Category Archives: arguments in verse

Battle of the Sexes: Lady Mary’s Piquant Reply

I’m in a mood for humor, after a late night and an early morning.  Last night we went to see Enter the Haggis, a Celtic rock band from Canada.  As I’ve mentioned before, much of my life revolves around Irish dancing, and last night was no different.  The band had invited the local Irish dancers to perform on stage during the concert, so that’s where my daughters were: on stage dancing a few numbers with a great band.  It was fun, but we are all exhausted this morning.  This whole lack of sleep thing doesn’t really suit me.  It’s how I live my life, though.  And all of this has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of my post.

If you recall, last week I posted part of Jonathan Swift’s The Lady’s Dressing Room.  It is a gross, yet funny poem mocking lovers’ illusions and pastorals and vain women.  Swift is known for penning gross poetry that deals with subjects such as excrement.  Many of his political essays are not only gross, but shocking.  For example, his Modest Proposal suggests that the Irish solve their problems of poverty and hunger by selling their own children for food.

What you may not realize when you think about the author of Gulliver’s Travels is his career as a clergyman.  When Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote her poem, The Reasons That Induced Dr. Swift to Write a Poem Called the Lady’s Dressing Room*, she held his position firmly in mind.  She might as well have titled her poem Why Would a Clergyman Write Such Filth?  For that, she has the Doctor (Swift) visiting a prostitute, and then demanding his money back from her because he can’t . . . well, you know, finish the dirty deed.  I will post the last stanza, which is a conversation between Dr. Swift and the prostitute, because it is not only funny, but biting in its tone.

The nymph grown furious roared, “By God!
The blame lies all in sixty odd,”
And scornful pointing the door
Cried, “Fumbler, see my face no more.”
“With all my heart I’ll go away,
But nothing done, I’ll nothing pay.
Give back the money.”–“How,” cried she,
“Would you palm such a cheat on me!
For poor four pound to roar and bellow,
Why sure you want some new Prunella?”
“I’ll be revenged, you saucy quean”
(Replies the disappointed Dean),
“I’ll so describe your dressing room
The very Irish shall not come.”
She answered short, “I’m glad you’ll write,
You’ll furnish paper when I shite.” (ll 74-89)

My guess is that Lady Mary didn’t like Dr. Swift all that much, nor did she appreciate his satire.

*Taken from pgs. 2588-2590 of the Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century (2000)