19 ottobre – Jonathan Swift

Il 19 ottobre 1745 muore a Dublino Jonathan Swift, che tutti conoscono per i Viaggi di Gulliver e molti per la Modesta proposta.

Sulla sua tomba, un epitaffio scritto da lui stesso:

Hic depositum est corpus
JONATHAN SWIFT S.T.D.
Huyus Ecclesiae Cathedralis
Decani
Ubi saeva indignatio
Ulterius
Cor lacerare nequit
Abi Viator
Et imitare, si poteris
Strenuum pro virili
Libertatis Vindicatorem
Obiit 19 Die Mensis Octobris
A.D. 1745 Anno Ætatis 78

Un altro grande irlandese, il poeta W. B. Yeats, lo traduce in inglese così:

Swift has sailed into his rest.
Savage indignation there
cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
world-besotted traveller.
He served human liberty

Swift è sepolto accanto a Esther (Stella) Johnson, la donna che amò (e forse sposò). Stella aveva 13 anni meno di Jonathan e lui la conobbe quando aveva 8 anni.

Alcune poesie scritte per il suo compleanno (il 13 marzo).

1719:

Stella this day is thirty-four,
(We shan’t dispute a year or more:)
However, Stella, be not troubled,
Although thy size and years are doubled,
Since first I saw thee at sixteen,
The brightest virgin on the green;
So little is thy form declin’d;
Made up so largely in thy mind.
Oh, would it please the gods to split
Thy beauty, size, and years, and wit;
No age could furnish out a pair
Of nymphs so graceful, wise, and fair;
With half the lustre of your eyes,
With half your wit, your years, and size.
And then, before it grew too late,
How should I beg of gentle Fate,
(That either nymph might have her swain,)
To split my worship too in twain.

1720:

All travellers at first incline
Where-e’er they see the fairest sign:
And if they find the chambers neat,
And like the liquor and the meat,
Will call again, and recommend
The Angel-inn to every friend.
What though the painting grows decay’d,
The house will never lose its trade:
Nay, though the treacherous tapster Thomas,
Hangs a new Angel two doors from us,
As fine as daubers’ hands can make it,
In hopes that strangers may mistake it,
We think it both a shame and sin
To quit the true old Angel-inn.
Now, this is Stella’s case in fact,
An angel’s face a little crack’d,
Could poets or could painters fix
How angels look at thirty-six:
This drew us in at first to find
In such a form an angel’s mind;
And every virtue now supplies
The fainting rays of Stella’s eyes.
See at her levee crouding swains,
Whom Stella freely entertains
With breeding, humour, wit, and sense;
And puts them but to small expense;
Their mind so plentifully fills,
And makes such reasonable bills,
So little gets for what she gives,
We really wonder how she lives!
And had her stock been less, no doubt
She must have long ago run out.
Then who can think we’ll quit the place,
When Doll hangs out a newer face?
Or stop and light at Cloe’s head,
With scraps and leavings to be fed?
Then, Cloe, still go on to prate
Of thirty-six, and thirty-eight;
Pursue your trade of scandal-picking,
Your hints, that Stella is no chicken;
Your innuendoes, when you tell us,
That Stella loves to talk with fellows:
And let me warn you to believe
A truth, for which your soul should grieve;
That should you live to see the day,
When Stella’s locks must all be grey,
When age must print a furrow’d trace
On every feature of her face;
Though you, and all your senseless tribe,
Could art, or time, or nature bribe,
To make you look like Beauty’s Queen,
And hold for ever at fifteen;
No bloom of youth can ever blind
The cracks and wrinkles of your mind:
All men of sense will pass your door,
And crowd to Stella’s at fourscore.

1727 (l’ultimo compleanno di Stella, già malata):

This day, whate’er the Fates decree,
Shall still be kept with joy by me:
This day then let us not be told,
That you are sick, and I grown old;
Nor think on our approaching ills,
And talk of spectacles and pills.
To-morrow will be time enough
To hear such mortifying stuff.
Yet, since from reason may be brought
A better and more pleasing thought,
Which can, in spite of all decays,
Support a few remaining days:
From not the gravest of divines
Accept for once some serious lines.

Although we now can form no more
Long schemes of life, as heretofore;
Yet you, while time is running fast,
Can look with joy on what is past.

 

Were future happiness and pain
A mere contrivance of the brain,
As atheists argue, to entice
And fit their proselytes for vice;
(The only comfort they propose,
To have companions in their woes;)
Grant this the case; yet sure ‘tis hard
That virtue, styl’d its own reward,
And by all sages understood
To be the chief of human good,
Should, acting, die, nor leave behind
Some lasting pleasure in the mind;
Which by remembrance will assuage
Grief, sickness, poverty, and age;
And strongly shoot a radiant dart
To shine through life’s declining part.

 

Say, Stella, feel you no content,
Reflecting on a life well spent?
Your skilful hand employ’d to save
Despairing wretches from the grave;
And then supporting with your store
Those whom you dragg’d from death before?
So Providence on mortals waits,
Preserving what it first creates.
Your gen’rous boldness to defend
An innocent and absent friend;
That courage which can make you just
To merit humbled in the dust;
The detestation you express
For vice in all its glitt’ring dress;
That patience under torturing pain,
Where stubborn stoics would complain:
Must these like empty shadows pass,
Or forms reflected from a glass?
Or mere chimæras in the mind,
That fly, and leave no marks behind?
Does not the body thrive and grow
By food of twenty years ago?
And, had it not been still supplied,
It must a thousand times have died.
Then who with reason can maintain
That no effects of food remain?
And is not virtue in mankind
The nutriment that feeds the mind;
Upheld by each good action past,
And still continued by the last?
Then, who with reason can pretend
That all effects of virtue end?

 

Believe me, Stella, when you show
That true contempt for things below,
Nor prize your life for other ends,
Than merely to oblige your friends;
Your former actions claim their part,
And join to fortify your heart.
For Virtue, in her daily race,
Like Janus, bears a double face;
Looks back with joy where she has gone
And therefore goes with courage on:
She at your sickly couch will wait,
And guide you to a better state.

O then, whatever Heav’n intends,
Take pity on your pitying friends!
Nor let your ills affect your mind,
To fancy they can be unkind.
Me, surely me, you ought to spare,
Who gladly would your suff’rings share;
Or give my scrap of life to you,
And think it far beneath your due;
You, to whose care so oft I owe
That I’m alive to tell you so.

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