'On Stella's Birth-Day 1719' by Jonathan Swift

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The Works1726>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, woud 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.

Editor 1 Interpretation

On Stella's Birth-Day 1719 by Jonathan Swift: A Masterpiece of Ambiguity


Oh, what a joy it is to dive into the world of Jonathan Swift's poetry, especially when it comes to his works on Stella, his beloved, mysterious muse. On Stella's Birth-Day 1719 is a fascinating piece of literature, full of layers of ambiguity, double meanings, and hidden messages. At first glance, it seems like a simple birthday poem, but as we delve deeper, we discover that it is much more than that. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the nuances of Swift's language, the themes he addresses, and the historical context that influenced his writing.


Before we start analyzing the poem, let's first understand who Stella was and the relationship she had with Swift. Stella, whose real name was Esther Johnson, was a young woman whom Swift met in his early thirties. She became an integral part of his life, and many believe that she was his soulmate. However, their relationship was a complicated one. Swift never married her, and there are different theories as to why. Some say that he was afraid of the social stigma that came with marrying someone beneath his social status, while others claim that he was impotent.

Whatever the reason, their relationship was one of deep affection, and Swift wrote numerous poems and letters to her. On Stella's Birth-Day 1719 is one such poem that he wrote to commemorate her birthday. The poem was written in 1719, when Stella turned thirty-six. It was a time when Swift was going through a difficult phase in his life, and his writing reflects his inner turmoil.


The poem consists of six stanzas, each with four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, and the meter is iambic tetrameter. The language is simple, yet the meanings are complex. Let's look at each stanza and analyze the themes that Swift addresses.

Stanza 1

In each of these three sweet years Since first I call'd my Delia mine, A thousand joys, a thousand fears Pierce this fond heart of mine.

In the first stanza, Swift reflects on the three years since he first met Stella. He refers to her as "my Delia," which is a pseudonym he used to address her in his poems. He talks about the "thousand joys" and "thousand fears" that she has brought into his life. This line suggests that their relationship was not an easy one and that it had its ups and downs. The use of the word "fond" in the last line implies that Swift's love for Stella was deep and sincere.

Stanza 2

When Delia on my heart relies, She bids each tumult of it cease; My cares howe'er unjust, arise And seek to rob me of my peace.

In the second stanza, Swift talks about how Stella brings him peace. He says that when she relies on his heart, his worries and anxieties disappear. However, he also acknowledges that his cares are unjust, which suggests that they are not related to external factors but are rather internal struggles. The line "And seek to rob me of my peace" implies that Swift's worries are persistent and that they threaten his inner calm.

Stanza 3

But when her fond and tender heart Relents, and gives my passion rest, My soul then feels no more the smart, Or what it feels is blest.

In the third stanza, Swift talks about how Stella's love for him brings him peace. He says that when she relents and gives him rest, his soul is blessed. The use of the word "smart" in the third line suggests that Swift's inner struggles are painful and that they cause him distress. However, when Stella gives him her love, he feels relieved and at peace.

Stanza 4

This is thy work, oh gracious God! To whom alone my thanks are due: Aid me t' adore thy name abroad, As I have learnt to do at home.

In the fourth stanza, Swift thanks God for bringing Stella into his life. He acknowledges that she is a gift from God, and he wants to thank God by spreading His name abroad. The line "As I have learnt to do at home" implies that Swift is a devout Christian and that he has learned to worship God through his personal experiences.

Stanza 5

With thee, dear Stella, let me live; In thee my past, my future lies; Thou hast my hand, my heart, I give Myself, my all, to thee, my prize!

In the fifth stanza, Swift declares his love for Stella. He says that he wants to live with her and that she is his past and future. The use of the word "prize" in the last line suggests that Stella is valuable to him and that he cherishes her. This stanza is a declaration of love, and it reflects the depth of Swift's affection for Stella.

Stanza 6

Oh! hear a faint unhappy swain, Whose griefs thy gentle breast have mov'd; Let me my mutability explain, And bless the pains that thou hast prov'd.

In the final stanza, Swift addresses Stella directly. He refers to himself as a "faint unhappy swain" and asks her to listen to his explanation of his "mutability." The use of the word "unhappy" suggests that Swift is going through a difficult time, and he needs Stella's support. The last line implies that Stella's love for him has caused her pain, but he is grateful for it.


On Stella's Birth-Day 1719 addresses several themes. The most prominent of them is love. Swift's love for Stella is the central theme of the poem, and he expresses it with sincerity and depth. However, the poem also addresses the theme of inner turmoil. Swift's struggles are not external but rather internal. He is going through a difficult phase in his life, and his worries threaten his inner peace. The poem also addresses the theme of gratitude. Swift is grateful to God for bringing Stella into his life, and he is grateful to Stella for her love and support.


On Stella's Birth-Day 1719 is a masterpiece of ambiguity. At first glance, it seems like a simple birthday poem, but as we delve deeper, we discover that it is much more than that. Swift's use of language is simple, yet the meanings are complex. The poem reflects his inner turmoil and his deep love for Stella. It addresses several themes, including love, inner turmoil, and gratitude. On Stella's Birth-Day 1719 is a timeless piece of literature that continues to inspire and move readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry on Stella's Birth-Day 1719: A Masterpiece by Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift, the renowned Irish satirist, poet, and essayist, is known for his sharp wit, biting sarcasm, and incisive commentary on the social and political issues of his time. However, in his poem "Poetry on Stella's Birth-Day 1719," Swift shows a softer, more tender side of his personality, as he celebrates the birthday of his beloved friend and confidante, Esther Johnson, who was known by the nickname "Stella."

The poem, which consists of four stanzas of eight lines each, is written in the form of a pastoral elegy, a genre of poetry that was popular in the 17th and 18th centuries and typically celebrated the beauty and innocence of rural life. However, Swift's poem is not a conventional pastoral elegy, as it does not focus on the natural world or the joys of country living. Instead, it is a personal tribute to Stella, whom Swift had known since she was a child and with whom he had a close and complicated relationship.

The poem begins with the speaker (presumably Swift himself) addressing Stella directly, saying "Stella this day is thirty-four, / (We shan't dispute a year or more)." This opening couplet sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is playful and affectionate, but also tinged with sadness and regret. The speaker goes on to describe how he and Stella used to celebrate her birthday in the past, with "cakes and wine, / And feasts were made at your's and mine." However, he acknowledges that those happy times are now gone, and that Stella's advancing age is a reminder of the transience of life.

The second stanza of the poem is perhaps the most poignant, as the speaker reflects on the fact that Stella is now "grown a prude," meaning that she has become more reserved and modest in her behavior. He laments the loss of her youthful spontaneity and playfulness, saying "And I'm grown old, and deaf, and blind, / With books and wisdom in my mind." This contrast between Stella's fading beauty and the speaker's growing intellectualism is a recurring theme throughout the poem, and it underscores the bittersweet nature of their relationship.

The third stanza of the poem is more lighthearted, as the speaker imagines what Stella's future might hold. He playfully suggests that she might become a "great fortune" or a "lady mayoress," but then admits that these are unlikely scenarios. Instead, he concludes that Stella's destiny is to remain "a wit at twenty-five," meaning that she will always be admired for her intelligence and wit, regardless of her age or social status.

The final stanza of the poem is a tribute to the enduring friendship between the speaker and Stella. The speaker acknowledges that they have both changed over the years, but he insists that their bond remains strong. He says, "Our friendship still continues green, / Affectionate, and ever clean." This final couplet is a testament to the power of friendship to endure even in the face of adversity and the passage of time.

Overall, "Poetry on Stella's Birth-Day 1719" is a beautiful and moving tribute to a cherished friend. Swift's use of the pastoral elegy form adds a layer of complexity and depth to the poem, as he uses the conventions of the genre to explore the complexities of human relationships and the fleeting nature of life. The poem is also notable for its use of playful language and witty wordplay, which are hallmarks of Swift's writing style. Ultimately, however, it is the poem's emotional resonance and heartfelt sincerity that make it a timeless masterpiece of English literature.

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