Strephon and Chloe

Jonathan Swift


Edited by Jack Lynch

Of Chloe 1  all the Town has rung;
By ev'ry size of Poets sung:
So beautiful a Nymph appears
But once in Twenty Thousand Years.
By Nature form'd with nicest 2  Care, [5]
And, faultless to a single Hair.
Her graceful Mein, 3  her Shape, and Face,
Confest 4  her of no mortal Race:
And then, so nice, and so genteel;
Such Cleanliness from Head to Heel: [10]
No Humours gross, or frowzy Steams,
No noisom 5  Whiffs, or sweaty Streams,
Before, behind, above, below,
Could from her taintless Body flow.
Would so discreetly Things dispose, [15]
None ever saw her pluck a Rose.
Her dearest Comrades never caught her
Squat on her Hams, 6  to make Maid's Water.
You'd swear, that so divine a Creature
Felt no Necessities of Nature. [20]
In Summer had she walkt the Town,
Her Arm-pits would not stain her Gown:
At Country Dances, not a Nose
Could in the Dog-Days 7  smell her Toes.
Her Milk-white Hands, both Palms and Backs, [25]
Like Iv'ry dry, and soft as Wax.
Her Hands the softest ever felt,
Tho' cold would burn, tho' dry would melt. 8 

   Dear Venus, hide this wond'rous Maid,
Nor let her loose to spoil your Trade. [30]
While she engrosseth ev'ry Swain, 9 
You but o'er half the World can reign.
Think what a Case all Men are now in,
What ogling, sighing, toasting, vowing!
What powder'd Wigs! What Flames and Darts! [35]
What Hampers full of bleeding Hearts!
What Sword-knots! What Poetic Strains!
What Billet-doux, 10  and clouded Cains! 11 

   But, Strephon sigh'd so loud and strong,
He blew a Settlement along: [40]
And, bravely drove his Rivals down
With Coach and Six, and House in Town. 12 
The bashful Nymph no more withstands,
Because her dear Papa commands.
The charming Couple now unites; [45]
Proceed we to the Marriage Rites.

   Imprimis, 13  at the Temple Porch
Stood Hymen 14  with a flaming Torch.
The smiling Cyprian Goddess brings
Her infant Loves with purple Wings; [50]
And Pigeons billing, Sparrows treading,
Fair Emblems of a fruitful Wedding.
The Muses next in Order follow,
Conducted by their Squire, Apollo:
Then Mercury with Silver Tongue, [55]
And Hebe, Goddess ever young.
Behold the Bridegroom and his Bride,
Walk Hand in Hand, and Side by Side;
She by the tender Graces drest,
But, he by Mars, in Scarlet Vest. [60]
The Nymph was cover'd with her Flammeum, 15 
And Phoebus sung th' Epithalamium. 16 
And, last to make the Matter sure,
Dame Juno brought a Priest demure.
Luna 17  was absent on Pretence [65]
Her Time was not till Nine Months hence.

   The Rites perform'd, the Parson paid,
In State return'd the grand Parade;
With loud Huzza's from all the Boys,
That now the Pair must crown their Joys. [70]

   But, still the hardest Part remains.
Strephon had long perplex'd his Brains,
How with so high a Nymph he might
Demean himself the Wedding-Night:
For, as he view'd his Person round, [75]
Meer mortal Flesh was all he found:
His Hand, his Neck, his Mouth, and Feet
Were duly washt to keep 'em sweet;
(With other Parts that shall be nameless,
The Ladies else might think me shameless.) [80]
The Weather and his Love were hot;
And should he struggle; I know what—
Why let it go, if I must tell it—
He'll sweat, and then the Nymph may smell it.
While she a Goddess dy'd in Grain [85]
Was unsusceptible of Stain:
And, Venus-like, her fragrant Skin
Exhal'd Ambrosia 18  from within:
Can such a Deity endure
A mortal human Touch impure? [90]
How did the humbled Swain detest
His prickled Beard, and hairy Breast!
His Night-Cap border'd round with Lace
Could give no Softness to his Face.

   Yet, if the Goddess could be kind, [95]
What endless Raptures must he find!
And Goddesses have now and then
Come down to visit mortal Men:
To visit and to court them too;
A certain Goddess, 19  God knows who, [100]
(As in a Book he heard it read)
Took Col'nel Peleus to her Bed.
But, what if he should lose his Life
By vent'ring on his heav'nly Wife?
For Strephon could remember well, [105]
That, once he heard a School-boy tell,
How Semele of mortal Race,
By Thunder dy'd in Jove's Embrace;
And what if daring Strephon dies
By Lightning shot from Chloe's Eyes? [110]

   While these Reflections fill'd his Head,
The Bride was put in Form to Bed;
He follow'd, stript, and in he crept,
But, awfully 20  his Distance kept.

   Now, Ponder well ye Parents dear; [115]
Forbid your Daughters guzzling Beer;
And make them ev'ry Afternoon
Forbear their Tea, or drink it soon;
That, e'er to Bed they venture up,
They may discharge it ev'ry Sup; [120]
If not; they must in evil Plight
Be often forc'd to rise at Night,
Keep them to wholsome Food confin'd,
Nor let them taste what causes Wind;
('Tis this the Sage of Samos means, [125]
Forbidding his Disciples Beans 21 )
O, think what Evils must ensue;
Miss Moll the Jade will burn it blue:
And when she once has got the Art,
She cannot help it for her Heart; [130]
But, out it flies, even when she meets
Her Bridegroom in the Wedding-Sheets.
Carminative 22  and Diuretick, 23 
Will damp all Passion Sympathetick;
And, Love such Nicety requires, [135]
One Blast will put out all his Fires.
Since Husbands get behind the Scene,
The Wife should study to be clean;
Nor give the smallest Room to guess
The Time when Wants of Nature press; [140]
But, after Marriage, practise more
Decorum than she did before;
To keep her Spouse deluded still,
And make him fancy what she will.

   In Bed we left the married Pair; [145]
'Tis Time to shew how Things went there.
Strephon, who had been often told,
That Fortune still assists the bold,
Resolv'd to make his first Attack:
But, Chloe drove him fiercely back. [150]
How could a Nymph so chaste as Chloe,
With Constitution cold and snowy,
Permit a brutish Man to touch her?
Ev'n Lambs by Instinct fly the Butcher.
Resistance on the Wedding-Night [155]
Is what our Maidens claim by Right:
And, Chloe, 'tis by all agreed,
Was Maid in Thought, and Word, and Deed,
Yet, some assign a diff'rent Reason;
That Strephon chose no proper Season. [160]

   Say, fair ones, must I make a Pause?
Or freely tell the secret Cause.

   Twelve Cups of Tea, (with Grief I speak)
Had now constrain'd the Nymph to leak.
This Point must needs be settled first; [165]
The Bride must either void or burst.
Then, see the dire Effect of Pease, 24 
Think what can give the Colick Ease,
The Nymph opprest before, behind,
As Ships are toss't by Waves and Wind, [170]
Steals out her Hand by Nature led,
And brings a Vessel into Bed:
Fair Utensil, as smooth and white
As Chloe's Skin, almost as bright.

   Strephon who heard the fuming Rill [175]
As from a mossy Cliff distill;
Cry'd out, ye Gods, what Sound is this?
Can Chloe, heav'nly Chloe ——?
But, when he smelt a noysom Steam
Which oft attends that luke-warm Stream; [180]
(Salerno 25  both together joins
As sov'reign Med'cines for the Loins)
And, though contriv'd, we may suppose
To slip his Ears, yet struck his Nose:
He found her, while the Scent increas'd, [185]
As mortal as himself at least.
But, soon with like Occasions prest,
He boldly sent his Hand in quest,
(Inspir'd with Courage from his Bride,)
To reach the Pot on t'other Side. [190]
And as he fill'd the reeking Vase,
Let fly a Rouzer in her Face.

   The little Cupids hov'ring round;
(As Pictures prove) with Garlands crown'd,
Abasht at what they saw and heard, [195]
Flew off, nor evermore appear'd.

   Adieu to ravishing Delights,
High Raptures, and romantick Flights;
To Goddesses so heav'nly sweet,
Expiring Shepherds at their Feet; [200]
To silver Meads, and shady Bow'rs,
Drest up with Amaranthine 26  Flow'rs.

   How great a Change! how quickly made!
They learn to call a Spade, a Spade.
They soon from all Constraint are freed; [205]
Can see each other do their Need.
On Box of Cedar 27  sits the Wife,
And makes it warm for Dearest Life.
And, by the beastly way of Thinking,
Find great Society in Stinking. [210]
Now Strephon daily entertains
His Chloe in the homeli'st Strains;
And, Chloe more experienc'd grown,
With Int'rest pays him back his own.
No Maid at Court is less asham'd, [215]
Howe'er for selling Bargains fam'd,
Than she, to name her Parts behind,
Or when a-bed, to let out Wind.

   Fair Decency, celestial Maid,
Descend from Heav'n to Beauty's Aid; [220]
Though Beauty may beget Desire,
'Tis thou must fan the Lover's Fire;
For, Beauty, like supreme Dominion,
Is best supported by Opinion;
If Decency brings no Supplies, [225]
Opinion falls, and Beauty dies.

   To see some radiant Nymph appear
In all her glitt'ring Birth-day Gear,
You think some Goddess from the Sky
Descended, ready cut and dry: [230]
But, e'er you sell your self to Laughter,
Consider well what may come after;
For fine Ideas vanish fast,
While all the gross and filthy last.

   O Strephon, e'er that fatal Day [235]
When Chloe stole your Heart away,
Had you but through a Cranny spy'd
On House of Ease your future Bride,
In all the Postures of her Face,
Which Nature gives in such a Case; [240]
Distortions, Groanings, Strainings, Heavings;
'Twere better you had lickt her Leavings,
Than from Experience find too late
Your Goddess grown a filthy Mate.
Your Fancy then had always dwelt [245]
On what you saw, and what you smelt;
Would still the same Ideas give ye,
As when you spy'd her on the Privy.
And, spight of Chloe's Charms divine,
Your Heart had been as whole as mine. [250]

   Authorities both old and recent
Direct that Women must be decent;
And, from the Spouse each Blemish hide
More than from all the World beside.

   Unjustly all our Nymphs complain, [255]
Their Empire holds so short a Reign;
Is after Marriage lost so soon,
It hardly holds the Honey-moon:
For, if they keep not what they caught,
It is entirely their own Fault. [260]
They take Possession of the Crown,
And then throw all their Weapons down;
Though by the Politicians Scheme
Whoe'er arrives at Pow'r supreme,
Those Arts by which at first they gain it, [265]
They still must practise to maintain it.

   What various Ways our Females take,
To pass for Wits before a Rake! 28 
And in the fruitless Search pursue
All other Methods but the true. [270]

   Some try to learn polite Behaviour,
By reading Books against their Saviour;
Some call it witty to reflect
On ev'ry natural Defect;
Some shew they never want 29  explaining, [275]
To comprehend a double Meaning.
But, sure a Tell-tale out of School
Is of all Wits the greatest Fool;
Whose rank Imagination fills,
Her Heart, and from her Lips distills; [280]
You'd think she utter'd from behind,
Or at her Mouth was breaking Wind.

   Why is a handsome Wife ador'd
By ev'ry Coxcomb, 30  but her Lord?
From yonder Puppet-Man inquire, [285]
Who wisely hides his Wood and Wire;
Shews Sheba's Queen completely drest,
And Solomon in Royal Vest;
But, view them litter'd on the Floor,
Or strung on Pegs behind the Door; [290]
Punch is exactly of a Piece
With Lorraine's Duke, and Prince of Greece.

   A prudent Builder should forecast
How long the Stuff is like to last;
And, carefully observe the Ground, [295]
To build on some Foundation sound;
What House, when its Materials crumble,
Must not inevitably tumble?
What Edifice can long endure,
Rais'd on a Basis unsecure? [300]
Rash Mortals, e'er you take a Wife,
Contrive your Pile 31  to last for Life;
Since Beauty scarce endures a Day,
And Youth so swiftly glides away;
Why will you make yourself a Bubble [305]
To build on Sand with Hay and Stubble?

   On Sense and Wit your Passion found,
By Decency cemented round;
Let Prudence with Good Nature strive,
To keep Esteem and Love alive. [310]
Then come old Age whene'er it will,
Your Friendship shall continue still:
And thus a mutual gentle Fire,
Shall never but with Life expire.


1. The names Strephon and Chloe come from romance and pastoral.

2. Nice, "Delicate; scrupulously and minutely cautious" (Johnson).

3. Mien, "Air; look; manner" (Johnson).

4. Confest, "declared."

5. Noisom, "smelly."

6. Hams, "thighs."

7. Dog-Days, the end of August.

8. "Tho' deep, yet clear, &c. Denham" — Swift's note. He alludes to a description of the Thames in John Denham's "Cooper's Hill": "Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull;/ Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full." This was one of the most famous and most widely imitated couplets in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England.

9. Swain, "A pastoral youth" (Johnson).

10. Billex-doux, "love letters."

11. Clouded Cains, canes with a veined pattern running through them.

12. Coach and Six, a coach drawn by six horses, used only by the very rich; House in Town, a London house, again available only to the rich.

13. Imprimis, "first of all."

14. Hymen, the god of marriage.

15. "A Veil which the Roman Brides covered themselves with, when they were going to be married" — Swift's note.

16. Epithalamium, "A nuptial song; a compliment upon marriage" (Johnson).

17. "Diana, Goddess of Midwives" — Swift's note.

18. Ambrosia, the food of the gods, noted for its sweetness.

19. A certain Goddess: Thetis, mother of Achilles.

20. Awfully, "in an awe-inspiring manner."

21. "A well known Precept of Pythagoras, not to eat Beans" — Swift's note.

22. "Medicines to break Wind" — Swift's note.

23. "Modecines to provoke Urine" — Swift's note.

24. Pease, "peas." The modern word pea is a back-formation from pease, which was originally the singular.

25. "Vide Schol. Salern. Rules of Health, wirtten by the School of Salernum. Mingere cum bumbis res est saluberrima lumbis" — Swift's note.

26. Amaranthine, "unfading."

27. Box of Cedar: a box enclosing a chamberpot.

28. Rake, "A loose, disorderly, vicious, wild, gay, thoughtless fellow; a man addicted to pleasure" (Johnson).

29. Want, "need."

30. Coxcomb, "A fop; a superficial pretender to knowledge or accomplishments" (Johnson).

31. Pile, "An edifice; a building" (Johnson).