A Description of a City Shower by Jonathan Swift: Summary and Analysis

A Description of a City Shower by famous satirist Jonathan Swift was first published in 1710 in the Tarter magazine. This poem is regarded as the best composition of Jonathan Swift. It is written in the context of people's attraction towards the city life.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Locating his poem in the English city, Jonathan Swift is trying to show the dirt or filth lying behind the civilized mask of the city life. People regard the city as the source of civilization, prosperity, jobs and opportunities, but in reality, city life is just the opposite of what the people generally think about. It is full of artificiality and everyday dull activities.

The poem mocks both the style and character of the Augustan writers that they used to depict the fabricated life style of the city dwellers. In this A Description of City Shower, the poet is trying to present the city as the storehouse of dirt and filth. It is nothing more than the dumping site of human beings. Most of the time, this dirt is hidden and it becomes obvious especially at the time of the shower.

The poem begins with the description of the situation before the arrival of the storm. He asserts that cats will stop playing and the toilet would smell bad. The gloomy black cloud is seen on the skyline and it starts raining randomly. With the start of the shower, all the dwellers of the city London run in search of the shelter. Some ladies just act as shopping, some hide under the umbrella, and even the people from different political parties get shelter under the same roof during the shower. The poet is puzzled by the fact that though they know it is just a rain that would not harm anyone, they are sheltering in a cowardly manner. These people are compared with the terrified Greek Heroes hiding in the Trojan Horse. When the heavy rain starts to fall, all the garbage and filth of the city comes to the surface. The whole city is flooded now. He can tell the name of the city by seeing the trash in the flood. He ends the poem by comparing a greasy garbage being cleaned up with the graphic description.

In A Description of a City Shower, he responded to the then political changes of 1710 in the parliament of British government with the simple illustration of city shower. He reverses the traditional pastoral poetry and creates an anti-pastoral poem by choosing the busy urban city. He presents London just as it is with all its defects. The unpleasant imagery such as the description of gutters are used in the first half of the poetry so as to make a contrast with the form of the pastoral poetry. The rain being compared to the vomit coming from the drunkard, which is rather compared as the romantic element in the pastoral poetry is another striking imagery in the poem.

The prime theme of the poem is the absurd effort of the Londoners to live up with the so called classical languages and situations. In the time of heavy rain, all the people forget their social, political and financial state and come together under the shelter from the rain. They forget how they are supposed to treat each other as per their class. But, the moment the rain stops, they start behaving each other with the biased nature.  

The rain, here, signifies any bad condition, and Swift is simply stating how unfortunate conditions bring people together despite their race, culture and beliefs. He uses rain instead of other natural calamities just to prove that people come together just in the slightest adverse situation. He vehemently criticizes the human nature here for their selfish behavior. He is not content with the treatment of the people to each other and he condemns people for using each other just at the time of need and when the status does not matter.

Related Topics

A Modest Proposal: Critical Commentary

Jonathan Swift: Biography