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William Cowper (1731-1800)

The Task: from Book VI: The Winter Walk at Noon

(excerpt)


          818     Thus heav'nward all things tend. For all were once
          819Perfect, and all must be at length restor'd.
          820So God has greatly purpos'd; who would else
          821In his dishonour'd works himself endure
          822Dishonour, and be wrong'd without redress.
          823Haste then, and wheel away a shatter'd world,
          824Ye slow-revolving seasons! We would see
          825(A sight to which our eyes are strangers yet)
          826A world that does not dread and hate his laws,
          827And suffer for its crime: would learn how fair
          828The creature is that God pronounces good,
          829How pleasant in itself what pleases him.
          830Here ev'ry drop of honey hides a sting;
          831Worms wind themselves into our sweetest flow'rs,
          832And ev'n the joy, that haply some poor heart
          833Derives from heav'n, pure as the fountain is,
          834Is sully'd in the stream; taking a taint
          835From touch of human lips, at best impure.
          836Oh for a world in principle as chaste
          837As this is gross and selfish! over which
          838Custom and prejudice shall bear no sway,
          839That govern all things here, should'ring aside
          840The meek and modest truth, and forcing her
          841To seek a refuge from the tongue of strife
          842In nooks obscure, far from the ways of men;
          843Where violence shall never lift the sword,
          844Nor cunning justify the proud man's wrong,
          845Leaving the poor no remedy but tears;
          846Where he that fills an office shall esteem
          847The occasion it presents of doing good
          848More than the perquisite; where law shall speak
          849Seldom, and never but as wisdom prompts,
          850And equity; not jealous more to guard
          851A worthless form, than to decide aright;
          852Where fashion shall not sanctify abuse,
          853Nor smooth good-breeding (supplemental grace)
          854With lean performance ape the work of love.

...

          906      He is the happy man, whose life ev'n now
          907Shows somewhat of that happier life to come:
          908Who, doom'd to an obscure but tranquil state,
          909Is pleas'd with it, and, were he free to choose,
          910Would make his fate his choice; whom peace, the fruit
          911Of virtue, and whom virtue, fruit of faith,
          912Prepare for happiness; bespeak him one
          913Content indeed to sojourn while he must
          914Below the skies, but having there his home.
          915The world o'eriooks him in her busy search
          916Of objects more illustrious in her view;
          917And occupied as earnestly as she,
          918Though more sublimely, he o'erlooks the world.
          919She scorns his pleasures, for she knows them not;
          920He seeks not hers, for he has prov'd them vain.
          921He cannot skim the ground like summer birds
          922Pursuing gilded flies, and such he deems
          923Her honours, her emoluments, her joys.
          924Therefore in contemplation is his bliss,
          925Whose pow'r is such, that whom she lifts from earth
          926She makes familiar with a heav'n unseen,
          927And shows him glories yet to be reveal'd.

...

          995So life glides smoothly and by stealth away,
          996More golden than that age of fabled gold
          997Renown'd in ancient song; not vex'd with care
          998Or stain'd with guilt, beneficent, approv'd
          999Of God and man, and peaceful in its end.
        1000So glide my life away! and so at last
        1001My share of duties decently fulfill'd,
        1002May some disease, not tardy to perform
        1003Its destin'd office, yet with gentle stroke,
        1004Dismiss me weary to a safe retreat,
        1005Beneath a turf that I have often trod.
        1006It shall not grieve me, then, that once, when call'd
        1007To dress a sofa with the flow'rs of verse,
        1008I play'd awhile, obedient to the fair,
        1009With that light task; but soon, to please her more,
        1010Whom flow'rs alone I knew would little please,
        1011Let fall th' unfinish'd wreath, and rov'd for fruit;
        1012Rov'd far, and gather'd much: some harsh, 'tis true,
        1013Pick'd from the thorns and briars of reproof,
        1014But wholesome, well digested; grateful some
        1015To palates that can taste immortal truth,
        1016Insipid else, and sure to be despis'd.
        1017But all is in his hand whose praise I seek.
        1018In vain the poet sings, and the world hears,
        1019If he regard not, though divine the theme.
        1020'Tis not in artful measures, in the chime
        1021And idle tinkling of a minstrel's lyre,
        1022To charm his ear whose eye is on the heart;
        1023Whose frown can disappoint the proudest strain,
        1024Whose approbation--prosper ev'n mine.

Notes

1008] the fair: Lady Austen.

1009] her: Mrs. Unwin, his closest companion and friend of many years, and the Mary of the verses To Mary.

1024] "What there is of a religious cast in the volume I have thrown towards the end of it, for two reasons: first, that I might not revolt the reader at his entrance, and secondly, that my best impressions might be made last. Were I to write as many volumes as Lope de Vega or Voltaire, not one of them would be without this tincture" (Cowper, Letter to William Unwin, Oct. 10, 1784).


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 2.255.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/17

Composition date: 1783 - 1784
Form: Blank Verse


Other poems by William Cowper