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CLOSE / Parnassiad


Peace and Other Stories


Fragments of a Formerly Active Sex Life



The Lady's Dressing-Room
by Jonathan Swift  /  poetry  /  10 Nov 2007

Five hours (and who can do it less in?)
By haughty Celia spent in dressing;
The goddess from her chamber issues,
Array'd in lace, brocades, and tissues.
  Strephon, who found the room was void,
And Betty otherwise employ'd,
Stole in, and took a strict survey
Of all the litter as it lay:
Whereof, to make the matter clear,
An inventory follows here.
  And, first, a dirty smock appear'd,
Beneath the arm-pits well besmear'd;
Strephon, the rogue, display'd it wide,
And turn'd it round on ev'ry side:
On such a point, few words are best,
And Strephon bids us guess the rest;
But swears, how damnably the men lie
In calling Celia sweet and cleanly.
  Now listen, while he next produces
The various combs for various uses;
Fill'd up with dirt so closely fixt,
No brush could force a way betwixt;
A paste of composition rare,
Sweat, dandriff, powder, lead, and hair:
A fore-head cloth with oil upon't,
To smooth the wrinkles on her front:
Here alum-flour, to stop the steams
Exhaled from sour unsavoury streams:
There night-gloves made of Tripsey's hide,
Bequeath'd by Tripsey ["The bitch bequeath'd her" in some texts] when she died;
With puppy-water, beauty's help,
Distil'd from Tripsey's darling whelp.
Here gallipots and vials placed,
Some fill'd with washes, some with paste;
Some with pomatums, paints, and slops,
And ointments good for scabby chops.
Hard by a filthy bason stands,
Foul'd with the scouring of her hands:
The bason takes whatever comes,
The scrapings from her teeth and gums,
A nasty compound of all hues,
For here she spits, and here she spues.
  But, oh! it turn'd poor Strephon's bowels
When he beheld and smelt the towels,
Begumm'd, bematter'd, and beslim'd,
With dirt, and sweat, and ear-wax grim'd;
No object Strephon's eye escapes;
Here petticoats in frouzy heaps;
Nor be the handkerchiefs forgot,
All varnish'd o'er with snuff and snot.
The stockings why should I expose,
Stain'd with the moisture of her toes ["marks of stinking toes" in some texts],
Or greasy coifs, and pinners reeking,
Which Celia slept at least a week in?
A pair of tweezers next he found,
To pluck her brows in arches round;
Or hairs that sink the forehead low,
Or on her chin like bristles grow.
  The virtues we must not let pass
Of Celia's magnifying glass;
When frighted Strephon cast his eye on't,
It shew'd the visage of a giant:
A glass that can to sight disclose
The smallest worm in Celia's nose,
And faithfully direct her nail
To squeeze it out from head to tail;
For, catch it nicely by the head,
It must come out, alive or dead.
  Why, Strephon, will you tell the rest?
And must you needs describe the chest?
That careless wench! no creature warn her
To move it out from yonder corner!
But leave it standing full in sight,
For you to exercise your spight?
In vain the workman shew'd his wit,
With rings and hinges counterfeit,
To make it seem in this disguise
A cabinet to vulgar eyes:
Which Strephon ventur'd to look in,
Resolved to go thro' thick and thin.
He lifts the lid: there needs no more,
He smelt it all the time before.
  As, from within Pandora's box,
When Epimetheus op'd the locks,
A sudden universal crew
Of human evils upward flew;
He still was comforted to find
That hope at last remain'd behind:
So Strephon, lifting up the lid,
To view what in the chest was hid,
The vapours flew from up the vent;
But Strephon, cautious, never meant
The bottom of the pan to grope,
And foul his hands in search of hope.
O! ne'er may such a vile machine
Be once in Celia's chamber seen!
O! may she better learn to keep
Those "secrets of the hoary deep." [a quote from Milton, Paradise Lost II.890-1]
  As mutton-cutlets, prime of meat,
Which, tho' with art you salt and beat,
As laws of cookery require,
And toast them at the clearest fire;
If from upon the hopeful chops
The fat upon a cinder drops,
To stinking smoke it turns the flame,
Pois'ning the flesh from whence it came,
And up exhales a greasy stench,
For which you curse the careless wench:
So things which must not be exprest,
When drop'd into the reeking chest,
Send up an excremental smell
To taint the part from whence they fell:
The petticoats and gown perfume,
And waft a stink round ev'ry room.
  Thus finishing his grand survey,
Disgusted Strephon slunk away;
Repeating in his amorous fits,
"Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia sh--!"
But Vengeance, goddess never sleeping,
Soon punish'd Strephon for his peeping:
His foul imagination links
Each dame he sees with all her stinks;
And, if unsavoury odours fly,
Conceives a lady standing by.
All women his description fits,
And both ideas jump like wits;
By vicious fancy coupled fast,
And still appearing in contrast.
  I pity wretched Strephon, blind
To all the charms of woman kind.
Should I the Queen of Love refuse,
Because she rose from stinking ooze?
To him that looks behind the scene,
Statira's but some pocky quean.
  When Celia in her glory shews,
If Strephon would but stop his nose,
(Who now so impiously blasphemes
Her ointments, daubs, and paints, and creams,
Her washes, slops, and every clout,
With which he makes so foul a rout;)
He soon would learn to think like me,
And bless his ravish'd sight to see
Such order from confusion sprung,
Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.
                                         (1730)

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