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[THE TASK, A POEM, IN SIX BOOKS.]

ARGUMENT of the THIRD BOOK.

Self-recollection and reproof. Address to domestic happiness. Some account of myself. The vanity of many of their pursuits who are reputed wise. Justification of my censures. Divine illumination necessary to the most expert philosopher. The question, What is truth? answered by other questions. Domestic happiness addressed again. Few lovers of the country. My tame hare. Occupations of a retired gentleman in his garden. Pruning. Framing. Greenhouse. Sowing of flower-seeds. The country preferable to the town even in the winter. Reasons why it is deserted at that season. Ruinous effects of gaming and of expensive improvement. Book concludes with an apostrophé to the metropolis.

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BOOK III.

THE GARDEN.

1 AS one who long in thickets and in brakes
2 Entangled, winds now this way and now that
3 His devious course uncertain, seeking home;
4 Or having long in miry ways been foiled
5 And sore discomfited, from slough to slough
6 Plunging, and half despairing of escape,
7 If chance at length he find a green-swerd smooth
8 And faithful to the foot, his spirits rise,
9 He chirrups brisk his ear-erecting steed,
10 And winds his way with pleasure and with ease;
11 So I, designing other themes, and call'd
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12 T' adorn the Sofa with eulogium due,
13 To tell its slumbers and to paint its dreams,
14 Have rambled wide. In country, city, seat
15 Of academic fame (howe'er deserved)
16 Long held, and scarcely disengaged at last.
17 But now with pleasant pace, a cleanlier road
18 I mean to tread. I feel myself at large,
19 Courageous, and refresh'd for future toil,
20 If toil await me, or if dangers new.
21 Since pulpits fail, and sounding-boards reflect
22 Most part an empty ineffectual sound,
23 What chance that I, to fame so little known,
24 Nor conversant with men or manners much,
25 Should speak to purpose, or with better hope
26 Crack the satyric thong? 'twere wiser far
27 For me enamour'd of sequester'd scenes,
28 And charm'd with rural beauty, to repose
29 Where chance may throw me, beneath elm or vine,
30 My languid limbs when summer fears the plains,
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31 Or when rough winter rages, on the soft
32 And shelter'd Sofa, while the nitrous air
33 Feeds a blue flame and makes a chearful hearth;
34 There undisturb'd by folly, and appriz'd
35 How great the danger of disturbing her,
36 To muse in silence, or at least confine
37 Remarks that gall so many, to the few
38 My partners in retreat. Disgust conceal'd
39 Is oft-times proof of wisdom, when the fault
40 Is obstinate, and cure beyond our reach.
41 Domestic happiness, thou only bliss
42 Of Paradise that has survived the fall!
43 Though few now taste thee unimpair'd and pure,
44 Or tasting, long enjoy thee, too infirm
45 Or too incautious to preserve thy sweets
46 Unmixt with drops of bitter, which neglect
47 Or temper sheds into thy chrystal cup.
48 Thou art the nurse of virtue. In thine arms
49 She smiles, appearing, as in truth she is,
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50 Heav'n born and destined to the skies again.
51 Thou art not known where pleasure is adored,
52 That reeling goddess with the zoneless waist
53 And wand'ring eyes, still leaning on the arm
54 Of novelty, her fickle frail support;
55 For thou art meek and constant, hating change,
56 And finding in the calm of truth-tied love
57 Joys that her stormy raptures never yeild.
58 Forsaking thee, what shipwreck have we made
59 Of honor, dignity, and fair renown,
60 'Till prostitution elbows us aside
61 In all our crowded streets, and senates seem
62 Convened for purposes of empire less,
63 Than to release th' adultress from her bond.
64 Th' adultress! what a theme for angry verse,
65 What provocation to th' indignant heart
66 That feels for injured love! but I disdain
67 The nauseous task to paint her as she is,
68 Cruel, abandon'd, glorying in her shame.
69 No. Let her pass, and chariotted along
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70 In guilty splendor, shake the public ways;
71 The frequency of crimes has wash'd them white.
72 And verse of mine shall never brand the wretch,
73 Whom matrons now of character unsmirch'd
74 And chaste themselves, are not ashamed to own.
75 Virtue and vice had bound'ries in old time
76 Not to be pass'd. And she that had renounced
77 Her sex's honor, was renounced herself
78 By all that priz'd it; not for prud'ry's sake,
79 But dignity's, resentful of the wrong.
80 'Twas hard perhaps on here and there a waif
81 Desirous to return and not received,
82 But was an wholesome rigor in the main,
83 And taught th' unblemish'd to preserve with care
84 That purity, whose loss was loss of all.
85 Men too were nice in honor in those days,
86 And judg'd offenders well. And he that sharp'd,
87 And pocketted a prize by fraud obtain'd,
88 Was mark'd and shunn'd as odious. He that sold
89 His country, or was slack when she required
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90 His ev'ry nerve in action and at stretch,
91 Paid with the blood that he had basely spared
92 The price of his default. But now, yes, now,
93 We are become so candid and so fair,
94 So lib'ral in construction, and so rich
95 In christian charity, a good-natured age!
96 That they are safe, sinners of either sex,
97 Transgress what laws they may. Well dress'd, well bred,
98 Well equipaged, is ticket good enough
99 To pass us readily through ev'ry door.
100 Hypocrisy, detest her as we may,
101 (And no man's hatred ever wrong'd her yet)
102 May claim this merit still, that she admits
103 The worth of what she mimics with such care,
104 And thus gives virtue indirect applause;
105 But she has burnt her mask not needed here,
106 Where vice has such allowance, that her shifts
107 And specious semblances have lost their use.
108 I was a stricken deer that left the herd
109 Long since; with many an arrow deep infixt
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110 My panting side was charged when I withdrew
111 To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.
112 There was I found by one who had himself
113 Been hurt by th' archers. In his side he bore
114 And in his hands and feet the cruel scars.
115 With gentle force soliciting the darts
116 He drew them forth, and heal'd and bade me live.
117 Since then, with few associates, in remote
118 And silent woods I wander, far from those
119 My former partners of the peopled scene,
120 With few associates, and not wishing more.
121 Here much I ruminate, as much I may,
122 With other views of men and manners now
123 Than once, and others of a life to come.
124 I see that all are wand'rers, gone astray
125 Each in his own delusions; they are lost
126 In chace of fancied happiness, still wooed
127 And never won. Dream after dream ensues,
128 And still they dream that they shall still succeed,
129 And still are disappointed; rings the world
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130 With the vain stir. I sum up half mankind,
131 And add two-thirds of the remainder half,
132 And find the total of their hopes and fears
133 Dreams, empty dreams. The million flit as gay
134 As if created only like the fly
135 That spreads his motley wings in th' eye of noon
136 To sport their season and be seen no more.
137 The rest are sober dreamers, grave and wise,
138 And pregnant with discov'ries new and rare.
139 Some write a narrative of wars and feats
140 Of heroes little known, and call the rant
141 An history. Describe the man, of whom
142 His own cooevals took but little note,
143 And paint his person, character and views,
144 As they had known him from his mother's womb.
145 They disentangle from the puzzled skein
146 In which obscurity has wrapp'd them up,
147 The threads of politic and shrewd design
148 That ran through all his purposes, and charge
149 His mind with meanings that he never had,
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150 Or having, kept conceal'd. Some drill and bore
151 The solid earth, and from the strata there
152 Extract a register, by which we learn
153 That he who made it and reveal'd its date
154 To Moses, was mistaken in its age.
155 Some more acute and more industrious still
156 Contrive creation. Travel nature up
157 To the sharp peak of her sublimest height,
158 And tell us whence the stars. Why some are fixt,
159 And planetary some. What gave them first
160 Rotation, from what fountain flow'd their light.
161 Great contest follows, and much learned dust
162 Involves the combatants, each claiming truth,
163 And truth disclaiming both. And thus they spend
164 The little wick of life's poor shallow lamp,
165 In playing tricks with nature, giving laws
166 To distant worlds and trifling in their own.
167 Is't not a pity now that tickling rheums
168 Should ever teaze the lungs and blear the sight
169 Of oracles like these? Great pity too,
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170 That having wielded th' elements, and built
171 A thousand systems, each in his own way,
172 They should go out in fume and be forgot?
173 Ah! what is life thus spent? and what are they
174 But frantic who thus spend it? all for smoke
175 Eternity for bubbles, proves at last
176 A senseless bargain. When I see such games
177 Play'd by the creatures of a pow'r who swears
178 That he will judge the earth, and call the fool
179 To a sharp reck'ning that has lived in vain,
180 And when I weigh this seeming wisdom well
181 And prove it in th' infallible result
182 So hollow and so false I feel my heart
183 Dissolve in pity, and account the learn'd,
184 If this be learning, most of all deceived.
185 Great crimes alarm the conscience, but she sleeps
186 While thoughtful man is plausibly amused.
187 Defend me therefore common sense, say I,
188 From reveries so airy, from the toil
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189 Of dropping buckets into empty wells,
190 And growing old in drawing nothing up!
191 'Twere well, says one sage erudite, profound,
192 Terribly arch'd and aquiline his nose,
193 And overbuilt with most impending brows,
194 'Twere well could you permit the world to live
195 As the world pleases. What's the world to you?
196 Much. I was born of woman, and drew milk
197 As sweet as charity from human breasts.
198 I think, articulate, I laugh and weep
199 And exercise all functions of a man.
200 How then should I and any man that lives
201 Be strangers to each other? pierce my vein,
202 Take of the crimson stream meandring there
203 And catechise it well. Apply your glass,
204 Search it, and prove now if it be not blood
205 Congenial with thine own. And if it be,
206 What edge of subtlety canst thou suppose
207 Keen enough, wise and skilful as thou art,
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208 To cut the link of brotherhood, by which
209 One common Maker bound me to the kind.
210 True; I am no proficient, I confess,
211 In arts like yours. I cannot call the swift
212 And perilous lightnings from the angry clouds,
213 And bid them hide themselves in th' earth beneath,
214 I cannot analyse the air, nor catch
215 The parallax of yonder luminous point
216 That seems half quench'd in the immense abyss;
217 Such pow'rs I boast not neither can I rest
218 A silent witness of the headlong rage
219 Or heedless folly by which thousands die,
220 Bone of my bone, and kindred souls to mine.
221 God never meant that man should scale the heav'ns
222 By strides of human wisdom. In his works
223 Though wond'rous, he commands us in his word
224 To seek him rather, where his mercy shines.
225 The mind indeed enlighten'd from above
226 Views him in all. Ascribes to the grand cause
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227 The grand effect. Acknowledges with joy
228 His manner, and with rapture tastes his stile.
229 But never yet did philosophic tube
230 That brings the planets home into the eye
231 Of observation, and discovers, else
232 Not visible, his family of worlds,
233 Discover him that rules them; such a veil
234 Hangs over mortal eyes, blind from the birth
235 And dark in things divine. Full often too
236 Our wayward intellect, the more we learn
237 Of nature, overlooks her author more,
238 From instrumental causes proud to draw
239 Conclusions retrograde and mad mistake.
240 But if his word once teach us, shoot a ray
241 Through all the heart's dark chambers, and reveal
242 Truths undiscern'd but by that holy light,
243 Then all is plain. Philosophy baptized
244 In the pure fountain of eternal love
245 Has eyes indeed; and viewing all she sees
246 As meant to indicate a God to man,
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247 Gives him his praise, and forfeits not her own.
248 Learning has borne such fruit in other days
249 On all her branches. Piety has found
250 Friends in the friends of science, and true pray'r
251 Has flow'd from lips wet with Castalian dews.
252 Such was thy wisdom, Newton, childlike sage!
253 Sagacious reader of the works of God,
254 And in his word sagacious. Such too thine
255 Milton, whose genius had angelic wings,
256 And fed on manna. And such thine in whom
257 Our British Themis gloried with just cause
258 Immortal Hale! for deep discernment praised
259 And sound integrity not more, than famed
260 For sanctity of manners undefiled.
261 All flesh is grass, and all its glory fades
262 Like the fair flow'r dishevell'd in the wind;
263 Riches have wings, and grandeur is a dream;
264 The man we celebrate must find a tomb,
265 And we that worship him, ignoble graves.
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266 Nothing is proof against the gen'ral curse
267 Of vanity, that seizes all below.
268 The only amaranthine flow'r on earth
269 Is virtue, th' only lasting treasure, truth.
270 But what is truth? 'twas Pilate's question put
271 To truth itself, that deign'd him no reply.
272 And wherefore? will not God impart his light
273 To them that ask it? Freely 'tis his joy,
274 His glory, and his nature to impart.
275 But to the proud, uncandid, insincere
276 Or negligent enquirer, not a spark.
277 What's that which brings contempt upon a book
278 And him that writes it, though the stile be neat,
279 The method clear, and argument exact?
280 That makes a minister in holy things
281 The joy of many and the dread of more,
282 His name a theme for praise and for reproach?
283 That while it gives us worth in God's account,
284 Depreciates and undoes us in our own?
285 What pearl is it that rich men cannot buy,
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286 That learning is too proud to gather up,
287 But which the poor and the despised of all
288 Seek and obtain, and often find unsought?
289 Tell me, and I will tell thee, what is truth.
290 Oh friendly to the best pursuits of man,
291 Friendly to thought, to virtue, and to peace,
292 Domestic life in rural leisure pass'd!
293 Few know thy value, and few taste thy sweets,
294 Though many boast thy favours, and affect
295 To understand and chuse thee for their own.
296 But foolish man foregoes his proper bliss
297 Ev'n as his first progenitor, and quits,
298 Though placed in paradise (for earth has still
299 Some traces of her youthful beauty left)
300 Substantial happiness for transient joy.
301 Scenes form'd for contemplation, and to nurse
302 The growing seeds of wisdom; that suggest
303 By ev'ry pleasing image they present
304 Reflections such as meliorate the heart,
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305 Compose the passions, and exalt the mind,
306 Scenes such as these, 'tis his supreme delight
307 To fill with riot and defile with blood.
308 Should some contagion kind to the poor brutes
309 We persecute, annihilate the tribes
310 That draw the sportsman over hill and dale
311 Fearless, and rapt away from all his cares;
312 Should never game-fowl hatch her eggs again,
313 Nor baited hook deceive the fishes eye;
314 Could pageantry and dance and feast and song
315 Be quell'd in all our summer-month retreats;
316 How many self-deluded nymphs and swains
317 Who dream they have a taste for fields and groves,
318 Would find them hideous nurs'ries of the spleen,
319 And crowd the roads, impatient for the town!
320 They love the country, and none else, who seek
321 For their own sake its silence and its shade.
322 Delights which who would leave, that has a heart
323 Susceptible of pity, or a mind
324 Cultured and capable of sober thought,
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325 For all the savage din of the swift pack
326 And clamours of the field? detested sport,
327 That owes its pleasures to another's pain,
328 That feeds upon the sobs and dying shrieks
329 Of harmless nature, dumb, but yet endued
330 With eloquence that agonies inspire
331 Of silent tears and heart-distending sighs!
332 Vain tears alas! and sighs that never find
333 A corresponding tone in jovial souls.
334 Well one at least is safe. One shelter'd hare
335 Has never heard the sanguinary yell
336 Of cruel man, exulting in her woes.
337 Innocent partner of my peaceful home,
338 Whom ten long years experience of my care
339 Has made at last familiar, she has lost
340 Much of her vigilant instinctive dread,
341 Not needful here, beneath a roof like mine.
342 Yes thou mayst eat thy bread, and lick the hand
343 That feeds thee; thou may'st frolic on the floor
344 At evening, and at night retire secure
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345 To thy straw-couch, and slumber unalarm'd.
346 For I have gain'd thy confidence, have pledg'd
347 All that is human in me, to protect
348 Thine unsuspecting gratitude and love.
349 If I survive thee I will dig thy grave,
350 And when I place thee in it, sighing say,
351 I knew at least one hare that had a friend.
352 How various his employments, whom the world
353 Calls idle, and who justly in return
354 Esteems that busy world an idler too!
355 Friends, books, a garden, and perhaps his pen,
356 Delighful industry enjoyed at home,
357 And nature in her cultivated trim
358 Dressed to his taste, inviting him abroad
359 Can he want occupation who has these?
360 Will he be idle who has much t' enjoy?
361 Me therefore, studious of laborious ease,
362 Not slothful; happy to deceive the time
363 Not waste it; and aware that human life
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364 Is but a loan to be repaid with use,
365 When he shall call his debtors to account,
366 From whom are all our blessings, business finds
367 Ev'n here. While sedulous I seek t' improve,
368 At least neglect not, or leave unemploy'd
369 The mind he gave me; driving it, though slack
370 Too oft, and much impeded in its work
371 By causes not to be divulged in vain,
372 To its just point the service of mankind.
373 He that attends to his interior self,
374 That has a heart and keeps it; has a mind
375 That hungers and supplies it; and who seeks
376 A social, not a dissipated life,
377 Has business. Feels himself engaged t' atchieve
378 No unimportant, though a silent task.
379 A life all turbulence and noise, may seem
380 To him that leads it, wise and to be prais'd;
381 But wisdom is a pearl with most success
382 Sought in still water, and beneath clear skies.
383 He that is ever occupied in storms,
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384 Or dives not for it, or brings up instead,
385 Vainly industrious, a disgraceful prize.
386 The morning finds the self-sequester'd man
387 Fresh for his task, intend what task he may.
388 Whether inclement seasons recommend
389 His warm but simple home, where he enjoys
390 With her who shares his pleasures and his heart,
391 Sweet converse, sipping calm the fragrant lymph
392 Which neatly she prepares; then to his book
393 Well chosen, and not sullenly perused
394 In selfish silence, but imparted oft
395 As aught occurs that she may smile to hear,
396 Or turn to nourishment digested well.
397 Or if the garden with its many cares,
398 All well repay'd, demand him, he attends
399 The welcome call, conscious how much the hand
400 Of lubbard labor needs his watchful eye,
401 Oft loit'ring lazily if not o'erseen,
402 Or misapplying his unskilful strength.
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403 Nor does he govern only or direct,
404 But much performs himself. No works indeed
405 That ask robust tough sinews bred to toil,
406 Servile employ but such as may amuse,
407 Not tire, demanding rather skill than force.
408 Proud of his well spread walls, he views his trees
409 That meet (no barren interval between)
410 With pleasure more than ev'n their fruits afford,
411 Which, save himself who trains them, none can feel.
412 These therefore are his own peculiar charge,
413 No meaner hand may discipline the shoots,
414 None but his steel approach them. What is weak,
415 Distemper'd, or has lost prolific pow'rs
416 Impair'd by age, his unrelenting hand
417 Dooms to the knife. Nor does he spare the soft
418 And succulent that feeds its giant growth
419 But barren, at th' expence of neighb'ring twigs
420 Less ostentatious, and yet studded thick
421 With hopeful gems. The rest, no portion left
422 That may disgrace his art, or disappoint
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423 Large expectation, he disposes neat
424 At measur'd distances, that air and sun
425 Admitted freely may afford their aid,
426 And ventilate and warm the swelling buds.
427 Hence summer has her riches, autumn hence,
428 And hence ev'n winter fills his wither'd hand
429 With blushing fruits, and plenty not his own.
* Miraturque novos fructus et non sua poma. VIRG.
430 Fair recompense of labour well bestow'd
431 And wise precaution, which a clime so rude
432 Makes needful still, whose spring is but the child
433 Of churlish winter, in her froward moods
434 Discov'ring much the temper of her sire.
435 For oft, as if in her the stteam of mild
436 Maternal nature had revers'd its course,
437 She brings her infants forth with many smiles,
438 But once deliver'd, kills them with a frown.
439 He therefore, timely warn'd, himself supplies
440 Her want of care, screening and keeping warm
441 The plenteous bloom, that no rough blast may sweep
442 His garlands from the boughs. Again, as oft
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443 As the sun peeps and vernal airs breathe mild,
444 The fence withdrawn, he gives them ev'ry beam,
445 And spreads his hopes before the blaze of day.
446 To raise the prickly and green-coated gourd
447 So grateful to the palate, and when rare
448 So coveted, else base and disesteem'd
449 Food for the vulgar merely is an art
450 That toiling ages have but just matured,
451 And at this moment unassay'd in song.
452 Yet gnats have had, and frogs and mice long since
453 Their eulogy; those sang the Mantuan bard,
454 And these the Grecian in ennobling strains,
455 And in thy numbers, Phillips, shines for ay
456 The solitary shilling. Pardon then
457 Ye sage dispensers of poetic fame!
458 Th' ambition of one meaner far, whose pow'rs
459 Presuming an attempt not less sublime,
460 Pant for the praise of dressing to the taste
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461 Of critic appetite, no sordid fare,
462 A cucumber, while costly yet and scarce.
463 The stable yields a stercorarious heap
464 Impregnated with quick fermenting salts,
465 And potent to resist the freezing blast.
466 For 'ere the beech and elm have cast their leaf
467 Decidu'ous, and when now November dark
468 Checks vegetation in the torpid plant
469 Exposed to his cold breath, the task begins.
470 Warily therefore, and with prudent heed
471 He seeks a favor'd spot. That where he builds
472 Th' agglomerated pile, his frame may front
473 The sun's meridian disk, and at the back
474 Enjoy close shelter, wall, or reeds, or hedge
475 Impervious to the wind. First he bids spread
476 Dry fern or litter'd hay, that may imbibe
477 Th' ascending damps; then leisurely impose
478 And lightly, shaking it with agile hand
479 From the full fork, the saturated straw.
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480 What longest binds the closest, forms secure
481 The shapely side, that as it rises takes
482 By just degrees an overhanging breadth,
483 Shelt'ring the base with its projected eaves.
484 Th' uplifted frame compact at ev'ry joint,
485 And overlaid with clear translucent glass
486 He settles next upon the sloping mount,
487 Whose sharp declivity shoots off secure
488 From the dash'd pane the deluge as it falls.
489 He shuts it close, and the first labor ends.
490 Thrice must the voluble and restless earth
491 Spin round upon her axle, 'ere the warmth
492 Slow gathering in the midst, through the square mass
493 Diffused, attain the surface. When behold!
494 A pestilent and most corrosive steam,
495 Like a gross fog Boeotian, rising fast,
496 And fast condensed upon the dewy sash,
497 Asks egress; which obtained, the overcharged
498 And drench'd conservatory breathes abroad
499 In volumes wheeling slow, the vapor dank,
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500 And purified, rejoices to have lost
501 Its foul inhabitant. But to assuage
502 Th' impatient fervor which it first conceives
503 Within its reeking bosom, threat'ning death
504 To his young hopes, requires discreet delay.
505 Experience, slow preceptress, teaching oft
506 The way to glory by miscarriage foul,
507 Must prompt him, and admonish how to catch
508 Th' auspicious moment, when the temper'd heat
509 Friendly to vital motion, may afford
510 Soft fomentation, and invite the seed.
511 The seed selected wisely, plump and smooth
512 And glossy, he commits to pots of size
513 Diminutive, well fill'd with well prepar'd
514 And fruitful soil, that has been treasur'd long,
515 And drunk no moisture from the dripping clouds.
516 These on the warm and genial earth that hides
517 The smoking manure and o'erspreads it all,
518 He places lightly, and as time subdues
519 The rage of fermentation, plunges deep
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520 In the soft medium, 'till they stand immers'd.
521 Then rise the tender germs upstarting quick
522 And spreading wide their spongy lobes, at first
523 Pale, wan, and livid, but assuming soon,
524 If fann'd by balmy and nutritious air
525 Strain'd through the friendly mats, a vivid green.
526 Two leaves produced, two rough indented leaves,
527 Cautious, he pinches from the second stalk
528 A pimple, that portends a future sprout,
529 And interdicts its growth. Thence straight succeed
530 The branches, sturdy to his utmost wish,
531 Prolific all, and harbingers of more.
532 The crowded roots demand enlargement now
533 And transplantation in an ampler space.
534 Indulged in what they wish, they soon supply
535 Large foliage, overshadowing golden flowers,
536 Blown on the summit of th' apparent fruit.
537 These have their sexes, and when summer shines
538 The bee transports the fertilizing meal
539 From flow'r to flow'r, and ev'n the breathing air
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540 Wafts the rich prize to its appointed use.
541 Not so when winter scowls. Assistant art
542 Then acts in nature's office, brings to pass
543 The glad espousals and insures the crop.
544 Grudge not ye rich (since luxury must have
545 His dainties, and the world's more num'rous half
546 Lives by contriving delicates for you)
547 Grudge not the cost. Ye little know the cares,
548 The vigilance, the labor and the skill
549 That day and night are exercised, and hang
550 Upon the ticklish balance of suspense,
551 That ye may garnish your profuse regales
552 With summer fruits brought forth by wintry suns.
553 Ten thousand dangers lie in wait to thwart
554 The process. Heat and cold, and wind and steam,
555 Moisture and drought, mice, worms, and swarming flies
556 Minute as dust and numberless, oft work
557 Dire disappointment that admits no cure,
558 And which no care can obviate. It were long,
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559 Too long to tell th' expedients and the shifts
560 Which he that fights a season so severe
561 Devises, while he guards his tender trust,
562 And oft, at last, in vain. The learn'd and wise
563 Sarcastic would exclaim, and judge the song
564 Cold as its theme, and like its theme, the fruit
565 Of too much labor, worthless when produced.
566 Who loves a garden, loves a green-house too.
567 Unconscious of a less propitious clime
568 There blooms exotic beauty, warm and snug,
569 While the winds whistle and the snows descend.
570 The spiry myrtle with unwith'ring leaf
571 Shines there and flourishes. The golden boast
572 Of Portugal and western India there,
573 The ruddier orange and the paler lime
574 Peep through their polish'd foliage at the storm,
575 And seem to smile at what they need not sear.
576 Th' amomum there with intermingling flow'rs
577 And cherries hangs her twigs. Geranium boasts
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578 Her crimson honors, and the spangled beau
579 Ficoides, glitters bright the winter long.
580 All plants of ev'ry leaf that can endure
581 The winter's frown if screen'd from his shrewd bite,
582 Live there and prosper. Those Ausonia claims,
583 Levantine regions these; th' Azores send
584 Their jessamine, her jessamine remote
585 Caffraia; foreigners from many lands
586 They form one social shade, as if convened
587 By magic summons of th' Orphean lyre.
588 Yet just arrangement, rarely brought to pass
589 But by a master's hand, disposing well
590 The gay diversities of leaf and flow'r,
591 Must lend its aid t' illustrate all their charms,
592 And dress the regular yet various scene.
593 Plant behind plant aspiring, in the van
594 The dwarfish, in the rear retired, but still
595 Sublime above the rest, the statelier stand.
596 So once were ranged the sons of ancient Rome,
597 A noble show! while Roscius trod the stage;
598 And so, while Garrick as renown'd as he,
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599 The sons of Albion; fearing each to lose
600 Some note of Nature's music from his lips,
601 And covetous of Shakespeare's beauty seen
602 In ev'ry flash of his far-beaming eye.
603 Nor taste alone and well contrived display
604 Suffice to give the marshall'd ranks the grace
605 Of their complete effect. Much yet remains
606 Unsung, and many cares are yet behind
607 And more laborious. Cares on which depends
608 Their vigor, injured soon, not soon restored.
609 The soil must be renew'd, which often wash'd
610 Loses its treasure of salubrious salts,
611 And disappoints the roots; the slender roots
612 Close interwoven where they meet the vase
613 Must smooth be shorn away; the sapless branch
614 Must fly before the knife; the wither'd leaf
615 Must be detach'd, and where it strews the floor
616 Swept with a woman's neatness, breeding else
617 Contagion, and disseminating death.
618 Discharge but these kind offices, (and who
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619 Would spare, that loves them, offices like these?)
620 Well they reward the toil. The sight is pleased,
621 The scent regaled, each odorif'rous leaf,
622 Each opening blossom freely breathes abroad
623 Its gratitude, and thanks him with its sweets.
624 So manifold, all pleasing in their kind,
625 All healthful, are th' employs of rural life,
626 Reiterated as the wheel of time
627 Runs round, still ending, and beginning still.
628 Nor are these all. To deck the shapely knoll
629 That softly swell'd and gayly dress'd, appears
630 A flow'ry island from the dark green lawn
631 Emerging, must be deemed a labor due
632 To no mean hand, and asks the touch of taste.
633 Here also gratefull mixture of well match'd
634 And sorted hues, (each giving each relief,
635 And by contrasted beauty shining more)
636 Is needful. Strength may wield the pond'rous spade,
637 May turn the clod, and wheel the compost home,
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638 But elegance, chief grace the garden shows
639 And most attractive, is the fair result
640 Of thought, the creature of a polish'd mind.
641 Without it, all is Gothic as the scene
642 To which th' insipid citizen resorts
643 Near yonder heath; where industry mispent,
644 But proud of his uncouth ill-chosen task,
645 Has made a heav'n on earth. With suns and moons
646 Of close-ramm'd stones has charged th' incumber'd soil,
647 And fairly laid the Zodiac in the dust.
648 He therefore who would see his flow'rs disposed
649 Sightly and in just order, 'ere he gives
650 The beds the trusted treasure of their seeds
651 Forecasts the future whole. That when the scene
652 Shall break into its preconceived display,
653 Each for itself, and all as with one voice
654 Conspiring, may attest his bright design.
655 Nor even then, dismissing as perform'd
656 His pleasant work, may he suppose it done.
657 Few self-supported flow'rs endure the wind
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658 Uninjured, but expect th' upholding aid
659 Of the smooth-shaven prop, and neatly tied
660 Are wedded thus like beauty to old age,
661 For int'rest sake, the living to the dead.
662 Some cloath the soil that feeds them, far diffused
663 And lowly creeping, modest and yet fair,
664 Like virtue, thriving most where little seen.
665 Some more aspiring catch the neighbour shrub
666 With clasping tendrils, and invest his branch
667 Else unadorn'd, with many a gay festoon
668 And fragrant chaplet, recompensing well
669 The strength they borrow with the grace they lend.
670 All hate the rank society of weeds
671 Noisome, and ever greedy to exhaust
672 Th' improv'rish'd earth; an overbearing race,
673 That like the multitude made faction-mad
674 Disturb good order, and degrade true worth.
675 Oh blest seclusion from a jarring world
676 Which he thus occupied, enjoys! Retreat
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677 Cannot indeed to guilty man restore
678 Lost innocence, or cancel sollies past,
679 But it has peace, and much secures the mind
680 From all assaults of evil, proving still
681 A faithful barrier, not o'erleap'd with ease
682 By vicious custom, raging uncontroul'd
683 Abroad, and desolating public life.
684 When fierce temptation seconded within
685 By traitor appetite, and arm'd with darts
686 Temper'd in hell, invades the throbbing breast,
687 To combat may be glorious, and success
688 Perhaps may crown us, but to fly is safe.
689 Had I the choice of sublunary good,
690 What could I wish, that I possess not here?
691 Health, leisure, means t' improve it, friendship, peace,
692 No loose or wanton, though a wand'ring muse,
693 And constant occupation without care.
694 Thus blest, I draw a picture of that bliss;
695 Hopeless indeed that dissipated minds,
696 And profligate abusers of a world
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697 Created fair so much in vain for them,
698 Should seek the guiltless joys that I describe
699 Allured by my report. But sure no less
700 That self-condemn'd they must neglect the prize,
701 And what they will not taste, must yet approve.
702 What we admire we praise. And when we praise
703 Advance it into notice, that its worth
704 Acknowledg'd, others may admire it too.
705 I therefore recommend, though at the risk
706 Of popular disgust, yet boldly still,
707 The cause of piety and sacred truth
708 And virtue, and those scenes which God ordain'd
709 Should best secure them and promote them most;
710 Scenes that I love, and with regret perceive
711 Forsaken, or through folly not enjoyed.
712 Pure is the nymph, though lib'ral of her smiles,
713 And chaste, though unconfined, whom I extoll.
714 Not as the prince in Sushan, when he call'd
715 Vain-glorious of her charms his Vashti forth
716 To grace the full pavilion. Hi design
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717 Was but to boast his own peculiar good,
718 Which all might view with envy, none partake.
719 My charmer is not mine alone; my sweets
720 And she that sweetens all my bitters too,
721 Nature, enchanting Nature, in whose form
722 And lineaments divine I trace a hand
723 That errs not, and find raptures still renew'd,
724 Is free to all men, universal prize.
725 Strange that so fair a creature should yet want
726 Admirers, and be destin'd to divide
727 With meaner objects, ev'n the few she finds.
728 Stripp'd of her ornaments, her leaves and flow'rs,
729 She loses all her influence. Cities then
730 Attract us, and neglected Nature pines
731 Abandon'd, as unworthy of our love.
732 But are not wholesome airs, though unperfumed
733 By roses, and clear suns though scarcely felt,
734 And groves if unharmonious, yet secure
735 From clamour, and whose very silence charms,
736 To be preferr'd to smoke, to the eclipse
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737 That Metropolitan volcano's make,
738 Whose Stygian throats breathe darkness all day long,
739 And to the stir of commerce, driving slow,
740 And thund'ring loud, with his ten thousand wheels?
741 They would be, were not madness in the head
742 And folly in the heart; were England now
743 What England was, plain, hospitable, kind,
744 And undebauch'd. But we have bid farewell
745 To all the virtues of those better days,
746 And all their honest pleasures. Mansions once
747 Knew their own masters, and laborious hinds
748 That had surviv'd the father, serv'd the son.
749 Now the legitimate and rightful Lord
750 Is but a transient guest, newly arrived
751 And soon to be supplanted. He that saw
752 His patrimonial timber cast its leaf,
753 Sells the last scantling, and transfers the price
754 To some shrew'd sharper, 'ere it buds again.
755 Estates are landscapes, gazed upon awhile,
756 Then advertised, and auctioneer'd away.
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757 The country starves, and they that feed th' o'ercharged
758 And surfeited lew'd town with her fair dues,
759 By a just judgment strip and starve themselves.
760 The wings that waft our riches out of sight
761 Grow on the gamester's elbows, and th' alert
762 And nimble motion of those restless joints
763 That never tire, soon fans them all away.
764 Improvement too, the idol of the age,
765 Is fed with many a victim. Lo! he comes
766 The omnipotent magician, Brown appears.
767 Down falls the venerable pile, th' abode
768 Of our forefathers, a grave whisker'd race,
769 But tasteless. Springs a palace in its stead,
770 But in a distant spot; where more exposed
771 It may enjoy th' advantage of the north
772 And agueish East, till time shall have transform'd
773 Those naked acres to a shelt'ring grove.
774 He speaks. The lake in front becomes a lawn,
775 Woods vanish, hills subside, and vallies rise,
776 And streams as if created for his use,
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777 Pursue the track of his directing wand
778 Sinuous or strait, now rapid and now slow,
779 Now murm'ring soft, now roaring in cascades,
780 Ev'n as he bids. Th' enraptur'd owner smiles.
781 'Tis finish'd. And yet finish'd as it seems,
782 Still wants a grace, th' loveliest it could show,
783 A mine to satisfy the enormous cost.
784 Drain'd to the last poor item of his wealth
785 He sighs, departs, and leaves the accomplished plan
786 That he has touch'd, retouch'd, many a long day
787 Labor'd, and many a night pursued in dreams,
788 Just when it meets his hopes, and proves the heav'n
789 He wanted, for a wealthier to enjoy.
790 And now perhaps the glorious hour is come,
791 When having no stake left, no pledge t' indear
792 Her int'rests, or that gives her sacred cause
793 A moment's operation on his love,
794 He burns with most intense and flagrant zeal
795 To serve his country. Ministerial grace
796 Deals him out money from the public chest,
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797 Or if that mine be shut, some private purse
798 Supplies his need with an usurious loan
799 To be refunded duely, when his vote
800 Well-managed, shall have earn'd its worthy price.
801 Oh innocent compared with arts like these,
802 Crape and cock'd pistol and the whistling ball
803 Sent through the trav'llers temples! he that finds
804 One drop of heav'ns sweet mercy in his cup,
805 Can dig, beg, rot, and perish well-content,
806 So he may wrap himself in honest rags
807 At his last gasp; but could not for a world
808 Fish up his dirty and dependent bread
809 From pools and ditches of the commonwealth,
810 Sordid and sick'ning at his own success.
811 Ambition, av'rice, penury incurr'd
812 By endless riot; vanity, the lust
813 Of pleasure and variety, dispatch
814 As duely as the swallows disappear,
815 The world of wand'ring knights and squires to town.
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816 London ingulphs them all. The shark is there
817 And the shark's prey. The spendthrist and the leech
818 That sucks him. There the sycophant and he
819 That with bare-headed and obsequious bows
820 Begs a warm office, doom'd to a cold jail
821 And groat per diem if his patron frown.
822 The levee swarms, as if in golden pomp
823 Were character'd on ev'ry statesman's door,
824 "BATTER'D AND BANKRUPT FOR TUNES MENDED HERE"
825 These are the charms that sully and eclipse
826 The charms of nature. 'Tis the cruel gripe
827 That lean hard-handed poverty inflicts,
828 The hope of better things, the chance to win,
829 The wish to shine, the thirst to be amused,
830 That at the sound of Winter's hoary wing,
831 Unpeople all our counties, of such herds
832 Of flutt'ring, loit'ring, cringing, begging, loose
833 And wanton vagrants, as make London, vast
834 And boundless as it is, a crowded coop.
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835 Oh thou resort and mart of all the earth,
836 Chequer'd with all complexions of mankind,
837 And spotted with all crimes; in whom I see
838 Much that I love, and more that I admire,
839 And all that I abhor; thou freckled fair
840 That pleases and yet shocks me, I can laugh
841 And I can weep, can hope, and can despond,
842 Feel wrath and pity when I think on thee!
843 Ten righteous would have saved a city once,
844 And thou hast many righteous. Well for thee
845 That salt preserves thee; more corrupted else,
846 And therefore more obnoxious at this hour,
847 Than Sodom in her day had pow'r to be,
848 For whom God heard his Abr'am plead in vain.

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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): [THE TASK, A POEM, IN SIX BOOKS.] BOOK III.
Themes: domestic life; rural life; patriotism
Genres: blank verse; narrative verse; georgic; philosophic poetry

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Source edition

The task: a poem, in six books. By William Cowper, ... To which are added, by the same author, An epistle to Joseph Hill, Esq. ... To which are added, ... an epistle ... and the history of John Gilpin. London: printed for J. Johnson, 1785, pp. [89]-134. [8],359,[1]p. ; 8⁰. (ESTC T14896; OTA K027776.000)

Editorial principles

The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.

Secondary literature

  • Griffin, Dustin. Redefining Georgic: Cowper's Task. ELH 57 (1990): 565-79. Print.
  • Matheson, Ann. The Influence of Cowper's The Task on Coleridge's Conversational Poems. Sultana, Donald, ed. New Approaches to Coleridge. London: Vision, 1981. 137-50. Print.
  • Priestman, Martin. Cowper's Task: Structure and Influence. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Print.

Other works by William Cowper