English Literature » Jonathan Swift » Directions for a Birthday Song

Directions for a Birthday Song by

To form a just and finish'd piece,
Take twenty gods of Rome or Greece,
Whose godships are in chief request,
And fit your present subject best;
And, should it be your hero's case,
To have both male and female race,
Your business must be to provide
A score of goddesses beside.

  Some call their monarchs sons of Saturn,
For which they bring a modern pattern;
Because they might have heard of one,[1]
Who often long'd to eat his son;
But this I think will not go down,
For here the father kept his crown.

  Why, then, appoint him son of Jove,
Who met his mother in a grove;
To this we freely shall consent,
Well knowing what the poets meant;
And in their sense, 'twixt me and you,
It may be literally true.[2]

  Next, as the laws of verse require,
He must be greater than his sire;
For Jove, as every schoolboy knows,
Was able Saturn to depose;
And sure no Christian poet breathing
Would be more scrupulous than a Heathen;
Or, if to blasphemy it tends.
That's but a trifle among friends.

  Your hero now another Mars is,
Makes mighty armies turn their a–s:
Behold his glittering falchion mow
Whole squadrons at a single blow;
While Victory, with wings outspread,
Flies, like an eagle, o'er his head;
His milk-white steed upon its haunches,
Or pawing into dead men's paunches;
As Overton has drawn his sire,
Still seen o'er many an alehouse fire.
Then from his arm hoarse thunder rolls,
As loud as fifty mustard bowls;
For thunder still his arm supplies,
And lightning always in his eyes.
They both are cheap enough in conscience,
And serve to echo rattling nonsense.
The rumbling words march fierce along,
Made trebly dreadful in your song.

  Sweet poet, hired for birth-day rhymes,
To sing of wars, choose peaceful times.
What though, for fifteen years and more,
Janus has lock'd his temple-door;
Though not a coffeehouse we read in
Has mention'd arms on this side Sweden;
Nor London Journals, nor the Postmen,
Though fond of warlike lies as most men;
Thou still with battles stuff thy head full:
For, must thy hero not be dreadful?
Dismissing Mars, it next must follow
Your conqueror is become Apollo:
That he's Apollo is as plain as
That Robin Walpole is Maecenas;
But that he struts, and that he squints,
You'd know him by Apollo's prints.
Old Phoebus is but half as bright,
For yours can shine both day and night.
The first, perhaps, may once an age
Inspire you with poetic rage;
Your Phoebus Royal, every day,
Not only can inspire, but pay.

  Then make this new Apollo sit
Sole patron, judge, and god of wit.
"How from his altitude he stoops
To raise up Virtue when she droops;
On Learning how his bounty flows,
And with what justice he bestows;
Fair Isis, and ye banks of Cam!
Be witness if I tell a flam,
What prodigies in arts we drain,
From both your streams, in George's reign.
As from the flowery bed of Nile"–
But here's enough to show your style.
Broad innuendoes, such as this,
If well applied, can hardly miss:
For, when you bring your song in print,
He'll get it read, and take the hint;
(It must be read before 'tis warbled,
The paper gilt and cover marbled.)
And will be so much more your debtor,
Because he never knew a letter.
And, as he hears his wit and sense
(To which he never made pretence)
Set out in hyperbolic strains,
A guinea shall reward your pains;
For patrons never pay so well,
As when they scarce have learn'd to spell.
Next call him Neptune: with his trident
He rules the sea: you see him ride in't;
And, if provoked, he soundly firks his
Rebellious waves with rods, like Xerxes.
He would have seized the Spanish plate,
Had not the fleet gone out too late;
And in their very ports besiege them,
But that he would not disoblige them;
And make the rascals pay him dearly
For those affronts they give him yearly.

  'Tis not denied, that, when we write,
Our ink is black, our paper white:
And, when we scrawl our paper o'er,
We blacken what was white before:
I think this practice only fit
For dealers in satiric wit.
But you some white-lead ink must get
And write on paper black as jet;
Your interest lies to learn the knack
Of whitening what before was black.

  Thus your encomium, to be strong,
Must be applied directly wrong.
A tyrant for his mercy praise,
And crown a royal dunce with bays:
A squinting monkey load with charms,
And paint a coward fierce in arms.
Is he to avarice inclined?
Extol him for his generous mind:
And, when we starve for want of corn,
Come out with Amalthea's horn:[3]
For all experience this evinces
The only art of pleasing princes:
For princes' love you should descant
On virtues which they know they want.
One compliment I had forgot,
But songsters must omit it not;
I freely grant the thought is old:
Why, then, your hero must be told,
In him such virtues lie inherent,
To qualify him God's vicegerent;
That with no title to inherit,
He must have been a king by merit.
Yet, be the fancy old or new,
Tis partly false, and partly true:
And, take it right, it means no more
Than George and William claim'd before.

  Should some obscure inferior fellow,
Like Julius, or the youth of Pella,[4]
When all your list of Gods is out,
Presume to show his mortal snout,
And as a Deity intrude,
Because he had the world subdued;
O, let him not debase your thoughts,
Or name him but to tell his faults.–

  Of Gods I only quote the best,
But you may hook in all the rest.

  Now, birth-day bard, with joy proceed
To praise your empress and her breed;
First of the first, to vouch your lies,
Bring all the females of the skies;
The Graces, and their mistress, Venus,
Must venture down to entertain us:
With bended knees when they adore her,
What dowdies they appear before her!
Nor shall we think you talk at random,
For Venus might be her great-grandam:
Six thousand years has lived the Goddess,
Your heroine hardly fifty odd is;
Besides, your songsters oft have shown
That she has Graces of her own:
Three Graces by Lucina brought her,
Just three, and every Grace a daughter;
Here many a king his heart and crown
Shall at their snowy feet lay down:
In royal robes, they come by dozens
To court their English German cousins:
Beside a pair of princely babies,
That, five years hence, will both be Hebes.

  Now see her seated in her throne
With genuine lustre, all her own:
Poor Cynthia never shone so bright,
Her splendour is but borrow'd light;
And only with her brother linkt
Can shine, without him is extinct.
But Carolina shines the clearer
With neither spouse nor brother near her:
And darts her beams o'er both our isles,
Though George is gone a thousand miles.
Thus Berecynthia takes her place,
Attended by her heavenly race;
And sees a son in every God,
Unawed by Jove's all-shaking nod.

  Now sing his little highness Freddy
Who struts like any king already:
With so much beauty, show me any maid
That could resist this charming Ganymede!
Where majesty with sweetness vies,
And, like his father, early wise.
Then cut him out a world of work,
To conquer Spain, and quell the Turk:
Foretel his empire crown'd with bays,
And golden times, and halcyon days;
And swear his line shall rule the nation
For ever–till the conflagration.

  But, now it comes into my mind,
We left a little duke behind;
A Cupid in his face and size,
And only wants, to want his eyes.
Make some provision for the younker,
Find him a kingdom out to conquer;
Prepare a fleet to waft him o'er,
Make Gulliver his commodore;
Into whose pocket valiant Willy put,
Will soon subdue the realm of Lilliput.

  A skilful critic justly blames
Hard, tough, crank, guttural, harsh, stiff names
The sense can ne'er be too jejune,
But smooth your words to fit the tune.
Hanover may do well enough,
But George and Brunswick are too rough;
Hesse-Darmstadt makes a rugged sound,
And Guelp the strongest ear will wound.
In vain are all attempts from Germany
To find out proper words for harmony:
And yet I must except the Rhine,
Because it clinks to Caroline.
Hail, queen of Britain, queen of rhymes!
Be sung ten hundred thousand times;
Too happy were the poets' crew,
If their own happiness they knew:
Three syllables did never meet
So soft, so sliding, and so sweet:
Nine other tuneful words like that
Would prove even Homer's numbers flat.
Behold three beauteous vowels stand,
With bridegroom liquids hand in hand;
In concord here for ever fix'd,
No jarring consonant betwixt.

  May Caroline continue long,
For ever fair and young!–in song.
What though the royal carcass must,
Squeezed in a coffin, turn to dust?
Those elements her name compose,
Like atoms, are exempt from blows.

  Though Caroline may fill your gaps,
Yet still you must consult your maps;
Find rivers with harmonious names,
Sabrina, Medway, and the Thames,
Britannia long will wear like steel,
But Albion's cliffs are out at heel;
And Patience can endure no more
To hear the Belgic lion roar.
Give up the phrase of haughty Gaul,
But proud Iberia soundly maul:
Restore the ships by Philip taken,
And make him crouch to save his bacon.
Nassau, who got the name of Glorious,
Because he never was victorious,
A hanger-on has always been;
For old acquaintance bring him in.

  To Walpole you might lend a line,
But much I fear he's in decline;
And if you chance to come too late,
When he goes out, you share his fate,
And bear the new successor's frown;
Or, whom you once sang up, sing down.
Reject with scorn that stupid notion,
To praise your hero for devotion;
Nor entertain a thought so odd,
That princes should believe in God;
But follow the securest rule,
And turn it all to ridicule:
'Tis grown the choicest wit at court,
And gives the maids of honour sport;
For, since they talk'd with Dr. Clarke,[5]
They now can venture in the dark:
That sound divine the truth has spoke all,
And pawn'd his word, Hell is not local.
This will not give them half the trouble
Of bargains sold, or meanings double.

  Supposing now your song is done,
To Mynheer Handel next you run,
Who artfully will pare and prune
Your words to some Italian tune:
Then print it in the largest letter,
With capitals, the more the better.
Present it boldly on your knee,
And take a guinea for your fee.

[Footnote 1: Alluding to the disputes between George I, and his son, while the latter was Prince of Wales.–Scott.]

[Footnote 2: The Electress Sophia, mother of George II, was supposed to have had an intrigue with Count Konigsmark.–Scott.]

[Footnote 3: The name of the goat with whose milk Jupiter was fed, and one of whose horns was placed among the stars as the Cornu Amaltheae, or Cornu Copiae. Ovid, "Fasti," lib. v.–W. E. B.]

[Footnote 4: The ancient city in Macedonia, the birthplace of Alexander the Great.–W. E. B.]

[Footnote 5: A famous Low Church divine, a favourite with Queen Caroline, distinguished as a man of science and a scholar. He became Rector of St. James', Piccadilly, but his sermons and his theological writings were not considered quite orthodox. See note in Carruthers' edition of Pope, "Moral Essays," Epist. iv.–W. E. B.]

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