Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) was a satirist with an extremely contemporary sense of humor. It was contemporary for the bourgeoisie of the time, and is contemporary for our modern day absurdities. The following poem is hysterical, trust me. Get through it if you’ve never read it. During the time when Swift lived, hygiene and bodily cleanliness were virtually nonexistent. People used make up, powders, wigs and all sorts of methods to look good, since bathing was uncommon. Of course there was no plumbing, and it was not practical to bathe like we do today. The following poem is about this perfect and beautiful girl Celia, whom all the men admire, and the man Strephon who sneaks into her bedroom, her chamber, or depending upon her wealth, a room or closet adjacent to her bedroom where she would dress. He takes a “survey” and discovers that essentially she’s just as disgusting as any other human being who never bathes. And yes, the goddess Celia is human in other ways. I won’t give away the end.
If you enjoy this poem and Swift’s style, and would not be easily offended by his essay “A Modest Proposal” I suggest you have a look at it. It’s his suggestion about eating babies and small children in order to end the famine in Ireland. Again, it’s satire, so take it with a grain of salt.
“A Modest Proposal” http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.html
“The Lady’s Dressing Room”
by Jonathan Swift
Five hours, (and who can do it less in?)
By haughty Celia spent in dressing;
The goddess from her chamber issues,
Arrayed in lace, brocades and tissues.
Strephon, who found the room was void,
And Betty otherwise employed,
Stole in, and took a strict survey
Of all the litter as it lay;
Whereof, to make the matter clear,
And inventory follows here.
And first a dirty smock appeared,
Beneath the armpits well besmeared.
Strephon, the rogue, displayed it wide,
And turned it round on every side.
On such a point few words are best,
And Strephon bids us guess the rest,
But swears how damnably the men lie,
In calling Celia sweet and cleanly.
Now listen while he next produces
The various combs for various uses,
Filled up with dirt so closely fixt,
No brush could force a way betwixt.
A paste of composition rare,
Sweat, dandruff, powder, lead and hair;
A forehead cloth with oil upon’t
Here alum flower to stop the steams,
Exhaled from sour unsavory streams,
There night-gloves made of Tripsy’s hide,
Bequeathed by Tripsy when she died,
With puppy water, beauty’s help
Distilled from Tripsy’s darling whelp;
Here gallypots and vials placed,
Some filled with washes, some with paste,
Some with pomatum, paints and slops,
And ointments good for scabby chops.
Hard by a filthy basin stands,
Fouled with the scouring of her hands;
The basin takes whatever comes
The scrapings of her teeth and gums,
A nasty compound of all hues,
For here she spits, and here she spews.
But oh! it turned poor Strephon’s bowels,
When he beheld and smelled the towels,
Begummed, bemattered, and beslimed
With dirt, and sweat, and earwax grimed.
No object Strephon’s eye escapes,
Here petticoats in frowzy heaps;
Nor be the handkerchiefs forgot
All varnished o’er with snuff and snot.
The stockings why should I expose,
Stained with the marks of stinking toes;
Or greasy coifs and pinners reeking,
Which Celia slept at least a week in?
A pair of tweezers next he found
To pluck her brows in arches round,
Or hairs that sink the forehead low,
Or on her chin like bristles grow.
The virtues we must not let pass,
When frightened Strephon cast his eye on’t
It showed visage of a giant.
A glass that can to sight disclose,
The smallest worm in Celia’s nose,
And faithfully direct her nail
To squeeze it out from head to tail;
For catch it nicely by the head,
It must come out alive or dead.
Why Strephon will you tell the rest?
And must you needs describe the chest?
That careless wench! no creature warn her
To move it out from yonder corner;
But leave it standing full in sight
For you to exercise your spite.
In vain the workman showed his wit
With rings and hinges counterfeit
To make it seem in this disguise
A cabinet to vulgar eyes;
For Strephon ventured to look in,
Resolved to go through thick and thin;
He lifts the lid, there needs no more,
He smelled it all the time before.
As from within Pandora’s box,
When Epimetheus op’d the locks,
A sudden universal crew
Of human evils upwards flew;
He still was comforted to find
That Hope at last remained behind;
So Strephon lifting up the lid,
To view what in the chest was hid.
The vapors flew from out the vent,
But Strephon cautious never meant
The bottom of the pan to grope,
And foul his hands in search of Hope.
O never may such vile machine
Be once in Celia’s chamber seen!
O may she better learn to keep
Those “secrets of the hoary deep!”
As mutton cutlets, prime of meat,
Which though with art you salt and beat
As laws of cookery require,
And toast them at the clearest fire;
If from adown the hopeful chops
The fat upon a cinder drops,
To stinking smoke it turns the flame
Pois’ning the flesh from whence it came,
And up exhales a greasy stench,
For which you curse the careless wench;
So things, which must not be expressed,
When plumped into the reeking chest,
Send up an excremental smell
To taint the parts from whence they fell.
The petticoats and gown perfume,
Which waft a stink round every room.
Thus finishing his grand survey,
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!
But Vengeance, goddess never sleeping
Soon punished Strephon for his peeping;
His foul imagination links
Each Dame he sees with all her stinks:
And, if unsavory odors fly,
Conceives a lady standing by:
All women his description fits,
And both ideas jump like wits:
But vicious fancy coupled fast,
And still appearing in contrast.
I pity wretched Strephon blind
To all the charms of female kind;
Should I the queen of love refuse,
Because she rose from stinking ooze?
To him that looks behind the scene,
Satira’s but some pocky queen.
When Celia in her glory shows,
If Strephon would but stop his nose
(Who now so impiously blasphemes
Her ointments, daubs, and paints and creams,
Her washes, slops, and every clout,
With which he makes so foul a rout)
He soon would learn to think like me,
And bless his ravished sight to see
Such order from confusion sprung,
Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.