Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 August 2020
Chiefly focusing on Swift’s Cowleyan odes and epistles of the 1690s, this chapter demonstrates the author’s early rejection of conventional imitation in favour of a spontaneous form of appropriative writing. Railing against the accumulated habits of his seventeenth-century forebears, Swift repeatedly reveals in the early poems his own thwarted attempts to reinvent poetry for an unheroic age. Temporarily discarding the panegyric mode at the end of the decade, Swift found a new metafictional style that challenged the very medium of poetry. How can we adequately describe whispering or smells? If a table-book could talk would it have anything valuable to say? What would the petition of a barely literate waiting woman sound like? What happens if an overconfident member of your circle finishes one of your unfinishable ballads?