Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
Stella's Birthday March 13, 1727
1This day, whate'er the Fates decree,
2Shall still be kept with joy by me:
3This day then let us not be told,
4That you are sick, and I grown old;
5Nor think on our approaching ills,
6And talk of spectacles and pills.
7To-morrow will be time enough
8To hear such mortifying stuff.
9Yet, since from reason may be brought
10A better and more pleasing thought,
11Which can, in spite of all decays,
12Support a few remaining days:
13From not the gravest of divines
14Accept for once some serious lines.
15 Although we now can form no more
16Long schemes of life, as heretofore;
17Yet you, while time is running fast,
18Can look with joy on what is past.
19 Were future happiness and pain
20A mere contrivance of the brain,
21As atheists argue, to entice
22And fit their proselytes for vice;
23(The only comfort they propose,
24To have companions in their woes;)
25Grant this the case; yet sure 'tis hard
26That virtue, styl'd its own reward,
27And by all sages understood
28To be the chief of human good,
29Should, acting, die, nor leave behind
30Some lasting pleasure in the mind;
31Which by remembrance will assuage
32Grief, sickness, poverty, and age;
33And strongly shoot a radiant dart
34To shine through life's declining part.
35 Say, Stella, feel you no content,
36Reflecting on a life well spent?
37Your skilful hand employ'd to save
38Despairing wretches from the grave;
39And then supporting with your store
40Those whom you dragg'd from death before?
41So Providence on mortals waits,
42Preserving what it first creates.
43Your gen'rous boldness to defend
44An innocent and absent friend;
45That courage which can make you just
46To merit humbled in the dust;
47The detestation you express
48For vice in all its glitt'ring dress;
49That patience under torturing pain,
50Where stubborn stoics would complain:
51Must these like empty shadows pass,
52Or forms reflected from a glass?
53Or mere chimæras in the mind,
54That fly, and leave no marks behind?
55Does not the body thrive and grow
56By food of twenty years ago?
57And, had it not been still supplied,
58It must a thousand times have died.
59Then who with reason can maintain
60That no effects of food remain?
61And is not virtue in mankind
62The nutriment that feeds the mind;
63Upheld by each good action past,
64And still continued by the last?
65Then, who with reason can pretend
66That all effects of virtue end?
67 Believe me, Stella, when you show
68That true contempt for things below,
69Nor prize your life for other ends,
70Than merely to oblige your friends;
71Your former actions claim their part,
72And join to fortify your heart.
73For Virtue, in her daily race,
74Like Janus, bears a double face;
75Looks back with joy where she has gone
76And therefore goes with courage on:
77She at your sickly couch will wait,
78And guide you to a better state.
79 O then, whatever Heav'n intends,
80Take pity on your pitying friends!
81Nor let your ills affect your mind,
82To fancy they can be unkind.
83Me, surely me, you ought to spare,
84Who gladly would your suff'rings share;
85Or give my scrap of life to you,
86And think it far beneath your due;
87You, to whose care so oft I owe
88That I'm alive to tell you so.
Online text copyright © 2009, Ian Lancashire (the Department of English) and the University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.
Original text: Miscellanies, III, (London: B. Notte, 1728). B-12 0241 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date:
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP 1.528.
Recent editing: 4:2002/5/29
Form: Short Couplets
Other poems by Jonathan Swift