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Short poem

William Cowper (1731-1800)

The Task: from Book V: The Winter Morning Walk


              1'Tis morning; and the sun, with ruddy orb
              2Ascending, fires th' horizon: while the clouds,
              3That crowd away before the driving wind,
              4More ardent as the disk emerges more,
              5Resemble most some city in a blaze,
              6Seen through the leafless wood. His slanting ray
              7Slides ineffectual down the snowy vale,
              8And, tinging all with his own rosy hue,
              9From ev'ry herb and ev'ry spiry blade
            10Stretches a length of shadow o'er the field.
            11Mine, spindling into longitude immense,
            12In spite of gravity, and sage remark
            13That I myself am but a fleeting shade,
            14Provokes me to a smile. With eye askance
            15I view the muscular proportion'd limb
            16Transform'd to a lean shank. The shapeless pair,
            17As they design'd to mock me, at my side
            18Take step for step; and, as I near approach
            19The cottage, walk along the plaster'd wall,
            20Prepost'rous sight! the legs without the man.
            21The verdure of the plain lies buried deep
            22Beneath the dazzling deluge; and the bents,
            23And coarser grass, upspearing o'er the rest,
            24Of late unsightly and unseen, now shine
            25Conspicuous, and, in bright apparel clad
            26And fledg'd with icy feathers, nod superb.
            27The cattle mourn in corners where the fence
            28Screens them, and seem half petrified to sleep
            29In unrecumbent sadness. There they wait
            30Their wonted fodder; not like hung'ring man,
            31Fretful if unsupply'd; but silent, meek,
            32And patient of the slow-pac'd swain's delay.
            33He from the stack carves out th' accustom'd load,
            34Deep-plunging, and again deep-plunging oft,
            35His broad keen knife into the solid mass:
            36Smooth as a wall the upright remnant stands,
            37With such undeviating and even force
            38He severs it away: no needless care,
            39Lest storms should overset the leaning pile
            40Deciduous, or its own unbalanc'd weight.


          446      'Tis liberty alone that gives the flower
          447Of fleeting life its lustre and perfume,
          448And we are weeds without it. All constraint,
          449Except what wisdom lays on evil men,
          450Is evil; hurts the faculties, impedes
          451Their progress in the road of science; blinds
          452The eyesight of discovery, and begets,
          453In those that suffer it, a sordid mind
          454Bestial, a meagre intellect, unfit
          455To be the tenant of man's noble form.
          456Thee therefore, still, blameworthy as thou art,
          457With all thy loss of empire, and though squeez'd
          458By public exigence till annual food
          459Fails for the craving hunger of the state,
          460Thee I account still happy, and the chief
          461Among the nations, seeing thou art free,
          462My native nook of earth! . . .


          538      But there is yet a liberty unsung
          539By poets, and by senators unprais'd,
          540  Which monarchs cannot grant, nor all the pow'rs
          541Of earth and hell confederate take away;
          542A liberty which persecution, fraud,
          543Oppression, prisons, have no pow'r to bind;
          544Which whoso tastes can be enslav'd no more.
          545'Tis liberty of heart, deriv'd from Heav'n,
          546Bought with his blood who gave it to mankind,
          547And seal'd with the same token. It is held
          548By charter, and that charter sanction'd sure
          549By th' unimpeachable and awful oath
          550And promise of a God. His other gifts
          551All bear the royal stamp that speaks them his,
          552And are august, but this transcends them all.



22] bents: dry stalks of grass.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: William Cowper, Poems (London: J. Johnson, 1782-85). 2 vols. B-10 5366 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1785
RPO poem editor: G. G. Falle
RP edition: 3RP 2.254.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/17

Composition date: 1783 - 1784
Form: Blank Verse

Other poems by William Cowper