To Jonathan Swift
Boldest of the writing tribe,
master of the killing gibe,
here is work that none but you,
craftsmanlike could carry through.
When you last observed our earth
statesmen shuddered at your mirth;
you'd admit our modern themes
tax your satire's wildest dreams;
Lilliputians and Yahoos
are familiar as our shoes -
symbolise, we now confess,
Probity and Cleanliness;
grave Projectors here invent
poverty, and flesh torment;
whilst Laputan justice rules,
bombing fractious slums and schools.
You preferred the tone satiric,
used but seldom panegyric;
these times offer equal scope
for our loathing and our hope.
Now each harsh day's history craves
praise for men, and scorn for knaves,
since the same foul pigmy crew
pullulates around us, too;
crushing under bully heels
all that finely thinks or feels,
and the divergent spirit clamps
in rigid cells or sombre camps.
These would not intimidate
you who dared a savage fate,
faced a strong and ruthless foe
for a hope you could not know,
but with darkness at your back
dealt the Great a mighty crack,
battling like a classic hero
smooth-tongued tyrants vile as Nero.
Yet the bloodborn future shines
through the fury of your lines,
and its steely walls are reared
over jungle swamps you cleared.
Your negation now turns fact,
men grow noble as they act,
and the justice you invoke
men are shaping stroke by stroke,
where only energy is wealth,
and amity abundant health.
from Collected Poems (Carcanet 1991), copyright © Edgell Rickword 1991, by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd. Recordings used by permission of the BBC.