The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 7/Riddles



Written in or about the Year 1724.


IN youth exalted high in air,
Or bathing in the waters fair,
Nature to form me took delight,
And clad my body all in white,
My person tall, and slender waist,
On either side with fringes grac’d;
Till me that tyrant man espy'd,
And dragg'd me from my mother's side:
No wonder now I look so thin;
The tyrant stript me to the skin:
My skin he flay'd, my hair he cropt:
At head and foot my body lopt:
And then, with heart more hard than stone,
He pick'd my marrow from the bone.
To vex me more, he took a freak
To slit my tongue, and make me speak:
But, that which wonderful appears,
I speak to eyes, and not to ears.
He oft employs me in disguise,
And makes me tell a thousand lies:
To me he chiefly gives in trust
To please his malice or his lust.
From me no secret he can hide;
I see his vanity and pride:
And my delight is to expose
His follies to his greatest foes.
All languages I can command,
Yet not a word I understand.
Without my aid, the best divine
In learning would not know a line:
The lawyer must forget his pleading;
The scholar could not show his reading.
Nay; man my master is my slave;
I give command to kill or save,
Can grant ten thousand pounds a year,
And make a beggar's brat a peer.
But, while I thus my life relate,
I only hasten on my fate.
My tongue is black, my mouth is furr'd,
I hardly now can force a word.
I die unpitied and forgot,
And on some dunghill left to rot.


ALL-ruling tyrant of the earth,

To vilest slaves I owe my birth.
How is the greatest monarch blest,
When in my gawdy livery drest!
No haughty nymph has power to run
From me; or my embraces shun.
Stabb'd to the heart, condemn’d to flame,
My constancy is still the same.
The favourite messenger of Jove,
And Lemnian God, consulting strove
To make me glorious to the sight
Of mortals, and the Gods delight,
Soon would their altars' flame expire,
If I refus'd to lend them fire.


BY fate exalted high in place,

Lo, here I stand with double face;
Superiour none on earth I find;
But see below me all mankind.
Yet, as it oft attends the great,
I almost sink with my own weight.
At every motion undertook,
The vulgar all consult my look.
I sometimes give advice in writing,
But never of my own inditing.
I am a courtier in my way;
For those who rais'd me, I betray;
And some give out that I entice
To lust, and luxury, and dice;
Who punishments on me inflict,
Because they find their pockets pickt.
By riding post, I lose my health;
And only to get others wealth.


BECAUSE I am by nature blind,
I wisely choose to walk behind;
However, to avoid disgrace,
I let no creature see my face.
My words are few, but spoke with sense;
And yet my speaking gives offence:
Or, if to whisper I presume,
The company will fly the room.
By all the world I am opprest;
And my oppression gives them rest.
Through me, though sore against my will,
Instructors every art instil.
By thousands I am sold and bought,
Who neither get nor lose a groat;
For none, alas! by me can gain,
But those who give me greatest pain.
Shall man presume to be my master,
Who's but my caterer and taster?
Yet, though I always have my will,
I'm but a meer depender still:
An humble hanger on at best;
Of whom all people make a jest.
In me detractors seek to find
Two vices of a different kind:
I'm too profuse, some censurers cry,
And all I get, I let it fly:
While others give me many a curse,
Because too close I hold my purse.
But this I know, in either case
They dare not charge me to my face.
'Tis true, indeed, sometimes I save,
Sometimes run out of all I have;
But, when the year is at an end,
Computing what I get and spend,
My goings-out, and comings-in,
I cannot find I lose or win;
And therefore all that know me say,
I justly keep the middle way.
I'm always by my betters led;
I last get up, and first abed;
Though, if I rise before my time,
The learn'd in sciences sublime
Consult the stars, and thence foretell
Good luck to those with whom I dwell.


THE joy of man, the pride of brutes,
Domestick subject for disputes,
Of plenty thou the emblem fair,
Adorn'd by nymphs with all their care!
I saw thee rais'd to high renown,
Supporting half the British crown;
And often have I seen thee grace
The chaste Diana's infant face;
And whensoe'er you please to shine,
Less useful is her light than thine:
Thy numerous fingers know their way,
And oft in Cælia's tresses play.
To place thee in another view,
I'll show the world strange things and true;
What lords and dames of high degree
May justly claim their birth from thee!
The soul of man with spleen you vex;
Of spleen you cure the female sex.
Thee for a gift the courtier sends
With pleasure to his special friends:
He gives, and with a generous pride,
Contrives all means the gift to hide:
Nor oft can the receiver know,
Whether he has the gift or no.
On airy wings you take your flight,
And fly unseen both day and night;
Conceal your form with various tricks;
And few know how or where you fix:
Yet some, who ne'er bestow'd thee, boast
That they to others give thee most.
Mean time, the wise a question start,
If thou a real being art;
Or but a creature of the brain,
That gives imaginary pain?
But the sly giver better knows thee;
Who feels true joys when he bestows thee.


THOUGH I, alas! a prisoner be,
My trade is prisoners to set free.
No slave his lord's commands obeys
With such insinuating ways.
My genius piercing, sharp, and bright,
Wherein the men of wit delight.
The clergy keep me for their ease,
And turn and wind me as they please.
A new and wondrous art I show
Of raising spirits from below;
In scarlet some, and some in white;
They rise, walk round, yet never fright.
In at each mouth the spirits pass,
Distinctly seen as through a glass:
O'er head and body make a rout,
And drive at last all secrets out:
And still, the more I show my art,
The more they open every heart.
A greater chemist none than I,
Who, from materials hard and dry,
Have taught men to extract with skill
More precious juice than from a still.
Although I'm often out of case,
I 'm not asham'd to show my face.
Though at the tables of the great
I near the sideboard take my seat;
Yet the plain 'squire, when dinner's done,
Is never pleas'd till I make one:
He kindly bids me near him stand;
And often takes me by the hand.
I twice a day a hunting go;
Nor ever fail to seize my foe;
And when I have him by the pole,
I drag him upward from his hole;
Though some are of so stubborn kind,
I'm forc'd to leave a limb behind.
I hourly wait some fatal end;
For I can break, but scorn to bend.



COME hither, and behold the fruits,
Vain man! of all thy vain pursuits.
Take wise advice, and look behind,
Bring all past actions to thy mind.
Here you may see, as in a glass,
How soon all human pleasures pass.
How will it mortify thy pride,
To turn the true impartial side!
How will your eyes contain their tears,
When all the sad reverse appears!
This cave within its womb confines
The last result of all designs:
Here lie deposited the spoils
Of busy mortals' endless toils:
Here, with an easy search, we find
The foul corruptions of mankind.
The wretched purchase here behold
Of traitors, who their country sold.
This gulf insatiate imbibes
The lawyer's fees, the statesman's bribes.
Here, in their proper shape and mien,
Fraud, perjury, and guilt, are seen.
Necessity, the tyrant's law,
All human race must hither draw;
All prompted by the same desire,
The vigorous youth, and aged sire.
Behold, the coward and the brave,
The haughty prince, the humble slave,
Physician, lawyer, and divine,
All make oblations at this shrine.
Some enter boldly, some by stealth,
And leave behind their fruitless wealth.
For, while the bashful sylvan maid,
As half asham’d, and half afraid,
Approaching finds it hard to part
With that which dwelt so near her heart;
The courtly dame, unmov'd by fear,
Profusely pours her offerings here.
A treasure here of learning lurks,
Huge heaps of never-dying works:
Labours of many an ancient sage,
And millions of the present age.
In at this gulf all offerings pass,
And lie an undistinguished mass,
Deucalion, to restore mankind,
Was bid to throw the stones behind;
So those who here their gifts convey
Are forc’d to look another way;
For few, a chosen few, must know
The mysteries that lie below.
Sad charnelhouse! a dismal dome,
For which all mortals leave their home!
The young, the beautiful, and brave,
Here bury'd in one common grave!
Where each supply of dead renews
Unwholesome damps, offensive dews:
And lo! the writing on the walls
Points out where each new victim falls;
The food of worms and beasts obscene,
Who round the vault luxuriant reign.
See where those mangled corpses lie,
Condemn'd by female hands to die;
A comely dame, once clad in white,
Lies there consigned to endless night;
By cruel hands her blood was spilt,
And yet her wealth was all her guilt.
And here six virgins in a tomb,
All-beauteous offspring of one womb,
Oft in the train of Venus seen,
As fair and lovely as their queen:
In royal garments each was drest,
Each with a gold and purple vest;
I saw them of their garments stript,
Their throats were cut, their bellies ript,
Twice were they bury'd, twice were born,
Twice from their sepulchres were torn;
But now dismember'd here are cast,
And find a resting-place at last.
Here oft the curious traveller finds
The combat of opposing winds:
And seeks to learn the secret cause,
Which alien seems from nature's laws;
Why at this cave's tremendous mouth,
He feels at once both north and south:
Whether the winds, in caverns pent,
Through clefts oppugnant force a vent;
Or whether, opening all his stores,
Fierce Æolus in tempest roars.
Yet, from this mingled mass of things,
In time a new creation springs.
These crude materials once shall rise
To fill the earth, and air, and skies:
In various forms appear again,
Of vegetables, brutes, and men.
So Jove pronounc'd among the gods,
Olympus trembling as he nods.



AH! Strephon, how can you despise
Her, who without thy pity dies?
To Strephon I have still been true,
And of as noble blood as you;
Fair issue of the genial bed,
A virgin in thy bosom bred;
Embrac'd thee closer than a wife;
When thee I leave, I leave my life.
Why should my shepherd take amiss,
That oft I wake thee with a kiss?
Yet you of every kiss complain;
Ah! is not love a pleasing pain?
A pain which every happy night
You cure with ease and with delight;
With pleasure, as the poet sings,
Too great for mortals less than kings.
Chloe, when on thy breast I lie,
Observes me with revengeful eye:
If Chloe o'er thy heart prevails,
She'll tear me with her desperate nails;
And with relentless hands destroy
The tender pledges of our joy.
Nor have I bred a spurious race;
They all were born from thy embrace.
Consider, Strephon, what you do;
For, should I die for love of you,
I'll haunt thy dreams, a bloodless ghost;
And all my kin (a numerous host,
Who down direct our lineage bring
From victors o'er the Memphian king;
Renown'd in sieges and campaigns,
Who never fled the bloody plains;
Who in tempestuous seas can sport,
And scorn the pleasures of a court;
From whom great Sylla found his doom,
Who scourg'd to death that scourge of Rome)
Shall on thee take a vengeance dire;
Thou, like Alcides, shalt expire,
When his envenom'd shirt he wore,
And skin and flesh in pieces tore.
Nor less that shirt, my rival's gift,
Cut from the piece that made her shift,
Shall in thy dearest blood be dy'd,
And make thee tear thy tainted hide.


DEPRIV'D of root, and branch, and rind,
Yet flowers I bear of every kind;
And such is my prolifick power,
They bloom in less than half an hour;
Yet standers by may plainly see
They get no nourishment from me.
My head with giddiness goes round;
And yet I firmly stand my ground:
All over naked I am seen,
And painted like an Indian queen.
No couple-beggar in the land
E'er join'd such numbers hand in hand;
I join'd them fairly with a ring;
Nor can our parson blame the thing:
And, though no marriage words are spoke,
They part not till the ring is broke;
Yet hypocrite fanaticks cry,
I'm but an idol rais'd on high:
And once a weaver in our town,
A damn'd Cromwellian, knock'd me down.
I lay a prisoner twenty years,
And then the jovial cavaliers
To their old post restor'd all three,
I mean the church, the king, and me.


I WITH borrow'd silver shine,
What you see is none of mine.
First I show you but a quarter,
Like the bow that guards the Tartar;
Then the half, and then the whole,
Ever dancing round the pole.
And, what will raise your admiration,
I am not one of God's creation,
But sprung (and I this truth maintain)
Like Pallas from my father's brain.
And, after all, I chiefly owe
My beauty to the shades below.
Most wondrous forms you see me wear,
A man, a woman, lion, bear,
A fish, a fowl, a cloud, a field,
All figures Heaven or earth can yield;
Like Daphne sometimes in a tree:
Yet am not one of all you see.


I'M up and down, and round about,
Yet all the world can't find me out,
Though hundreds have employ'd their leisure,
They never yet could find my measure.
I'm found almost in every garden,
Nay in the compass of a farthing.
There's neither chariot, coach, nor mill,
Can move an inch except I will.


I AM jet black, as you may see,
The son of pitch, and gloomy night:
Yet all that know me will agree,
I'm dead except I live in light.

Sometimes in panegyrick high,
Like lofty Pindar, I can soar:
And raise a virgin to the sky,
Or sink her to a pocky whore.

My blood this day is very sweet,
To morrow of a bitter juice:
Like milk, 'tis cry'd about the street,
And so apply'd to different use.

Most wondrous is my magick power:
For with one colour I can paint;
I'll make the devil a saint this hour,
Next make a devil of a saint.

Through distant regions I can fly,
Provide me but with paper wings;
And fairly show a reason why
There should be quarrels among kings.

And, after all, you'll think it odd,
When learned doctors will dispute,
That I should point the word of God,
And show where they can best confute.

Let lawyers bawl and strain their throats:
'Tis I that must the lands convey,
And strip the clients to their coats;
Nay, give their very souls away.


ALL of us in one you'll find,
Brethren of a wondrous kind;
Yet among us all no brother
Knows one tittle of the other;
We in frequent councils are,
And our marks of things declare,
Where, to us unknown, a clerk
Sits, and takes them in the dark.
He's the register of all
In our ken, both great and small;
By us forms his laws and rules,
He's our master; we his tools;
Yet we can with greatest ease
Turn and wind him where we please.
One of us alone can sleep,
Yet no watch the rest will keep,
But the moment that he closes,
Every brother else reposes.
If wine's bought, or victuals drest,
One enjoys them for the rest.
Pierce us all with wounding steel,
One for all of us will feel.
Though ten thousand cannons roar,
Add to them ten thousand more,
Yet but one of us is found
Who regards the dreadful sound.
Do what is not fit to tell,
There's but one of us can smell.



WHEN on my bosom thy bright eyes,
Florinda, dart their heavenly beams,
I feel not the least love surprise,
Yet endless tears flow down in streams;
There's nought so beautiful in thee,
But you may find the same in me.
The lilies of thy skin compare;
In me you see them full as white.
The roses of your cheeks, I dare
Affirm, can't glow to more delight.
Then, since I show as fine a face,
Can you refuse a soft embrace?

Ah! lovely nymph, thou'rt in thy prime!
And so am I while thou art here;
But soon will come the fatal time,
When all we see shall disappear.
'Tis mine to make a just reflection,
And yours to follow my direction.

Then catch admirers while you may;
Treat not your lovers with disdain;
For time with beauty flies away,
And there is no return again.
To you the sad account I bring,
Life's autumn has no second spring.


NEVER sleeping, still awake,
Pleasing most when most I speak;
The delight of old and young,
Though I speak without a tongue.
Nought but one thing can confound me,
Many voices joining round me;
Then I fret, and rave, and gabble,
Like the labourers of Babel.
Now I am a dog, or cow,
I can bark, or I can low,
I can bleat, or I can sing,
Like the warblers of the spring.
Let the lovesick bard complain,
And I mourn the cruel pain;
Let the happy swain rejoice,
And I join my helping voice;
Both are welcome, grief or joy,
I with either sport and toy.
Though a lady, I am stout,
Drums and trumpets bring me out:
Then I clash, and roar, and rattle,
Join in all the din of battle.
Jove, with all his loudest thunder,
When I'm vext, can't keep me under;
Yet so tender is my ear,
That the lowest voice I fear;
Much I dread the courtier's fate,
When his merit's out of date,
For I hate a silent breath,
And a whisper is my death.


BY something form'd, I nothing am,
Yet every thing that you can name;
In no place have I ever been,
Yet every where I may be seen;
In all things false, yet always true,
I 'm still the same — but never new.

Lifeless, life's perfect form I wear,
Can show a nose, eye, tongue, or ear,
Yet neither smell, see, taste, or hear.
All shapes and features I can boast,

No flesh, no bones, no blood — no ghost:
All colours, without paint, put on,
And change like the cameleon.
Swiftly I come, and enter there,
Where not a chink lets in the air;
Like thought, I'm in a moment gone,
Nor can I ever be alone;
All things on earth I imitate,
Faster than nature can create;
Sometimes imperial robes I wear,
Anon in beggar's rags appear;
A giant now, and straight an elf,
I'm every one, but ne'er myself;
Ne'er sad I mourn, ne'er glad rejoice,
I move my lips, but want a voice;
I ne'er was born, nor ne'er can die,
Then prithee tell me what am I.


MOST things by me do rise and fall,
And as I please they're great and small;
Invading foes without resistance,
With ease I make to keep their distance;
Again, as I'm dispos'd, the foe
Will come, though not a foot they go.
Both mountains, woods, and hills, and rocks,
And gamesome goats, and fleecy flocks,
And lowing herds, and piping swains,
Come dancing to me o'er the plains.
The greatest whale that swims the sea
Does instantly my power obey.
In vain from me the sailor flies,
The quickest ship I can surprise,
And turn it as I have a mind,
And move it against tide and wind,
Nay, bring me here the tallest man,
I'll squeeze him to a little span;
Or bring a tender child and pliant,
You'll see me stretch him to a giant;
Nor shall they in the least complain,
Because my magick gives no pain.


EVER eating, never cloying,
All devouring, all destroying,
Never finding full repast,
Till I eat the world at last.


THERE is a gate, we know full well,
That stands 'twixt Heavxn, and earth, and Hell.
Where many for a passage venture,
Yet very few are fond to enter:
Although 'tis open night and day,
They for that reason shun this way:
Both dukes and lords abhor its wood,
They can't come near it for their blood.
What other way they take to go,
Another time I'll let you know.
Yet commoners with greatest ease
Can find an entrance when they please.
The poorest hither march in state
(Or they can never pass the gate)
Like Roman generals triumphant,
And then they take a turn and jump on't.
If gravest parsons here advance,
They cannot pass before they dance;
There's not a soul that does resort here,
But strips himself to pay the porter.


WE are little airy creatures,
All of different voice and features;
One of us in glass is set,
One of us you'll find in jet.
T'other you may see in tin,
And the fourth a box within.
If the fifth you should pursue,
It can never fly from you.


FROM Heaven I fall, though from earth I begin,
No lady alive can show such a skin.
I'm bright as an angel, and light as a feather,
But heavy and dark, when you squeeze me together.
Though candour and truth in my aspect I bear,
Yet many poor creatures I help to ensnare.
Though so much of Heaven appears in my make,
The foulest impressions I easily take.
My parent and I produce one another,
The mother the daughter, the daughter the mother.


BEGOTTEN, and born, and dying with noise,
The terrour of women, and pleasure of boys,
Like the fiction of poets concerning the wind,
I'm chiefly unruly when strongest confin'd.
For silver and gold I don't trouble my head,
But all I delight in is pieces of lead;
Except when I trade with a ship or a town,
Why then I make pieces of iron go down.
One property more I would have you remark,
No lady was ever more fond of a spark;
The moment I get one, my soul's all a-fire,
And I roar out my joy, and in transport expire.


WE are little brethren twain,
Arbiters of loss and gain,
Many to our counters run,
Some are made, and some undone:
But men find it to their cost,
Few are made, but numbers lost.
Though we play them tricks for ever,
Yet they always hope our favour.



OF all inhabitants on earth,
To man alone I owe my birth,
And yet the cow, the sheep, the bee,
Are all my parents more than he:
I, a virtue, strange and rare,
Make the fairest look more fair;
And myself, which yet is rarer.
Growing old, grow still the fairer.
Like sots, alone I'm dull enough,
When dos'd with smoak, and smear'd with snuff:
But, in the midst of mirth and wine,
I with double lustre shine.
Emblem of the Fair am I,
Polish'd neck, and radiant eye;
In my eye my greatest grace,
Emblem of the Cyclops' race,
Metals I like them subdue,
Slave like them to Vulcan too.
Emblem of a monarch old,
Wise, and glorious to behold;
Wasted he appears, and pale,
Watching for the publick weal:
Emblem of the bashful dame,
That in secret feeds her flame,
Often aiding to impart
All the secrets of her heart:
Various is my bulk and hue,
Big like Bess, and small like Sue:
Now brown and burnish'd like a nut,
At other times a very slut;
Often fair, and soft, and tender,
Taper, tall, and smooth, and slender;
Like Flora, deck'd with fairest flowers,
Like Phœbus, guardian of the hours;
But, whatever be my dress,
Greater be my size or less,
Swelling be my shape or small,
Like thyself I shine in all.
Clouded if my face is seen,
My complexion wan and green,
Languid like a lovesick maid,
Steel affords me present aid.
Soon or late, my date is done,
As my thread of life is spun;
Yet to cut the fatal thread
Oft revives my drooping head;
Yet I perish in my prime,
Seldom by the death of time;
Die like lovers as they gaze,
Die for those I live to please;
Pine unpitied to my urn,
Nor warm the fair for whom I burn;
Unpitied, unlamented too,
Die like all that look on you.




I REACH all things near me, and far off to boot,
Without stretching a finger, or stirring a foot;
I take them all in too, to add to your wonder,
Though many and various, and large and asunder.
Without jostling or crowding they pass side by side,
Through a wonderful wicket, not half an inch wide:
Then I lodge them at ease in a very large store,
Of no breadth or length, with a thousand things more.
All this I can do without witchcraft or charm,
Though sometimes, they say, I bewitch and do harm;
Though cold, I inflame; and though quiet, invade;
And nothing can shield from my spell but a shade.
A thief that has robb'd you, or done you disgrace,
In magical mirrour, I'll show you his face:
Nay, if you'll believe what the poets have said,
They'll tell you I kill, and can call back the dead.
Like conjurers safe in my circle I dwell,
I love to look black too, it heightens my spell;
Though my magick is mighty in every hue,
Who see all my power must see it in You.


WITH half an eye your riddle I spy,
I observe your wicket hemm'd in by a thicket,
And whatever passes is strained through glasses.
You say it is quiet; I flatly deny it.
It wanders about, without stirring out;
No passion so weak but gives it a tweak;
Love, joy, and devotion, set it always in motion.
And as for the tragick effects of its magick,
When you say it can kill, or revive at its will,
The dead are all sound, and the live above ground:
After all you have writ, it cannot be wit;
Which plainly does follow, since it flies from Apollo.
Its cowardice such, it cries at a touch;
'Tis a perfect milksop, grows drunk with a drop.
Another great fault, it cannot bear salt:
And a hair can disarm it of every charm.




FROM India's burning clime I'm brought,
With cooling gales like zephyrs fraught.
Nor Iris, when she paints the sky,
Can show more different hues than I;
Nor can she change her form so fast,
I'm now a sail, and now a mast.
I here am red, and there am green,
A beggar there, and here a queen.
I sometimes live in house of hair,
And oft in hand of lady fair.
I please the young, I grace the old,
And am at once both hot and cold.
Say what I am then, if you can,
And find the rhyme, and you're the man.


YOUR house of hair, and lady's hand
At first did put me to a stand.
I have it now — 'tis plain enough —
Your hairy business is a muff.
Your engine fraught with cooling gales,
At once so like your masts and sails;
And for the rhyme to you're the man,
What fits it better than a fan?

  1. This riddle is solved by an anagram.