
May dig in vain to Pluto's shades.
  From thence a plenteous draught infuse,
And boldly then invoke the Muse;
But first let Robert[7] on his knees
With caution drain it from the lees;
The Muse will at your call appear,
With Stella's praise to crown the year.
 
 
[Footnote 1: The Poet Laureate.]
 
[Footnote 2: "Mrs. Brent, my housekeeper, famous in print for digging out
the great bottle." "I dine _tête a tête_ five days a week with my old
presbyterian housekeeper whom I call Sir Robert." Swift to Pope. Pope's
"Works," edit. Elwin and Courthope, vii, pp. 145, 212.--_W. E. B._]
 
[Footnote 3: She had a cast in her eyes.--_Swift._]
 
[Footnote 4: The butler.]
 
[Footnote 5: The footman.]
 
[Footnote 6: Mrs. Dingley.]
 
[Footnote 7: The valet.]

 

V. TO STELLA
 
WRITTEN ON THE DAY OF HER BIRTH, MARCH 13, 1723-4,
BUT NOT ON THE SUBJECT, WHEN I WAS SICK IN BED
 
Tormented with incessant pains,
Can I devise poetic strains?
Time was, when I could yearly pay
My verse to Stella's native day:
But now unable grown to write,
I grieve she ever saw the light.
Ungrateful! since to her I owe
That I these pains can undergo.
She tends me like an humble slave;
And, when indecently I rave,
When out my brutish passions break,
With gall in every word I speak,
She with soft speech my anguish cheers,
Or melts my passions down with tears;
Although 'tis easy to descry
She wants assistance more than I;
Yet seems to feel my pains alone,
And is a stoic in her own.
When, among scholars, can we find
So soft and yet so firm a mind?
All accidents of life conspire
To raise up Stella's virtue higher;
Or else to introduce the rest
Which had been latent in her breast.
Her firmness who could e'er have known,
Had she not evils of her own?
Her kindness who could ever guess,
Had not her friends been in distress?
Whatever base returns you find
From me, dear Stella, still be kind.
In your own heart you'll reap the fruit,
Though I continue still a brute.
But, when I once am out of pain,
I promise to be good again;
Meantime, your other juster friends
Shall for my follies make amends;
So may we long continue thus,
Admiring you, you pitying us.

 

VI. STELLA'S BIRTH-DAY. 1724-5
 
 
As when a beauteous nymph decays,
We say she's past her dancing days;
So poets lose their feet by time,
And can no longer dance in rhyme.
Your annual bard had rather chose
To celebrate your birth in prose:
Yet merry folks, who want by chance
A pair to make a country dance,
Call the old housekeeper, and get her
To fill a place for want of better:
While Sheridan is off the hooks,
And friend Delany at his books,
That Stella may avoid disgrace,
Once more the Dean supplies their place.
  Beauty and wit, too sad a truth!
Have always been confined to youth;
The god of wit and beauty's queen,
He twenty-one and she fifteen,
No poet ever sweetly sung,
Unless he were, like Phoebus, young;
Nor ever nymph inspired to rhyme,
Unless, like Venus, in her prime.
At fifty-six, if this be true,
Am I a poet fit for you?
Or, at the age of forty-three,
Are you a subject fit for me?
Adieu! bright wit, and radiant eyes!
You must be grave and I be wise.
Our fate in vain we would oppose:
But I'll be still your friend in prose:
Esteem and friendship to express,
Will not require poetic dress;
And if the Muse deny her aid
To have them sung, they may be said.
  But, Stella, say, what evil tongue
Reports you are no longer young;
That Time sits with his scythe to mow
Where erst sat Cupid with his bow;
That half your locks are turn'd to gray?
I'll ne'er believe a word they say.
'Tis true, but let it not be known,
My eyes are somewhat dimmish grown;
For nature, always in the right,
To your decays adapts my sight;
And wrinkles undistinguished pass,
For I'm ashamed to use a glass:
And till I see them with these eyes,
Whoever says you have them, lies.
  No length of time can make you quit
Honour and virtue, sense and wit;
Thus you may still be young to me,
While I can better hear than see.
O ne'er may Fortune show her spite,
To make me deaf, and mend my sight![1]
 
[Footnote 1: Now deaf, 1740.--_Swift_. This pathetic note was in Swift's
writing in his own copy of the "Miscellanies," edit.
1727-32.--_W. E. B._]

 

VII. STELLA'S BIRTH-DAY
 
MARCH 13, 1726-7
 
 
This day, whate'er the Fates decree,
Shall still be kept with joy by me:
This day then let us not be told,
That you are sick, and I grown old;
Nor think on our approaching ills,
And talk of spectacles and pills;
To-morrow will be time enough
To hear such mortifying stuff.
Yet, since from reason may be brought
A better and more pleasing thought,
Which can, in spite of all decays,
Support a few remaining days;
From not the gravest of divines
Accept for once some serious lines.
  Although we now can form no more
Long schemes of life, as heretofore;
Yet you, while time is running fast,
Can look with joy on what is past.
  Were future happiness and pain
A mere contrivance of the brain;
As atheists argue, to entice
And fit their proselytes for vice;
(The only comfort they propose,
To have companions in their woes;)
Grant this the case; yet sure 'tis hard
That virtue, styled its own reward,
And by all sages understood
To be the chief of human good,
Should acting die; nor leave behind
Some lasting pleasure in the mind,
Which, by remembrance, will assuage
Grief, sickness, poverty, and age;
And strongly shoot a radiant dart
To shine through life's declining part.
  Say, Stella, feel you no content,
Reflecting on a life well spent?
Your skilful hand employ'd to save
Despairing wretches from the grave;
And then supporting with your store
Those whom you dragg'd from death before?
So Providence on mortals waits,
Preserving what it first creates.
Your generous boldness to defend
An innocent and absent friend;
That courage which can make you just
To merit humbled in the dust;
The detestation you express
For vice in all its glittering dress;
That patience under torturing pain,
Where stubborn stoics would complain:
Must these like empty shadows pass,
Or forms reflected from a glass?
Or mere chimeras in the mind,
That fly, and leave no marks behind?
Does not the body thrive and grow
By food of twenty years ago?
And, had it not been still supplied,
It must a thousand times have died.
Then who with reason can maintain
That no effects of food remain?
And is not virtue in mankind
The nutriment that feeds the mind;
Upheld by each good action past,
And still continued by the last?
Then, who with reason can pretend
That all effects of virtue end?
  Believe me, Stella, when you show
That true contempt for things below,
Nor prize your life for other ends,
Than merely to oblige your friends;
Your former actions claim their part,
And join to fortify your heart.
For Virtue, in her daily race,
Like Janus, bears a double face;
Looks back with joy where she has gone
And therefore goes with courage on:
She at your sickly couch will wait,
And guide you to a better state.
  O then, whatever Heaven intends,
Take pity on your pitying friends!
Nor let your ills affect your mind,
To fancy they can be unkind.
Me, surely me, you ought to spare,
Who gladly would your suffering share;
Or give my scrap of life to you,
And think it far beneath your due;
You, to whose care so oft I owe
That I'm alive to tell you so.