Jonathan Swift Poems
Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) is best remembered for two of his prose works—Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal—but he was also an accomplished poet. In fact, his first publication was the poem “Ode to the Athenian Society,” which was printed in The Athenian Mercury, February 14, 1691. The Athenian Mercury was a London periodical that existed between 1690 and 1697. Swift continued to write poetry throughout his career, until 1733.
In 1713, Swift became the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. While there, he became romantically involved with a woman named Esther Vanhomrigh, whom he called “Vanessa.” His poem “Caednus and Vanessa” is said to have been inspired by their long and failed courtship. Included are the lines: “The parties ne’er could issue join/For sixteen years the cause was spun/And then stood where it first begun.”
Another woman, Ester “Stella” Johnson, was a source of Swift’s poetry. He wrote three separate poems for her birthday, in 1719, 1720 and 1727. Swift also wrote “The Death of Mrs. Johnson” when she died in 1728 and kept a lock of her hair in his desk.
Jonathan Swift even wrote his own Latin epigraph, which the Irish poet W.B. Yeats translated into English: Swift has sailed into his rest/Savage indignation there/Cannot lacerate his breast/Imitate him if you dare/World-besotted traveler; he/Served human liberty.