Stella’s Birthday: March 13, 1719

“Stella this Day is thirty four,
(We won’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 of the Green,
So little is thy Form declin’d
Made up so largely in thy Mind.

Oh, would 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 thy Wit, thy 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.”

“Stella” was the name given to Esther Johnson (13 March 1681 –1728) by Irish satirist Jonathan Swift (the author of Gulliver’s Travels).
“Journal to Stella” is one of his works: a letter-diary covering the years 1710-1713 and consisting of 65 letters addressed to her.

Swift, who was 14 years older, first met Esther/Stella when he was secretary to Sir William Temple at Moor Park (Surrey) and she was about eight (some say she was Temple’s natural daughter).
When Swift saw her again in 1696 he thought she had become the “most beautiful, graceful and agreeable young woman in London”.
After Temple’s death, Hester moved to Dublin even though she had no connection with the city apart from Swift himself.
Some believe they were secretly married in 1716, but there is no evidence on this. In any event, he was inconsolable when she died at 46, and is buried next to her in St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Dublin).

Starting from 1719 Swift got into the charming habit of sending her a poem on her March 13 birthday. This resulted in a series of “Stella’s Birthday” poems ending in 1727, the year of her death.

Swift wrote “Stella’s Birthday, 1719” to celebrate what she claimed as her 34th birthday, although he stated she was a bit older. The poem praises her charms and intelligence, and its tone is full of lively optimism and affectionate irony, when he mentions her advancing years and weight gain. At the end of the poem he says that his worship would be great even if it too were halved.

Stella oggi ha trentaquattro anni,
(non stiamo a discutere su qualche anno in più)
tuttavia, Stella, non preoccuparti,
anche se la tua corporatura e gli anni sono raddoppiati
dalla prima volta che ti ho vista a sedici anni,
vergine luminosa nel verde;
così poco il tuo aspetto è peggiorato
come ti immagini nella mente.

Oh, se gli dei potessero dividere in due
la tua bellezza, la corporatura, gli anni e l’acume;
nessuna età potrebbe produrre due
ninfe così graziose, sagge e belle
con metà dello splendore dei tuoi occhi,
metà del tuo ingegno, degli anni e delle tue dimensioni:
e poi, prima che fosse troppo tardi,
dovrei supplicare il gentile destino,
di dividere in due anche la mia adorazione
così da permettere a entrambe le ninfe di avere un innamorato).


Image: Possible Portrait of Esther Johnson (‘Stella’) – National Gallery of Ireland

60 thoughts on “Stella’s Birthday: March 13, 1719

  1. che spirito, che brio, che serietà e insieme spassosa autoironia in queste righe di Swift! Quanto mi piacciono quelli che non si prendono sul serio che a piccole dosi. Come al solito sempre, ca va sans dire, encomiabile la tua traduzione: un atto di generosa condivisione di ciò che ti attrae e hai a cuore. Grazie Luisa

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Vedi Luisa tu nei tuoi post apri scenari che raramente conosco e che mi permettono una conoscenza più approfondita di personaggi che credevo di conoscere! Io ho ancora in mente i tuoi post su Cartesio!!’ ❤️❤️

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes I understand I was married 45 years when Gino died yeah and in the end I said something I said well honey we’re not the people we used to be ….he went from six foot tall to five foot because of bone disease ,and I said well we’re not the people we used to be he pointed to my portrait above the fireplace and he said shar you don’t have those great big eyes anymore great big cow eyes, he said & your shoulders aren’t those straight loving shoulders anymore. I should know ., maybe not , but I seem to carry the world on those shoulders and maybe my eyes aren’t big anymore but they can still see the light 💔💖☀️

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