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

ARGUMENT of the FIFTH BOOK.

A frosty morning. The foddering of cattle. the woodman and his dog. The poultry. Whimsical effects of frost at a waterfall. The Empress of Russia's palace of ice. Amusements of monarchs. War one of them. Wars, whence. And whence monarchy. The evils of it. English and French loyalty contrasted. The Bastile and a prisoner there. Liberty the chief recommendation of this country. Modern patriotism questionable, and why. The perishable nature of the best human institutions. Spiritual liberty not perishable. The slavish state of man by nature. Deliver him Deist if you can. Grace must do it. The respective merits of patriots aud martyrs stated. Their different treatment. Happy freedom of the man whom grace makes free. His relish of the works of God. Address to the Creator.

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BOOK V.

THE WINTER MORNING WALK.

1 'TIS morning; and the sun with ruddy orb
2 Ascending fires the horizon. While the clouds
3 That crowd away before the driving wind,
4 More ardent as the disk emerges more,
5 Resemble most some city in a blaze,
6 Seen through the leafless wood. His slanting ray
7 Slides ineffectual down the snowy vale,
8 And tinging all with his own rosy hue,
9 From ev'ry herb and ev'ry spiry blade
10 Stretches a length of shadow o'er the field.
11 Mine, spindling into longitude immense,
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12 In spite of gravity and sage remark
13 That I myself am but a fleeting shade,
14 Provokes me to a smile. With eye askance
15 I view the muscular proportioned limb
16 Transformed to a lean shank. The shapeless pair
17 As they designed to mock me, at my side
18 Take step for step, and as I near approach
19 The cottage, walk along the plaister'd wall
20 Prepost'rous sight! the legs without the man.
21 The verdure of the plain lies buried deep
22 Beneath the dazzling deluge, and the bents
23 And coarser grass upspearing o'er the rest,
24 Of late unsightly and unseen, now shine
25 Conspicuous, and in bright apparel clad
26 And fledged with icy feathers, nod superb.
27 The cattle mourn in corners where the fence
28 Screens them, and seem half petrified to sleep
29 In unrecumbent sadness. There they wait
30 Their wonted fodder, not like hungr'ing man
31 Fretfull if unsupplied, but silent, meek,
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32 And patient of the slow-paced swain's delay.
33 He from the stack carves out th' accustomed load,
34 Deep-plunging and again deep plunging oft
35 His broad keen knife into the solid mass.
36 Smooth as a wall the upright remnant stands,
37 With such undeviating and even force
38 He severs it away. No needless care,
39 Lest storms should overset the leaning pile
40 Deciduous, or its own unbalanced weight.
41 Forth goes the woodman leaving unconcerned
42 The cheerfull haunts of man, to wield the axe
43 And drive the wedge in yonder forest drear,
44 From morn to eve his solitary task.
45 Shaggy and lean and shrew'd, with pointed ears
46 And tail cropp'd short, half lurcher and half cur
47 His dog attends him. Close behind his heel
48 Now creeps he slow, and now with many a frisk
49 Wide-scampering snatches up the drifted snow
50 With iv'ry teeth, or ploughs it with his snout;
51 Then shakes his powder'd coat and barks for joy.
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52 Heedless of all his pranks the sturdy churl
53 Moves right toward the mark. Nor stops for aught.
54 But now and then with pressure of his thumb
55 T' adjust the fragrant charge of a short tube
56 That fumes beneath his nose. The trailing cloud
57 Streams far behind him, scenting all the air.
58 Now from the roost or from the neighb'ring pale,
59 Where diligent to catch the first faint gleam
60 Of smiling day, they gossipp'd side by side,
61 Come trooping at the housewife's well-known call
62 The feather'd tribes domestic. Half on wing
63 And half on foot, they brush the fleecy flood
64 Conscious, and fearful of too deep a plunge.
65 The sparrows peep, and quit the shelt'ring eaves
66 To seize the fair occasion. Well they eye
67 The scatter'd grain, and thievishly resolved
68 T' escape th' impending famine, often scared
69 As oft return, a pert voracious kind.
70 Clean riddance quickly made, one only care
71 Remains to each, the search of sunny nook,
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72 Or shed impervious to the blast. Resign'd
73 To sad necessity the cock foregoes
74 His wonted strut, and wading at their head
75 With well-considered steps, seems to resent
76 His alter'd gait and stateliness retrenched.
77 How find the myriads that in summer cheer
78 The hills and vallies with their ceaseless songs
79 Due sustenance, or where subsist they now?
80 Earth yields them nought: the imprison'd worm is safe
81 Beneath the frozen clod; all seeds of herbs
82 Lie covered close, and berry-bearing thorns
83 That feed the thrush (whatever some suppose)
84 Afford the smaller minstrels no supply.
85 The long protracted rigor of the year
86 Thins all their num'rous flocks. In chinks and holes
87 Ten thousand seek an unmolested end
88 As instinct prompts, self buried 'ere they die.
89 The very rooks and daws forsake the fields,
90 Where neither grub nor root nor earth-nut now
91 Repays their labor more; and perch'd aloft
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92 By the way-side, or stalking in the path,
93 Lean pensioners upon the trav'llers track,
94 Pick up their nauscous dole, though sweet to them,
95 Of voided pulse or half digested grain.
96 The streams are lost amid the splendid blank
97 O'erwhelming all distinction. On the flood
98 Indurated and fixt the snowy weight
99 Lies undissolved, while silently beneath
100 And unperceived the current steals away.
101 Not so, where scornful of a check it leaps
102 The mill-dam, dashes on the wrestless wheel,
103 And wantons in the pebbly gulph below.
104 No frost can bind it there. Its utmost force
105 Can but arrest the light and smokey mist
106 That in its fall the liquid sheet throws wide.
107 And see where it has hung th' embroidered banks
108 With forms so various, that no pow'rs of art,
109 The pencil or the pen, may trace the scene!
110 Here glitt'ring turrets rise, upbearing high
111 (Fantastic misarrangement) on the roof
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112 Large growth of what may seem the sparkling trees
113 And shrubs of fairy land. The chrystal drops
114 That trickle down the branches, fast congeal'd
115 Shoot into pillars of pellucid length,
116 And prop the pile they but adorned before.
117 Here grotto within grotto safe defies
118 The sun-beam. There imboss'd and fretted wild
119 The growing wonder takes a thousand shapes
120 Capricious, in which fancy seeks in vain
121 The likeness of some object seen before.
122 Thus nature works as if to mock at art,
123 And in defiance of her rival pow'rs;
124 By these fortuitous and random strokes
125 Performing such inimitable feats
126 As she with all her rules can never reach.
127 Less worthy of applause though more admired,
128 Because a novelty, the work of man,
129 Imperial mistress of the fur-clad Russ!
130 Thy most magnificent and mighty freak,
131 The wonder of the North. No forest fell
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132 When thou would'st build: no quarry sent its stores
133 T' enrich thy walls. But thou didst hew the floods,
134 And make thy marble of the glassy wave.
135 In such a palace Aristaeus found
136 Cyrene, when he bore the plaintive tale
137 Of his lost bees to her maternal ear.
138 In such a palace poetry might place
139 The armoury of winter, where his troops
140 The gloomy clouds find weapons, arro'wy sleet
141 Skin-piercing volley, blossom-bruising hail,
142 And snow that often blinds the trav'ller's course,
143 And wraps him in an unexpected tomb.
144 Silently as a dream the fabric rose.
145 No sound of hammer or of saw was there.
146 Ice upon ice, the well-adjusted parts
147 Were soon conjoined, nor other cement ask'd
148 Than water interfused to make them one.
149 Lamps gracefully disposed and of all hues
150 Illumined ev'ry side. A wat'ry light
151 Gleamed through the clear transparency, that seemed
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152 Another moon new-risen, or meteor fall'n
153 From heav'n to earth, of lambent flame serene.
154 So stood the brittle prodigy, though smooth
155 And slipp'ry the materials, yet frost-bound
156 Firm as a rock. Nor wanted aught within
157 That royal residence might well befit,
158 For grandeur or for use. Long wavy wreaths
159 Of flow'rs that feared no enemy but warmth,
160 Blushed on the pannels. Mirrour needed none
161 Where all was vitreous, but in order due
162 Convivial table and commodious seat
163 (What seemed at least commodious seat) were there,
164 Sofa and couch and high-built throne august.
165 The same lubricity was found in all,
166 And all was moist to the warm touch, a scene
167 Of evanescent glory, once a stream,
168 And soon to slide into a stream again.
169 Alas! twas but a mortifying stroke
170 Of undesigned severity, that glanced,
171 (Made by a monarch) on her own estate,
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172 On human grandeur and the courts of kings.
173 'Twas transient in its nature, as in show
174 'Twas durable. As worthless as it seemed
175 Intrinsically precious. To the foot
176 Treach'rous and false, it smiled and it was cold.
177 Great princes have great play-things. Some have played
178 At hewing mountains into men, and some
179 At building human wonders mountain-high.
180 Some have amused the dull sad years of life,
181 Life spent in indolence, and therefore sad,
182 With schemes of monumental fame, and sought
183 By pyramids and mausolaean pomp,
184 Short-lived themselves, t' immortalize their bones.
185 Some seek diversion in the tented field,
186 And make the sorrows of mankind their sport.
187 But war's a game, which were their subjects wise,
188 King's should not play at. Nations would do well
189 T' extort their truncheons from the puny hands
190 Of heroes, whose infirm and baby minds
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191 Are gratified with mischief, and who spoil
192 Because men suffer it, their toy the world.
193 When Babel was confounded, and the great
194 Confed'racy of projectors wild and vain
195 Was split into diversity of tongues,
196 Then, as a shépherd separates his flock,
197 These to the upland, to the valley those,
198 God drave asunder and assigned their lot
199 To all the nations. Ample was the boon
200 He gave them, in its distribution fair
201 And equal, and he bade them dwell in peace.
202 Peace was awhile their care. They plough'd and sow'd
203 And reap'd their plenty without grudge or strife.
204 But violence can never longer sleep
205 Than human passions please. In ev'ry heart
206 Are sown the sparks that kindle fiery war,
207 Occasion needs but fan them, and they blaze.
208 Cain had already shed a brother's blood;
209 The deluge wash'd it out; but left unquenched
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210 The seeds of murther in the breast of man.
211 Soon, by a righteous judgment, in the line
212 Of his descending progeny was found
213 The first artificer of death; the shrew'd
214 Contriver who first sweated at the forge,
215 And forced the blunt and yet unblooded steel
216 To a keen edge, and made it bright for war.
217 Him Tubal named, the Vulcan of old times,
218 The sword and faulchion their inventor claim,
219 And the first smith was the first murd'rer's son.
220 His art survived the waters; and 'ere long
221 When man was multiplied and spread abroad
222 In tribes and clans, and had begun to call
223 These meadows and that range of hills his own,
224 The tasted sweets of property begat
225 Desire of more; and industry in some
226 To improve and cultivate their just demesne,
227 Made others covet what they saw so fair.
228 Thus wars began on earth. These fought for spoil,
229 And those in self-defence. Savage at first
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230 The onset, and irregular. At length
231 One eminent above the rest, for strength,
232 For stratagem or courage, or for all,
233 Was chosen leader. Him they served in war,
234 And him in peace for sake of warlike deeds
235 Rev'renced no less. Who could with him compare?
236 Or who so worthy to controul themselves
237 As he whose prowess had subdued their foes?
238 Thus war affording field for the display
239 Of virtue, made one chief, whom times of peace,
240 Which have their exigencies too, and call
241 For skill in government, at length made king.
242 King was a name too proud for man to wear
243 With modesty and meekness, and the crown,
244 So dazzling in their eyes who set it on,
245 Was sure t' intoxicate the brows it bound.
246 It is the abject property of most,
247 That being parcel of the common mass,
248 And destitute of means to raise themselves,
249 They sink and settle lower than they need.
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250 They know not what it is to feel within
251 A comprehensive faculty that grasps
252 Great purposes with ease, that turns and wields
253 Almost without an effort, plans too vast
254 For their conception, which they cannot move.
255 Conscious of impotence they soon grow drunk
256 With gazing, when they see an able man
257 Step forth to notice; and besotted thus
258 Build him a pedestal and say, stand there,
259 And be our admiration and our praise.
260 They roll themselves before him in the dust,
261 Then most deserving in their own account
262 When most extravagant in his applause,
263 As if exalting him they raised themselves.
264 Thus by degrees self-cheated of their found
265 And sober judgment that he is but man,
266 They demi-deify and fume him so
267 That in due season he forgets it too.
268 Inflated and astrut with self-conceit
269 He gulps the windy diet, and 'ere long
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270 Adopting their mistake, profoundly thinks
271 The world was made in vain if not for him.
272 Thenceforth they are his cattle. Drudges born
273 To bear his burthens, drawing in his gears
274 And sweating in his service. His caprice
275 Becomes the soul that animates them all.
276 He deems a thousand or ten thousand lives
277 Spent in the purchase of renown for him
278 An easy reck'ning, and they think the same.
279 Thus kings were first invented, and thus kings
280 Were burnished into heroes, and became
281 The arbiters of this terraqueous swamp,
282 Storks among frogs, that have but croak'd and died.
283 Strange that such folly as lifts bloated man
284 To eminence fit only for a God,
285 Should ever drivel out of human lips
286 Ev'n in the cradled weakness of the world!
287 Still stranger much, that when at length mankind
288 Had reached the sinewy firmness of their youth,
289 And could discriminate and argue well
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290 On subjects more mysterious, they were yet
291 Babes in the cause of freedom, and should fear
292 And quake before the Gods themselves had made.
293 But above measure strange, that neither proof
294 Of sad experience, nor examples set
295 By some whose patriot virtue has prevailed,
296 Can even now, when they are grown matute
297 In wisdom, and with philosophic deeps
298 Familiar, serve t' emancipate the rest!
299 Such dupes are men to custom, and so prone
300 To rev'rence what is ancient and can plead
301 A course of long observance for its use,
302 That even servitude the worst of ills,
303 Because deliver'd down from sire to son,
304 Is kept and guarded as a sacred thing.
305 But is it fit, or can it bear the shock
306 Of rational discussion, that a man
307 Compounded and made up like other men
308 Of elements tumultuous, in whom lust
309 And folly in as ample measure meet
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310 As in the bosoms of the slaves he rules,
311 Should be a despot absolute, and boast
312 Himself the only freeman of his land?
313 Should when he pleases, and on whom he will
314 Wage war, with any or with no pretence
315 Of provocation giv'n or wrong sustained,
316 And force the beggarly last doit, by means
317 That his own humour dictates, from the clutch
318 Of poverty, that thus he may procure
319 His thousands weary of penurious life
320 A splendid opportunity to die?
321 Say ye, who (with less prudence than of old
322 Jotham ascribed to his assembled trees
323 In politic convention) put your trust
324 I' th' shadow of a bramble, and reclined
325 In fancied peace beneath his dang'rous branch,
326 Rejoice in him and celebrate his sway,
327 Where find ye passive fortitude? Whence springs
328 Your self-denying zeal that holds it good
329 To stroke the prickly grievance, and to hang
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330 His thorns with streamers of continual praise?
331 We too are friends to loyalty. We love
332 The king who loves the law; respects his bounds
333 And reigns content within them. Him we serve
334 Freely and with delight, who leaves us free.
335 But recollecting still that he is man,
336 We trust him not too far. King, though he be,
337 And king in England too, he may be weak
338 And vain enough to be ambitious still,
339 May exercise amiss his proper pow'rs,
340 Or covet more than freemen chuse to grant:
341 Beyond that mark is treason. He is ours,
342 T' administer, to guard, t' adorn the state,
343 But not to warp or change it. We are his,
344 To serve him nobly in the common cause
345 True to the death, but not to be his slaves.
346 Mark now the diff'rence, ye that boast your love
347 Of kings, between your loyalty and ours.
348 We love the man. The paultry pageant you.
349 We the chief patron of the Commonwealth;
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350 You the regardless author of its woes.
351 We for the sake of liberty, a king;
352 You chains and bondage for a tyrant's sake.
353 Our love is principle, and has its root
354 In reason, is judicious, manly, free.
355 Yours, a blind instinct, crouches to the rod,
356 And licks the foot that treads it in the dust.
357 Were king-ship as true treasure as it seems,
358 Sterling, and worthy of a wise man's wish,
359 I would not be a king to be beloved
360 Causeless, and daubed with undiscerning praise,
361 Where love is mere attachment to the throne,
362 Not to the man who fills it as he ought.
363 Whose freedom is by suff'rance, and at will
364 Of a superior, he is never free.
365 Who lives and is not weary of a life.
366 Exposed to manacles, deserves them well.
367 The state that strives for liberty, though foiled
368 And forced t' abandon what she bravely sought,
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369 Deserves at least applause for her attempt,
370 And pity for her loss. But that's a cause
371 Not often unsuccessful; pow'r usurp'd
372 Is weakness when oppos'd; conscious of wrong
373 'Tis pusillanimous and prone to flight.
374 But slaves that once conceive the glowing thought
375 Of freedom, in that hope itself possess
376 All that the contest calls for; spirit, strength,
377 The scorn of danger, and united hearts
378 The surest presage of the good they seek.
* The author hopes that he shall not be censured for unnecessary warmth upon so interesting a subject. He is aware that it is become almost fashionable to stigmatize such sentiments as no better than empty declamation. But it is an ill symptom, and peculiar to modern times.
379 Then shame to manhood, and opprobrious more
380 To France, than all her losses and defeats
381 Old or of later date, by sea or land,
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382 Her house of bondage worse than that of old
383 Which God avenged on Pharaoh the Bastile.
384 Ye horrid tow'rs, th' abode of broken hearts,
385 Ye dungeons and ye cages of despair,
386 That monarchs have supplied from age to age
387 With music such as suits their sov'reign ears,
388 The sighs and groans of miserable men!
389 There's not an English heart that would not leap
390 To hear that ye were fall'n at last, to know
391 That ev'n our enemies, so oft employed
392 In forging chains for us, themselves were free.
393 For he that values liberty, confines
394 His zeal for her predominance within
395 No narrow bounds; her cause engages him
396 Wherever pleaded. 'Tis the cause of man.
397 There dwell the most forlorn of human kind
398 Immured though unaccused, condemn'd untried,
399 Cruelly spared, and hopeless of escape.
400 There like the visionary emblem seen
401 By him of Babylon, life stands a stump,
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402 And filletted about with hoops of brass,
403 Still lives, though all its pleasant boughs are gone,
404 To count the hour-bell and expect no change;
405 And ever as the sullen sound is heard,
406 Still to reflect that though a joyless note
407 To him whose moments all have one dull pace,
408 Ten thousand rovers in the world at large
409 Account it music; that it summons some
410 To theatre or jocund feast or ball;
411 The wearied hireling finds it a release
412 From labor, and the lover that has chid
413 Its long delay, feels ev'ry welcome stroke
414 Upon his heart-strings trembliug with delight
415 To fly for refuge from distracting thought
416 To such amusements as ingenious woe
417 Contrives, hard-shifting and without her tools
418 To read engraven on the mouldy walls
419 In stagg'ring types, his predecessors tale,
420 A sad memorial, and subjoin his own
421 To turn purveyor to an overgorged
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422 And bloated spider, till the pamper'd pest
423 Is made familiar, watches his approach,
424 Comes at his call and serves him for a friend
425 To wear out time in numb'ring to and fro
426 The studs that thick emboss his iron door,
427 Then downward and then upward, then aflant
428 And then alternate, with a sickly hope
429 By dint of change to give his tasteless task
430 Some relish, till the sum exactly found
431 In all directions, he begins again
432 Oh comfortless existence! hemm'd around
433 With woes, which who that suffers, would not kneel
434 And beg for exile, or the pangs of death?
435 That man should thus encroach on fellow man,
436 Abridge him of his just and native rights,
437 Eradicate him, tear him from his hold
438 Upon th' endearments of domestic life
439 And social, nip his fruitfulness and use,
440 And doom him for perhaps an heedless word
441 To barrenness and solitude and tears,
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442 Moves indignation. Makes the name of king,
443 (Of king whom such prerogative can please)
444 As dreadful as the Manichean God,
445 Adored through fear, strong only to destroy.
446 'Tis liberty alone that gives the flow'r
447 Of fleeting life its lustre and perfume,
448 And we are weeds without it. All constraint,
449 Except what wisdom lays on evil men,
450 Is evil; hurts the faculties, impedes
451 Their progress in the road of science; blinds
452 The eye sight of discov'ry, and begets
453 In those that suffer it, a sordid mind
454 Bestial, a meagre intellect, unfit
455 To to be the tenant of man's noble form.
456 Thee therefore still, blame-worthy as thou art,
457 With all thy lose of empire, and though squeezed
458 By public exigence 'till annual food
459 Fails for the craving hunger of the state,
460 Thee I account still happy, and the chief
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461 Among the nations, seeing thou art free!
462 My native nook of earth! thy clime is rude,
463 Replete with vapours, and disposes much
464 All hearts to sadness, and none more than mine;
465 Thine unadult'rate manners are less soft
466 And plausible than social life requires,
467 And thou hast need of discipline and art
468 To give thee what politer France receives
469 From Nature's bounty that humane address
470 And sweetness, without which no pleasure is
471 In converse, either starved by cold reserve,
472 Or flush'd with fierce dispute, a senseless brawl;
473 Yet being free, I love thee. For the sake
474 Of that one feature, can be well content,
475 Disgraced as thou hast been, poor as thou art,
476 To seek no sublunary rest beside.
477 But once enslaved, farewell! I could endure
478 Chains no where patiently, and chains at home
479 Where I am free by birthright, not at all.
480 Then what were left of roughness in the grain
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481 Of British natures, wanting its excuse
482 That it belongs to freemen, would disgust
483 And shock me. I should then with double pain
484 Feel all the rigor of thy fickle clime,
485 And if I must bewail the blessing lost
486 For which our Hampdens and our Sidney's bled,
487 I would at least bewail it under skies
488 Milder, among a people less austere,
489 In scenes which having never known me free
490 Would not reproach me with the loss I felt.
491 Do I forebode impossible events,
492 And tremble at vain dreams? Heav'n grant I may!
493 But th' age of virtuous politics is past,
494 And we are deep in that of cold pretence.
495 Patriots are grown too shrewd to be sincere,
496 And we too wise to trust them. He that takes
497 Deep in his soft credulity the stamp
498 Designed by loud declaimers on the part
499 Of liberty, themselves the slaves of lust,
500 Incurs derision for his easy faith
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501 And lack of knowledge, and with cause enough.
502 For when was public virtue to be found
503 Where private was not? can he love the whole
504 Who loves no part? He be a nation's friend
505 Who is, in truth, the friend of no man there?
506 Can he be strenuous in his country's cause,
507 Who slights the charities for whose dear sake
508 That country, if at all, must be beloved?
509 'Tis therefore, sober and good men are sad
510 For England's glory, seeing it wax pale
511 And sickly, while her champions wear their hearts
512 So loose to private duty, that no brain
513 Healthful and undisturbed by factious fumes,
514 Can dream them trusty to the gen'ral weal.
515 Such were not they of old, whose temper'd blades
516 Dispersed the shackles of usurp'd controul,
517 And hew'd them link from link. Then Albion's sons
518 Were sons indeed. They felt a filial heart
519 Beat high within them at a mother's wrongs,
520 And shining each in his domestic sphere,
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521 Shone brighter still once call'd to public view.
522 'Tis therefore, many whose sequester'd lot
523 Forbids their interference, looking on
524 Anticipate perforce some dire event;
525 And seeing the old castle of the state
526 That promised once more firmness, so assail'd
527 That all its tempest-beaten turrets shake,
528 Stand motionless expectants of its fall.
529 All has its date below. The fatal hour
530 Was register'd in heaven 'ere time began.
531 We turn to dust, and all our mightiest works
532 Die too. The deep foundations that we lay,
533 Time ploughs them up, and not a trace remains,
534 We build with what we deem eternal rock,
535 A distant age asks where the fabric stood,
536 And in the dust sifted and search'd in vain,
537 The undiscoverable secret sleeps.
538 But there is yet a liberty unsung
539 By poets, and by senators unpraised,
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540 Which monarchs cannot grant, nor all the powers
541 Of earth and hell confed'rate take away.
542 A liberty, which persecution, fraud,
543 Oppression, prisons, have no power to bind,
544 Which whoso tastes can be enslaved no more.
545 'Tis liberty of heart, derived from heav'n,
546 Bought with HIS blood who gave it to mankind,
547 And seal'd with the same token. It is held
548 By charter, and that charter sanction'd sure
549 By th' unimpeachable and awful oath
550 And promise of a God. His other gifts
551 All bear the royal stamp that speaks them his,
552 And are august, but this transcends them all,
553 His other works, this visible display
554 Of all-creating energy and might,
555 Are grand no doubt, and worthy of the word
556 That finding an interminable space
557 Unoccupied, has filled the void so well,
558 And made so sparkling what was dark before.
559 But these are not his glory. Man, 'tis true,
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560 Smit with the beauty of so fair a scene,
561 Might well suppose th' artificer divine
562 Meant it eternal, had he not himself
563 Pronounced it transient glorious as it is,
564 And still designing a more glorious far,
565 Doom'd it, as insufficient for his praise.
566 These therefore are occasional and pass.
567 Form'd for the confutation of the fool
568 Whose lying heart disputes against a God,
569 That office served, they must be swept away.
570 Not so the labours of his love. They shine
571 In other heav'ns than these that we behold,
572 And fade not. There is paradise that fears
573 No forfeiture, and of its fruits he sends
574 Large prelibation oft to saints below.
575 Of these the first in order, and the pledge
576 And confident assurance of the rest
577 Is liberty. A flight into his arms
578 'Ere yet mortality's fine threads give way,
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579 A clear escape from tyrannizing lust,
580 And full immunity from penal woe.
581 Chains are the portion of revolted man,
582 Stripes and a dungeon; and his body serves
583 The triple purpose. In that sickly, foul,
584 Opprobrious residence, he finds them all.
585 Propense his heart to idols, he is held
586 In silly dotage on created things
587 Careless of their Creator. And that low
588 And sordid gravitation of his pow'rs
589 To a vile clod, so draws him, with such force
590 Resistless from the center he should seek,
591 That he at last forgets it. All his hopes
592 Tend downward, his ambition is to sink,
593 To reach a depth profounder still, and still
594 Profounder, in the fathomless abyss
595 Of folly, plunging in pursuit of death.
596 But 'ere he gain the comfortless repose
597 He seeks, an acquiescence of his soul
[Page 212]
598 In heav'n-renouncing exile, he endures
599 What does he not? from lusts oppos'd in vain,
600 And self-reproaching conscience. He foresees
601 The fatal issue to his health, fame, peace,
602 Fortune and dignity; the loss of all
603 That can enoble man, and make frail life
604 Short as it is, supportable. Still worse,
605 Far worse than all the plagues with which his sins
606 Infect his happiest moments, he forebodes
607 Ages of hopeless misery. Future death,
608 And death still future. Not an hasty stroke
609 Like that which sends him to the dusty grave,
610 But unrepealable enduring death.
611 Scripture is still a trumpet to his fears;
612 What none can prove a forg'ry, may be true,
613 What none but bad men wish exploded, must.
614 That scruple checks him. Riot is not loud
615 Nor drunk enough to drown it. In the midst
616 Of laughter his compunctions are sincere,
617 And he abhors the jest by which he shines.
[Page 213]
618 Remorse begets reform. His master-lust
619 Falls first before his resolute rebuke,
620 And seems dethroned and vanquish'd. Peace ensues,
621 But spurious and short-liv'd, the puny child
622 Of self-congratulating pride, begot
623 On fancied Innocence. Again he falls,
624 And fights again; but finds his best essay
625 A presage ominous, portending still
626 Its own dishonor by a worse relapse.
627 Till Nature, unavailing Nature foiled
628 So oft, and wearied in the vain attempt,
629 Scoffs at her own performance. Reason now
630 Takes part with appetite, and pleads the cause,
631 Perversely, which of late she so condemn'd;
632 With shallow shifts and old devices, worn
633 And tatter'd in the service of debauch,
634 Cov'ring his shame from his offended sight.
635 "Hath God indeed giv'n appetites to man,
636 "And stored the earth so plenteously with means
[Page 214]
637 "To gratify the hunger of his wish,
638 "And doth he reprobate and will he damn
639 "The use of his own bounty? making first
640 "So frail a kind, and then enacting laws
641 "So strict, that less than perfect must despair?
642 "Falsehood! which whoso but suspects of truth,
643 "Dishonors God, and makes a slave of man.
644 "Do they themselves, who undertake for hire
645 "The teacher's office, and dispense at large
646 "Their weekly dole of edifying strains,
647 "Attend to their own music? have they faith
648 "In what with such solemnity of tone
649 "And gesture they propound to our belief?
650 "Nay conduct hath the loudest tongue. The voice
651 "Is but an instrument on which the priest
652 "May play what tune he pleases. In the deed,
653 "The unequivocal authentic deed
654 "We find sound argument, we read the heart.
655 Such reas'nings (if that name must needs belong
656 T' excuses in which reason has no part)
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657 Serve to compose a spirit well inclined
658 To live on terms of amity with vice,
659 And sin without disturbance. Often urged
660 (As often as libidinous discourse
661 Exhausted, he resorts to solemn themes
662 Of theological and grave import)
663 They gain at last his unreserved assent.
664 Till harden'd his heart's temper in the forge
665 Of lust, and on the anvil of despair,
666 He slights the strokes of conscience. Nothing moves,
667 Or nothing much, his constancy in ill,
668 Vain tamp'ring has but foster'd his disease,
669 'Tis desp'rate, and he sleeps the sleep of death.
670 Haste now, philosopher, and set him free.
671 Charm the deaf serpent wisely. Make him hear
672 Of rectitude and fitness; moral truth
673 How lovely, and the moral-sense how sure
674 Consulted and obey'd, to guide his steps
675 Directly to the FIRST AND ONLY FAIR.
676 Spare not in such a cause. Spend all the pow'rs
[Page 216]
677 Of rant and rhapsody in virtue's praise,
678 Be most sublimely good, verbosely grand,
679 And with poetic trappings grace thy prose
680 Till it out-mantle all the pride of verse.
681 Ah, tinkling cymbal and high-sounding brass
682 Smitten in vain! such music cannot charm
683 Th' eclipse that intercepts truth's heav'nly beam,
684 And chills and darkens a wide-wand'ring soul.
685 The still small voice is wanted. He must speak
686 Whose word leaps forth at once to its effect,
687 Who calls for things that are not, and they come.
688 Grace makes the slave a freeman. 'Tis a change
689 That turns to ridicule the turgid speech
690 And stately tone of moralists, who boast,
691 As if like him of fabulous renown
692 They had indeed ability to smooth
693 The shag of savage nature, and were each
694 An Orpheus and omnipotent in song.
695 But transformation of apostate man
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696 From fool to wise, from earthly to divine,
697 Is work for Him that made him. He alone,
698 And he by means in philosophic eyes
699 Trivial and worthy of disdain, atchieves
700 The wonder; humanizing what is brute
701 In the lost kind, extracting from the lips
702 Of asps their venom, overpow'ring strength
703 By weakness, and hostility by love.
704 Patriots have toiled, and in their country's cause
705 Bled nobly, and their deeds, as they deserve,
706 Receive proud recompense. We give in charge
707 Their names to the sweet lyre. Th' historic muse,
708 Proud of the treasure, marches with it down
709 To latest times; and sculpture in her turn,
710 Gives bond in stone and ever-during brass,
711 To guard them, and t' immortalize her trust.
712 But fairer wreaths are due, though never paid,
713 To those who posted at the shrine of truth,
714 Have fall'n in her defence. A patriot's blood
715 Well spent in such a strife may earn indeed
[Page 218]
716 And for a time insure to his loved land
717 The sweets of liberty and equal laws;
718 But martyrs struggle for a brighter prize,
719 And win it with more pain. Their blood is shed
720 In confirmation of the noblest claim,
721 Our claim to feed upon immortal truth,
722 To walk with God, to be divinely free,
723 To soar, and to anticipate the skies.
724 Yet few remember them. They lived unknown
725 Till persecution dragg'd them into fame
726 And chased them up to heaven. Their ashes flew
727 No marble tells us whither. With their names
728 No bard embalms and sanctifies his song,
729 And History, so warm on meaner themes,
730 Is cold on this. She execrates indeed
731 The tyranny that doom'd them to the fire,
732 But gives the glorious suff'rers little praise.
* See Hume.
[Page 219]
733 He is the freeman whom the truth makes free,
734 And all are slaves beside. There's not a chain
735 That hellish foes confed'rate for his harm
736 Can wind around him, but he casts it off
737 With as much ease as Samson his green wyths.
738 He looks abroad into the varied field
739 Of Nature, and though poor perhaps, compared
740 With those whose mansions glitter in his sight,
741 Calls the delightful scen'ry all his own.
742 His are the mountains, and the vallies his,
743 And the resplendent rivers. His t' enjoy
744 With a propriety that none can feel,
745 But who with filial confidence inspired
746 Can lift to heav'n an unpresumptuous eye,
747 And smiling say my father made them all.
748 Are they not his by a peculiar right,
749 And by an emphasis of int'rest his,
750 Whose eye they fill with tears of holy joy,
751 Whose heart with praise, and whose exalted mind
752 With worthy thoughts of that unwearied love
[Page 220]
753 That plann'd, and built, and still upholds a world
754 So cloathed with beauty, for rebellious man?
755 Yes ye may fill your garners, ye that reap
756 The loaded soil, and ye may waste much good
757 In senseless riot; but ye will not find
758 In feast or in the chace, in song or dance
759 A liberty like his, who unimpeach'd
760 Of usurpation and to no man's wrong,
761 Appropriates nature as his father's work,
762 And has a richer use of yours, than you.
763 He is indeed a freeman. Free by birth
764 Of no mean city, plann'd or 'ere the hills
765 Were built, the fountains open'd, or the sea,
766 With all his roaring multitude of waves.
767 His freedom is the same in ev'ry state,
768 And no condition of this changeful life
769 So manifold in cares, whose ev'ry day
770 Brings its own evil with it, makes it less.
771 For he has wings that neither sickness, pain,
772 Nor penury, can cripple or confine.
[Page 221]
773 No nook so narrow but he spreads them there
774 With ease, and is at large. Th' oppressor holds
775 His body bound, but knows not what a range
776 His spirit takes unconscious of a chain,
777 And that to bind him is a vain attempt
778 Whom God delights in, and in whom he dwells.
779 Acquaint thyself with God if thou would'st taste
780 His works. Admitted once to his embrace,
781 Thou shalt perceive that thou wast blind before;
782 Thine eye shall be instructed, and thine heart
783 Made pure, shall relish with divine delight
784 'Till then unfelt, what hands divine have wrought.
785 Brutes graze the mountain-top with faces prone
786 And eyes intent upon the scanty herb
787 It yields them, or recumbent on its brow,
788 Ruminate heedless of the scene outspread
789 Beneath, beyond, and stretching far away
790 From inland regions to the distant main.
791 Man views it and admires, but rests content
[Page 222]
792 With what he views. The landscape has his praise,
793 But not its author. Unconcern'd who form'd
794 The paradise he sees, he finds it such,
795 And such well-pleased to find it, asks no more.
796 Not so the mind that has been touch'd from heav'n,
797 And in the school of sacred wisdom taught
798 To read his wonders, in whose thought the world,
799 Fair as it is, existed 'ere it was.
800 Not for its own sake merely, but for his
801 Much more who fashioned it, he gives it praise;
802 Praise that from earth resulting as it ought
803 To earth's acknowledg'd sov'reign, finds at once
804 Its only just proprietor in Him.
805 The soul that sees him, or receives sublimed
806 New faculties, or learns at least t' employ
807 More worthily the pow'rs she own'd before;
808 Discerns in all things, what with stupid gaze
809 Of ignorance till then she overlook'd,
810 A ray of heav'nly light gilding all forms
811 Terrestrial, in the vast and the minute
[Page 223]
812 The unambiguous sootsteps of the God
813 Who gives its lustre to an insect's wing,
814 And wheels his throne upon the rolling worlds.
815 Much conversant with heav'n, she often holds
816 With those fair ministers of light to man
817 That fill the skies nightly with silent pomp,
818 Sweet conference. Enquires what strains were they
819 With which heav'n rang, when ev'ry star, in haste
820 To gratulate the new-created earth,
821 Sent forth a voice, and all the sons of God
822 Shouted for joy. "Tell me, ye shining hosts
823 "That navigate a sea that knows no storms
824 "Beneath a vault unsullied with a cloud,
825 "If from your elevation, whence ye view
826 "Distinctly scenes invisible to man,
827 "And systems of whose birth no tidings yet
828 "Have reach'd this nether world, ye spy a race
829 "Favor'd as our's, transgressors from the womb
830 "And hasting to a grave, yet doom'd to rise,
831 "And to possefs a brighter heav'n than yours?
[Page 224]
832 "As one who long detain'd on foreign shores
833 "Pants to return, and when he sees afar
834 "His country's weather-bleach'd and batter'd rocks
835 "From the green wave emerging, darts an eye
836 "Radiant with joy towards the happy land;
837 "So I with animated hopes behold
838 "And many an aching wish, your beamy fires,
839 "That shew like beacons in the blue abyss
840 "Ordain'd to guide th' embodied spirit home
841 "From toilsome life to never-ending rest.
842 "Love kindles as I gaze. I feel desires
843 "That give assurance of their own success,
844 "And that infused from heav'n, must thither tend."
845 So reads he nature whom the lamp of truth
846 Illuminates. Thy lamp, mysterious word!
847 Which whoso sees, no longer wanders lost
848 With intellects bemazed in endless doubt,
849 But runs the road of wisdom. Thou hast built
850 With means that were not till by thee employ'd,
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851 World's that had never been had'st thou in strength
852 Been less, or less benevolent than strong.
853 They are thy witnesses, who speak thy pow'r
854 And goodness infinite, but speak in ears
855 That hear not, or receive not their report.
856 In vain thy creatures testify of thee
857 'Till thou proclaim thyself. Their's is indeed
858 A teaching voice; but 'tis the praise of thine
859 That whom it teaches it makes prompt to learn,
860 And with the boon gives talents for its use.
861 'Till thou art heard, imaginations vain
862 Possess the heart, and fables false as hell
863 Yet deemed oracular, lure down to death
864 The uninform'd and heedless souls of men.
865 We give to chance, blind chance, ourselves as blind,
866 The glory of thy work, which yet appears
867 Perfect and unimpeachable of blame,
868 Challenging human scrutiny, and proved
869 Then skilful most when most severely judged.
870 But chance is not; or is not where thou reign'st:
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871 Thy providence forbids that fickle pow'r
872 (If pow'r she be that works but to confound)
873 To mix her wild vagaries with thy laws.
874 Yet thus we doat, refusing while we can
875 Instruction, and inventing to ourselves
876 Gods such as guilt makes welcome, Gods that sleep,
877 Or disregard our follies, or that sit
878 Amused spectators of this bustling stage.
879 Thee we reject, unable to abide
880 Thy purity, 'till pure as thou art pure,
881 Made such by thee, we love thee for that cause
882 For which we shunn'd and hated thee before.
883 Then we are free. Then liberty like day
884 Breaks on the soul, and by a flash from heav'n
885 Fires all the faculties with glorious joy.
886 A voice is heard that mortal ears hear not
887 'Till thou hast touch'd them; 'tis the voice of song,
888 A loud Hosanna sent from all thy works,
889 Which he that hears it with a shout repeats,
890 And adds his rapture to the gen'ral praise.
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891 In that blest moment, nature throwing wide
892 Her veil opaque, discloses with a smile
893 The author of her beauties, who retired
894 Behind his own creation, works unseen
895 By the impure, and hears his pow'r denied.
896 Thou art the source and centre of all minds,
897 Their only point of rest, eternal word!
898 From thee departing, they are lost and rove
899 At random, without honor, hope, or peace.
900 From thee is all that sooths the life of man,
901 His high endeavour, and his glad success,
902 His strength to suffer and his will to serve.
903 But oh thou bounteous giver of all good,
904 Thou art of all thy gifts thyself the crown!
905 Give what thou can'st, without thee we are poor,
906 And with thee rich, take what thou wilt away.

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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): [THE TASK, A POEM, IN SIX BOOKS.] BOOK V.
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. [179]-227. [8],359,[1]p. ; 8⁰. (ESTC T14896; OTA K027776.000)

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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