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

ARGUMENT of the SIXTH BOOK.

Bells at a distance. Their effect. A fine noon in winter. A sheltered walk. Meditation better than books. Our familiarity with the course of nature makes it appear less wonderful than it is. The transformation that spring effects in a shrubbery described. A mistake concerning the course of nature corrected. God maintains it by an unremitted act. The amusements fashionable at this hour of the day reproved. Animals happy, a delightful sight. Origin of cruelty to animals. That it is a great crime proved from scripture. That proof illustrated by a tale. A line drawn between the lawful and the unlawful destruction of them. Their good and useful properties insisted on. Apology for the encomiums bestowed by the author on animals. Instances of man's extravagant praise of man. The groans of the creation shall have an end. A view taken of the restoration of all things. An Invocation and an Invitation of him who shall bring it to pass. The retired man vindicated from the charge of uselessness. Conclusion.

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BOOK VI.

THE WINTER WALK AT NOON.

1 THERE is in souls a sympathy with sounds,
2 And as the mind is pitch'd the ear is pleas'd
3 With melting airs or martial, brisk or grave.
4 Some chord in unison with what we hear
5 Is touched within us, and the heart replies.
6 How soft the music of those village bells
7 Falling at intervals upon the ear
8 In cadence sweet! now dying all away,
9 Now pealing loud again and louder still,
10 Clear and sonorous as the gale comes on.
11 With easy force it opens all the cells
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12 Where mem'ry slept. Wherever I have heard
13 A kindred melody, the scene recurs,
14 And with it all its pleasures and its pains.
15 Such comprehensive views the spirit takes,
16 That in a few short moments I retrace
17 (As in a map the voyager his course)
18 The windings of my way through many years.
19 Short as in retrospect the journey seems,
20 It seem'd not always short; the rugged path
21 And prospect oft so dreary and forlorn
22 Moved many a sigh at its disheart'ning length.
23 Yet feeling present evils, while the past
24 Faintly impress the mind, or not at all,
25 How readily we wish time spent revoked,
26 That we might try the ground again, where once
27 (Through inexperience as we now perceive)
28 We miss'd that happiness we might have found.
29 Some friend is gone, perhaps his son's best friend
30 A father, whose authority, in show
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31 When most severe, and must'ring all its force,
32 Was but the graver countenance of love.
33 Whose favour like the clouds of spring, might low'r
34 And utter now and then an awful voice,
35 But had a blessing in its darkest frown,
36 Threat'ning at once and nourishing the plant.
37 We loved, but not enough the gentle hand
38 That reared us. At a thoughtless age allured
39 By ev'ry gilded folly, we renounced
40 His shelt'ring side, and wilfully forewent
41 That converse which we now in vain regret.
42 How gladly would the man recall to life
43 The boy's neglected sire! a mother too,
44 That softer friend, perhaps more gladly still
45 Might he demand them at the gates of death.
46 Sorrow has since they went subdued and tamed
47 The playful humour, he could now endure,
48 (Himself grown sober in the vale of tears)
49 And feel a parent's presence no restraint.
50 But not to understand a treasure's worth
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51 'Till time has stol'n away the slighted good,
52 Is cause of half the poverty we feel,
53 And makes the world the wilderness it is,
54 The few that pray at all pray oft amiss,
55 And seeking grace t' improve the prize they hold
56 Would urge a wiser suit, than asking more.
57 The night was winter in his roughest mood,
58 The morning sharp and clear. But now at noon
59 Upon the southern side of the slant hills,
60 And where the woods fence off the northern blast,
61 The season smiles resigning all its rage
62 And has the warmth of May. The vault is blue
63 Without a cloud, and white without a speck
64 The dazzling splendour of the scene below.
65 Again the harmony comes o'er the vale,
66 And through the trees I view th' embattled tow'r
67 Whence all the music. I again perceive
68 The soothing influence of the wafted strains,
69 And settle in soft musings as I tread
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70 The walk still verdant under oaks and elms,
71 Whose outspread branches overarch the glade.
72 The roof though moveable through all its length
73 As the wind sways it, has yet well sufficed,
74 And intercepting in their silent fall
75 The frequent flakes, has kept a path for me.
76 No noise is here, or none that hinders thought.
77 The red-breast warbles still, but is content
78 With slender notes and more than half suppress'd.
79 Pleased with his solitude, and flitting light
80 From spray to spray, where'er he rests he shakes
81 From many a twig the pendent drops of ice,
82 That tinkle in the wither'd leaves below.
83 Stillness accompanied with sounds so soft
84 Charms more than silence. Meditation here
85 May think down hours to moments. Here the heart
86 May give an useful lesson to the head,
87 And learning wiser grow without his books.
88 Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one,
89 Have oft times no connexion. Knowledge dwells
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90 In heads replete with thoughts of other men,
91 Wisdom in minds attentive to their own.
92 Knowledge, a rude unprofitable mass,
93 The mere materials with which wisdom builds,
94 'Till smooth'd and squared and fitted to its place
95 Does but incumber whom it seems t' enrich.
96 Knowledge is proud that he has learn'd so much,
97 Wisdom is humble that he knows no more.
98 Books are not seldom talismans and spells
99 By which the magic art of shrewder wits
100 Holds an unthinking multitude enthrall'd.
101 Some to the fascination of a name
102 Surrender judgment hood-wink'd. Some the stile
103 Infatuates, and through labyrinths and wilds
104 Of error, leads them by a tune entranced.
105 While sloth seduces more, too weak to bear
106 The insupportable fatigue of thought,
107 And swallowing therefore without pause or choice
108 The total grist unsifted, husks and all.
109 But trees, and rivulets whose rapid course
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110 Defies the check of winter, haunts of deer,
111 And sheep-walks populous with bleating lambs,
112 And lanes in which the primrose 'ere her time
113 Peeps through the moss that cloaths the hawthorn root,
114 Deceive no student. Wisdom there, and truth,
115 Not shy as in the world, and to be won
116 By slow solicitation, seize at once
117 The roving thought, and fix it on themselves.
118 What prodigies can pow'r divine perform
119 More grand, than it produces year by year,
120 And all in sight of inattentive man?
121 Familiar with th' effect we slight the cause,
122 And in the constancy of nature's course,
123 The regular return of genial months,
124 And renovation of a faded world,
125 See nought to wonder at. Should God again
126 As once in Gibeon, interrupt the race
127 Of the undeviating and punctual sun,
128 How would the world admire! but speaks it less
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129 An agency divine, to make him know
130 His moment when to sink and when to rise
131 Age after age, than to arrest his course?
132 All we behold is miracle, but seen
133 So duly, all is miracle in vain.
134 Where now the vital energy that moved
135 While summer was, the pure and subtle lymph
136 Through th' imperceptible maeandring veins
137 Of leaf and flow'r? It sleeps; and the icy touch
138 Of unprolific winter has impress'd
139 A cold stagnation on th' intestine tide.
140 But let the months go round, a few short months,
141 And all shall be restored. These naked shoots
142 Barren as lances, among which the wind
143 Makes wintry music, sighing as it goes,
144 Shall put their graceful foliage on again,
145 And more aspiring and with ampler spread
146 Shall boast new charms, and more than they have lost.
147 Then, each in its peculiar honors clad,
148 Shall publish even to the distant eye
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149 Its family and tribe. Laburnum rich
150 In streaming gold; syringa iv'ry-pure;
151 The scented and the scentless rose; this red
152 And of an humbler growth, the
* The Guelder-rose.
other tall,
153 And throwing up into the darkest gloom
154 Of neighb'ring cypress or more sable yew
155 Her silver globes, light as the foamy surf
156 That the wind severs from the broken wave.
157 The lilac various in array, now white,
158 Now sanguine, and her beauteous head now set
159 With purple spikes pyramidal, as if
160 Studious of ornament, yet unresolved
161 Which hue she most approved, she chose them all.
162 Copious of flow'rs the woodbine, pale and wan,
163 But well compensating their sickly looks
164 With never-cloying odours, early and late.
165 Hypericum all bloom, so thick a swarm
166 Of flow'rs like flies cloathing her slender rods
167 That scarce a leaf appears. Mezerion too
168 Though leafless well attired, and thick beset
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169 With blushing wreaths investing ev'ry spray.
170 Althaea with the purple eye, the broom,
171 Yellow and bright as bullion unalloy'd
172 Her blossoms, and luxuriant above all
173 The jasmine, throwing wide her elegant sweets,
174 The deep dark green of whose unvarnish'd leaf
175 Makes more conspicuous, and illumines more
176 The bright profusion of her scatter'd stars.
177 These have been, and these shall be in their day.
178 And all this uniform uncoloured scene
179 Shall be dismantled of its fleecy load,
180 And flush into variety again.
181 From dearth to plenty, and from death to life,
182 Is Nature's progress when she lectures man
183 In heav'nly truth; evincing as she makes
184 The grand transition, that there lives and works
185 A soul in all things, and that soul is God.
186 The beauties of the wilderness are his,
187 That make so gay the solitary place
188 Where no eye sees them. And the fairer forms
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189 That cultivation glories in, are his.
190 He sets the bright procession on its way,
191 And marshals all the order of the year.
192 He marks the bounds which winter may not pass,
193 And blunts his pointed fury. In its case
194 Russet and rude, folds up the tender germ
195 Uninjured, with inimitable art,
196 And 'ere one flow'ry season fades and dies
197 Designs the blooming wonders of the next.
198 Some say that in the origin of things
199 When all creation started into birth,
200 The infant elements received a law
201 From which they swerve not since. That under force
202 Of that controuling ordinance they move,
203 And need not his immediate hand, who first
204 Prescribed their course, to regulate it now.
205 Thus dream they, and contrive to save a God
206 The incumbrance of his own concerns, and spare
207 The great Artificer of all that moves
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208 The stress of a continual act, the pain
209 Of unremitted vigilance and care,
210 As too laborious and severe a task.
211 So man, the moth, is not afraid it seems
212 To span Omnipotence, and measure might
213 That knows no measure, by the scanty rule
214 And standard of his own, that is to day,
215 And is not, 'ere to-morrow's sun go down.
216 But how should matter occupy a charge
217 Dull as it is, and satisfy a law
218 So vast in its demands, unless impell'd
219 To ceaseless service by a ceaseless force,
220 And under pressure of some conscious cause?
221 The Lord of all, himself through all diffused,
222 Sustains and is the life of all that lives.
223 Nature is but a name for an effect
224 Whose cause is God. He feeds the secret fire
225 By which the mighty process is maintain'd,
226 Who sleeps not, is not weary; in whose sight
227 Slow-circling ages are as transient days;
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228 Whose work is without labor, whose design
229 No flaw deforms, no difficulty thwarts,
230 And whose beneficence no charge exhausts
231 Him blind antiquity profaned, not serv'd,
232 With self-taught rites and under various names
233 Female and male, Pomona, Pales, Pan,
234 And Flora and Vertumnus; peopling earth
235 With tutelary goddesses and gods
236 That were not, and commending as they would
237 To each some province, garden, field, or grove.
238 But all are under one. One spirit His
239 Who wore the platted thorns with bleeding brows,
240 Rules universal nature. Not a flow'r
241 But shows some touch in freckle, streak or stain,
242 Of his unrivall'd pencil. He inspires
243 Their balmy odors and imparts their hues,
244 And bathes their eyes with nectar, and includes
245 In grains as countless as the sea-side sands,
246 The forms with which he sprinkles all the earth.
247 Happy who walks with him! whom what he finds
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248 Of flavour or of scent in fruit or flow'r,
249 Or what he views of beautiful or grand
250 In Nature, from the broad majestic oak
251 To the green blade that twinkles in the fun,
252 Prompts with remembrance of a present God.
253 His presence who made all so fair, perceived,
254 Makes all still fairer. As with him no scene
255 Is dreary, so with him all seasons please.
256 Though winter had been none, had man been true,
257 And earth be punished for its tenant's sake,
258 Yet not in vengeance; as this smiling sky
259 So soon succeeding such an angry night,
260 And these dissolving snows, and this clear stream
261 Recov'ring fast its liquid music, prove.
262 Who then that has a mind well strung and tuned
263 To contemplation, and within his reach
264 A scene so friendly to his fav'rite task,
265 Would waste attention at the chequer'd board,
266 His host of wooden warriors to and fro
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267 Marching and counter-marching, with an eye
268 As fixt as marble, with a forehead ridged
269 And furrow'd into storms, and with a hand
270 Trembling, as if eternity were hung
271 In balance on his conduct of a pin?
272 Nor envies he aught more their idle sport
273 Who pant with application misapplied
274 To trivial toys, and pushing iv'ry balls
275 Across the velvet level, feel a joy
276 Akin to rapture, when the bawble finds
277 Its destin'd goal of difficult access.
278 Nor deems he wiser him, who gives his noon
279 To Miss, the Mercer's plague, from shop to shop
280 Wand'ring, and litt'ring with unfolded silks
281 The polished counter, and approving none,
282 Or promising with smiles to call again.
283 Nor him, who by his vanity seduced
284 And sooth'd into a dream that he discerns
285 The difference of a Guido from a daub,
286 Frequents the crowded auction. Station'd there
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287 As duely as the Langford of the show,
288 With glass at eye, and catalogue in hand,
289 And tongue accomplish'd in the fulsome cant
290 And pedantry that coxcombs learn with ease,
291 Oft as the price-deciding hammer falls
292 He notes it in his book, then raps his box
293 Swears 'tis a bargain, rails at his hard fate
294 That he has let it pass but never bids.
295 Here unmolefted, through whatever sign
296 The sun proceeds, I wander. Neither mist,
297 Nor freezing sky, nor sultry, checking me,
298 Nor stranger intermeddling with my joy.
299 Ev'n in the spring and play-time of the year
300 That calls the unwonted villager abroad
301 With all her little ones, a sportive train,
302 To gather king-cups in the yellow mead,
303 And prink their hair with daisies, or to pick
304 A cheap but wholesome sallad from the brook,
305 These shades are all my own. The tim'rous hare
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306 Grown so familiar with her frequent guest
307 Scarce shuns me; and the stock dove unalarm'd
308 Sits cooing in the pine-tree, nor suspends
309 His long love-ditty for my near approach.
310 Drawn from his refuge in some lonely elm
311 That age or injury has hollow'd deep,
312 Where on his bed of wool and matted leaves
313 He has outslept the winter, ventures forth
314 To frisk awhile, and bask in the warm sun,
315 The squirrel, flippant, pert, and full of play.
316 He sees me, and at once, swift as a bird
317 Ascends the neighb'ring beech; there whisks his brush
318 And perks his ears, and stamps and scolds aloud,
319 With all the prettiness of feign'd alarm,
320 And anger insignificantly fierce.
321 The heart is hard in nature, and unfit
322 For human fellowship, as being void
323 Of sympathy, and therefore dead alike
324 To love and friendship both, that is not pleased
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325 With sight of animals enjoying life,
326 Nor feels their happiness augment his own.
327 The bounding fawn that darts across the glade
328 When none pursues, through mere delight of heart,
329 And spirits buoyant with excess of glee;
330 The horse, as wanton and almost as fleet,
331 That skims the spacious meadow at full speed,
332 Then stops and snorts, and throwing high his heels
333 Starts to the voluntary race again;
334 The very kine that gambol at high noon,
335 The total herd receiving first from one
336 That leads the dance, a summons to be gay,
337 Though wild their strange vagaries, and uncouth
338 Their efforts, yet resolved with one consent
339 To give such act and utt'rance as they may
340 To extasy too big to be suppress'd
341 These, and a thousand images of bliss,
342 With which kind nature graces ev'ry scene
343 Where cruel man defeats not her design,
344 Impart to the benevolent, who wish
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345 All that are capable of pleasure, pleased,
346 A far superior happiness to theirs,
347 The comfort of a reasonable joy.
348 Man scarce had ris'n, obedient to his call
349 Who form'd him, from the dust his future grave,
350 When he was crown'd as never king was since.
351 God set the diadem upon his head,
352 And angel choirs attended. Wond'ring stood
353 The new-made monarch, while before him pass'd,
354 All happy and all perfect in their kind
355 The creatures, summon'd from their various haunts
356 To see their sov'reign, and confess his sway.
357 Vast was his empire, absolute his pow'r,
358 Or bounded only by a law whose force
359 'Twas his sublimest privilege to feel
360 And own, the law of universal love.
361 He ruled with meekness, they obeyed with joy.
362 No cruel purpose lurk'd within his heart,
363 And no distrust of his intent in theirs.
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364 So Eden was a scene of harmless sport,
365 Where kindness on his part who ruled the whole
366 Begat a tranquil confidence in all,
367 And fear as yet was not, nor cause for fear.
368 But sin marr'd all. And the revolt of man,
369 That source of evils not exhausted yet,
370 Was punish'd with revolt of his from him.
371 Garden of God, how terrible the change
372 Thy groves and lawns then witness'd! ev'ry heart,
373 Each animal of ev'ry name, conceived
374 A jealousy and an instinctive fear,
375 And conscious of some danger, either fled
376 Precipitate the loath'd abode of man,
377 Or growl'd defiance in such angry sort,
378 As taught him too to tremble in his turn.
379 Thus harmony and family accord
380 Were driv'n from Paradise; and in that hour
381 The seeds of cruelty that since have swell'd
382 To such gigantic and enormous growth,
383 Were sown in human nature's fruitful soil.
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384 Hence date the persecution and the pain
385 That man inflicts on all inferior kinds
386 Regardless of their plaints. To make him sport,
387 To gratify the frenzy of his wrath,
388 Or his base gluttony, are causes good
389 And just in his account, why bird and beast
390 Should suffer torture, and the streams be dyed
391 With blood of their inhabitants impaled.
392 Earth groans beneath the burthen of a war
393 Waged with defenceless innocence, while he,
394 Not satisfied to prey on all around,
395 Adds tenfold bitterness to death, by pangs
396 Needless, and first torments 'ere he devours.
397 Now happiest they that occupy the scenes
398 The most remote from his abhorr'd resort,
399 Whom once as delegate of God on earth
400 They fear'd, and as his perfect image loved.
401 The wilderness is theirs with all its caves,
402 Its hollow glenns, its thickets, and its plains
403 Unvisited by man. There they are free,
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404 And howl and roar as likes them, uncontroul'd,
405 Nor ask his leave to slumber or to play.
406 Woe to the tyrant if he dare intrude
407 Within the confines of their wild domain;
408 The lion tells him I am monarch here
409 And if he spare him, spares him on the terms
410 Of royal mercy, and through gen'rous scorn
411 To rend a victim trembling at his foot.
412 In measure as by force of instinct drawn,
413 Or by necessity constrain'd, they live
414 Dependent upon man, those in his fields,
415 These at his crib, and some beneath his roof,
416 They prove too often at how dear a rate
417 He sells protection. Witness, at his foot
418 The spaniel dying for some venial fault,
419 Under dissection of the knotted scourge.
420 Witness, the patient ox, with stripes and yells
421 Driv'n to the slaughter, goaded as he runs
422 To madness, while the savage at his heels
423 Laughs at the frantic suff'rers fury spent
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424 Upon the guiltless passenger o'erthrown.
425 He too is witness, noblest of the train
426 That wait on man, the flight-performing horse.
427 With unsuspecting readiness he takes
428 His murth'rer on his back, and push'd all day
429 With bleeding sides and flanks that heave for life
430 To the far-distant goal, arrives and dies.
431 So little mercy shows who needs so much!
432 Does law, so jealous in the cause of man,
433 Denounce no doom on the delinquent? None.
434 He lives, and o'er his brimming beaker boasts
435 (As if barbarity were high desert)
436 Th' inglorious feat, and clamorous in praise
437 Of the poor brute, seems wisely to suppose
438 The honors of his matchless horse his own.
439 But many a crime, deem'd innocent on earth,
440 Is register'd in heav'n, and these no doubt,
441 Have each their record, with a curse annext.
442 Man may dismiss compassion from his heart,
443 But God will never. When he charged the Jew
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444 T' assist his foe's down-fallen beast to rise,
445 And when the bush-exploring boy that seized
446 The young, to let the parent bird go free,
447 Proved he not plainly that his meaner works
448 Are yet his care, and have an interest all,
449 All, in the universal father's love.
450 On Noah, and in him on all mankind
451 The charter was conferr'd by which we hold
452 The flesh of animals in fee, and claim
453 O'er all we feed on, pow'r of life and death.
454 But read the instrument, and mark it well.
455 Th' oppression of a tyrannous controul
456 Can find no warrant there. Feed then, and yield
457 Thanks for thy food. Carnivorous through sin
458 Feed on the slain, but spare the living brute.
459 The Governor of all, himself to all
460 So bountiful, in whose attentive ear
461 The unfledged raven and the lion's whelp
462 Plead not in vain for pity on the pangs
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463 Of hunger unassuaged, has interposed,
464 Not seldom, his avenging arm, to smite
465 Th' injurious trampler upon nature's law
466 That claims forbearance even for a brute.
467 He hates the hardness of a Balaam's heart;
468 And prophet as he was, he might not strike
469 The blameless animal, without rebuke,
470 On which he rode. Her opportune offence
471 Saved him, or th' unrelenting seer had died.
472 He sees that human equity is slack
473 To interfere, though in so just a cause,
474 And makes the task his own. Inspiring dumb
475 And helpless victims with a sense so keen
476 Of injury, with such knowledge of their strength,
477 And such sagacity to take revenge,
478 That oft the beast has seemed to judge the man.
479 An ancient, not a legendary tale,
480 By one of sound intelligence rehears'd
481 (If such, who plead for Providence, may seem
482 In modern eyes) shall make the doctrine clear.
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483 Where England stretch'd towards the setting sun
484 Narrow and long, o'erlooks the western wave,
485 Dwelt young Misagathus. A scorner he
486 Of God and goodness, atheist in ostent,
487 Vicious in act, in temper savage-fierce.
488 He journey'd, and his chance was as he went,
489 To join a trav'ller of far diff'rent note
490 Evander, famed for piety, for years
491 Deserving honor, but for wisdom more.
492 Fame had not left the venerable man
493 A stranger to the manners of the youth,
494 Whose face too was familiar to his view.
495 Their way was on the margin of the land,
496 O'er the green summit of the rocks whose base
497 Beats back the roaring surge, scarce heard so high.
498 The charity that warm'd his heart was moved
499 At sight of the man-monster. With a smile
500 Gentle, and affable, and full of grace,
501 As fearful of offending whom he wish'd
502 Much to persuade, he plied his ear with truths
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503 Not harshly thunder'd forth or rudely press'd,
504 But like his purpose, gracious, kind, and sweet.
505 And dost thou dream, th' impenetrable man
506 Exclaim'd, that me, the lullabies of age
507 And fantasies of dotards such as thou
508 Can cheat, or move a moment's fear in me?
509 Mark now the proof I give thee, that the brave
510 Need no such aids as superstition lends
511 To steel their hearts against the dread of death.
512 He spoke, and to the precipice at hand
513 Push'd with a madman's fury. Fancy shrinks,
514 And the blood thrills and curdles at the thought
515 Of such a gulph as he design'd his grave.
516 But though the felon on his back could dare
517 The dreadful leap, more rational his steed
518 Declined the death, and wheeling swiftly round
519 Or 'ere his hoof had press'd the crumbling verge,
520 Baffled his rider, saved against his will.
521 The frenzy of the brain may be redress'd
522 By med'cine well applied, but without grace
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523 The heart's insanity admits no cure.
524 Enraged the more by what might have reform'd
525 His horrible intent, again he sought
526 Destruction with a zeal to be destroyed,
527 With sounding whip and rowels dyed in blood.
528 But still in vain. The providence that meant
529 A longer date to the far nobler beast,
530 Spared yet again th' ignobler for his sake.
531 And now, his prowess proved, and his sincere
532 Incurable obduracy evinced,
533 His rage grew cool; and pleased perhaps t' have earn'd
534 So cheaply the renown of that attempt,
535 With looks of some complacence he resumed
536 His road, deriding much the blank amaze
537 Of good Evander, still where he was left
538 Fixt motionless, and petrified with dread.
539 So on they fared; discourse on other themes
540 Ensuing, seem'd to obliterate the past,
541 And tamer far for so much fury shown,
542 (As is the course of rash and fiery men)
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543 The rude companion smiled as if transform'd.
544 But 'twas a transient calm. A storm was near,
545 An unsuspected storm. His hour was come.
546 The impious challenger of pow'r divine
547 Was now to learn, that heav'n though slow to wrath,
548 Is never with impunity defied.
549 His horse, as he had caught his master's mood,
550 Snorting, and starting into sudden rage,
551 Unbidden, and not now to be controul'd,
552 Rush'd to the cliff, and having reach'd it, stood.
553 At once the shock unseated him. He flew
554 Sheer o'er the craggy barrier, and immersed
555 Deep in the flood, found, when he sought it not,
556 The death he had deserved, and died alone.
557 So God wrought double justice; made the fool
558 The victim of his own tremendous choice
559 And taught a brute the way to safe revenge.
560 I would not enter on my list of friends
561 (Though grac'd with polish'd manners and fine sense
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562 Yet wanting sensibility) the man
563 Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm.
564 An inadvertent step may crush the snail
565 That crawls at evening in the public path,
566 But he that has humanity, forewarned,
567 Will tread aside, and let the reptile live.
568 The creeping vermin, loathsome to the sight,
569 And charged perhaps with venom, that intrudes
570 A visitor unwelcome into scenes
571 Sacred to neatness and repose, th' alcove,
572 The chamber, or refectory, may die.
573 A necessary act incurs no blame.
574 Not so when held within their proper bounds
575 And guiltless of offence, they range the air,
576 Or take their pastime in the spacious field.
577 There they are privileged. And he that hunts
578 Or harms them there, is guilty of a wrong,
579 Disturbs th' oeconomy of nature's realm,
580 Who when she form'd, designed them an abode.
581 The sum is this: if man's convenience, health,
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582 Or safety interfere, his rights and claims
583 Are paramount, and must extinguish theirs.
584 Else they are all the meanest things that are,
585 As free to live and to enjoy that life,
586 As God was free to form them at the first,
587 Who in his sov'reign wisdom made them all.
588 Ye therefore who love mercy, teach your sons
589 To love it too. The spring-time of our years
590 Is soon dishonour'd and defiled in most
591 By budding ills, that ask a prudent hand
592 To check them. But alas! none sooner shoots,
593 If unrestrain'd, into luxuriant growth,
594 Than cruelty, most dev'lish of them all.
595 Mercy to him that shows it, is the rule
596 And righteous limitation of its act
597 By which heav'n moves in pard'ning guilty man;
598 And he that shows none, being ripe in years,
599 And conscious of the out'rage he commits
600 Shall seek it, and not find it in his turn.
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601 Distinguish'd much by reason, and still more
602 By our capacity of grace divine,
603 From creatures that exist but for our sake,
604 Which having served us, perish, we are held
605 Accountable, and God, some future day,
606 Will reckon with us roundly for th' abuse
607 Of what he deems no mean or trivial trust.
608 Superior as we are, they yet depend
609 Not more on human help, than we on theirs.
610 Their strength, or speed, or vigilance, were giv'n
611 In aid of our defects. In some are found
612 Such teachable and apprehensive parts,
613 That man's attainments in his own concerns
614 Match'd with th' expertness of the brutes in theirs,
615 Are oft-times vanquish'd and thrown far behind.
616 Some show that nice sagacity of smell,
617 And read with such discernment, in the ports
618 And figure of the man, his secret aim,
619 That oft we owe our safety to a skill
620 We could not teach, and must despair to learn.
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621 But learn we might, if not too proud to stoop
622 To quadrupede instructors, many a good
623 And useful quality, and virtue too,
624 Rarely exemplified among ourselves.
625 Attachment never to be wean'd, or changed
626 By any change of fortune, proof alike
627 Against unkindness, absence, and neglect;
628 Fidelity, that neither bribe nor threat
629 Can move or warp, and gratitude for small
630 And trivial favors, lasting as the life,
631 And glist'ning even in the dying eye.
632 Man praises man. Desert in arts or arms
633 Wins public honor; and ten thousand sit
634 Patiently present at a sacred song,
635 Commemoration-mad; content to hear
636 (Oh wonderful effect of music's pow'r!)
637 Messiah's eulogy, for Handel's sake.
638 But less, methinks, than sacrilege might serve
639 (For was it less? What heathen would have dared
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640 To strip Jove's statue of his oaken wreath
641 And hang it up in honor of a man!)
642 Much less might serve, when all that we design
643 Is but to gratify an itching ear,
644 And give the day to a musician's praise.
645 Remember Handel? who that was not born
646 Deaf as the dead to harmony, forgets,
647 Or can, the more than Homer of his age?
648 Yes we remember him. And while we praise
649 A talent so divine, remember too
650 That His most holy book from whom it came
651 Was never meant, was never used before
652 To buckram out the mem'ry of a man.
653 But hush! the muse perhaps is too severe,
654 And with a gravity beyond the size
655 And measure of th' offence, rebukes a deed
656 Less impious than absurd, and owing more
657 To want of judgment than to wrong design.
658 So in the chapel of old Ely House,
659 When wand'ring Charles, who meant to be the third,
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660 Had fled from William, and the news was fresh,
661 The simple clerk but loyal, did announce,
662 And eke did rear right merrily, two staves,
663 Sung to the praise and glory of King George.
664 Man praises man, and Garrick's mem'ry next,
665 When time hath somewhat mellow'd it, and made
666 The idol of our worship while he lived,
667 The God of our idolatry once more,
668 Shall have its altar; and the world shall go
669 In pilgrimage to bow before his shrine.
670 The theatre too small, shall suffocate
671 Its squeezed contents, and more than it admits
672 Shall sigh at their exclusion, and return
673 Ungratified. For there some noble lord
674 Shall stuff his shoulders with king Richard's bunch,
675 Or wrap himself in Hamlet's inky cloak,
676 And strut, and storm and straddle, stamp and stare,
677 The show the world how Garrick did not act.
678 For Garrick was a worshipper himself;
679 He drew the Liturgy, and framed the rites
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680 And solemn ceremonial of the day,
681 And call'd the world to worship on the banks
682 Of Avon famed in song. Ah pleasant proof!
683 That piety has still in human hearts
684 Some place, a spark or two not yet extinct.
685 The mulb'ry tree was hung with blooming wreaths,
686 The mulb'ry tree stood center of the dance,
687 The mulb'ry tree was hymn'd with dulcet airs,
688 And from his touchwood trunk, the mulb'ry tree
689 Supplied such relics, as devotion holds
690 Still sacred, and preserves with pious care.
691 So 'twas an hallow'd time. Decorum reign'd,
692 And mirth without offence. No few return'd
693 Doubtless much edified, and all refreshed.
694 Man praises man. The rabble all alive,
695 From tipling-benches, cellars, stalls, and styes,
696 Swarm in the streets. The statesman of the day,
697 A pompous and slow-moving pageant comes.
698 Some shout him, and some hang upon his car
699 To gaze in's eyes and bless him. Maidens wave
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700 Their 'kerchiefs, and old women weep for joy.
701 While others not so satisfied unhorse
702 The gilded equipage, and turning loose
703 His streeds, usurp a place they well deserve.
704 Why? what has charm'd them? Hath he saved the state
705 No. Doth he purpose its salvation? No.
706 Inchanting novelty, that moon at full,
707 That finds out ev'ry crevice of the head
708 That is not sound and perfect, hath in theirs
709 Wrought this disturbance. But the wane is near,
710 And his own cattle must suffice him soon.
711 Thus idly do we waste the breath of praise,
712 And dedicate a tribute, in its use
713 And just direction, sacred, to a thing
714 Doomed to the dust, or lodged already there.
715 Encomium in old time was poet's work.
716 But poets having lavishly long since
717 Exhausted all materials of the art,
718 The task now falls into the public hand.
719 And I, contented with an humble theme,
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720 Have poured my stream of panegyric down
721 The vale of nature, where it creeps and winds
722 Among her lovely works, with a secure
723 And unambitious course, reflecting clear
724 If not the virtues yet the worth of brutes,
725 And I am recompensed, and deem the toils
726 Of poetry not lost, if verse of mine
727 May stand between an animal and woe,
728 And teach one tyrant pity for his drudge.
729 The groans of nature in this nether world
730 Which heav'n has heard for ages, have an end.
731 Foretold by prophets, and by poets sung
732 Whose fire was kindled at the prophets lamp,
733 The time of rest, the promised sabbath comes.
734 Six thousand years of sorrow have well-nigh
735 Fulfilled their tardy and disastrous course
736 Over a sinful world. And what remains
737 Of this tempestuous state of human things,
738 Is merely as the working of a sea
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739 Before a calm, that rocks itself to rest.
740 For he whose car the winds are, and the clouds
741 The dust that waits upon his sultry march
742 When sin hath moved him, and his wrath is hot,
743 Shall visit earth in mercy; shall descend
744 Propitious, in his chariot paved with love,
745 And what his storms have blasted and defaced
746 For man's revolt, shall with a smile repair.
747 Sweet is the harp of prophesy. Too sweet
748 Not to be wrong'd by a mere mortal touch;
749 Nor can the wonders it records, be sung
750 To meaner music, and not suffer loss.
751 But when a poet, or when one like me,
752 Happy to rove among poetic flow'rs
753 Though poor in skill to rear them, lights at last
754 On some sair theme, some theme divinely fair,
755 Such is the impulse and the spur he feels
756 To give it praise proportioned to its worth,
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757 That not t' attempt it, arduous as he deems
758 The labor, were a task more arduous still.
759 Oh scenes surpassing fable, and yet true,
760 Scenes of accomplish'd bliss! which who can see
761 Though but in distant prospect, and not feel
762 His soul refresh'd with foretaste of the joy?
763 Rivers of gladness water all the earth,
764 And clothe all climes with beauty; the reproach
765 Of barreness is past. The fruitful field
766 Laughs with abundance, and the land once lean,
767 Or fertile only in its own disgrace,
768 Exults to see its thistly curse repealed.
769 The various seasons woven into one,
770 And that one season an eternal spring,
771 The garden fears no blight, and needs no fence
772 For there is none to covet, all are full.
773 The lion and the libbard and the bear
774 Graze with the fearless siocks. All bask at noon
775 Together, or all gambol in the shade
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776 Of the same grove, and drink one common stream.
777 Antipathies are none. No foe to man
778 Lurks in the serpent now. The mother sees
779 And smiles to see her infant's playful hand
780 Stretch'd forth to dally with the crested worm,
781 To stroak his azure neck, or to receive
782 The lambent homage of his arrowy tongue.
783 All creatures worship man, and all mankind
784 One Lord, one Father. Error has no place;
785 That creeping pestilence is driv'n away,
786 The breath of heav'n has chased it. In the heart
787 No passion touches a discordant string,
788 But all is harmony and love. Disease
789 Is not. The pure and uncontaminate blood
790 Holds its due course, nor fears the frost of age.
791 One song employs all nations, and all cry
792 "Worthy the Lamb, for he was slain for us"
793 The dwellers in the vales and on the rocks
794 Shout to each other, and the mountain tops
795 From distant mountains catch the flying joy,
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796 'Till nation after nation taught the strain,
797 Earth rolls the rapturous Hosanna round.
798 Behold the measure of the promise filled,
799 See Salem built, the labour of a God!
800 Bright as a sun the sacred city shines;
801 All kingdoms and all princes of the earth
802 Flock to that light; the glory of all lands
803 Flows into her, unbounded is her joy
804 And endless her encrease. Thy rams are there
805
* Nebaioth and Kedar the sons of Ishamael and progenitors of the Arabs, in the prophetic scripture here alluded to, may be reasonably considered as representatives of the Gentiles at large.
Nebaioth, and the flocks of Kedar there;
806 The looms of Ormus, and the mines of Ind,
807 And Saba's spicey groves pay tribute there.
808 Praise is in all her gates. Upon her walls,
809 And in her streets, and in her spacious courts
810 Is heard salvation. Eastern Java there
811 Kneels with the native of the farthest West,
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812 And Aethiopia spreads abroad the hand
813 And worships. Her report has travell'd forth
814 Into all lands. From every clime they come
815 To see thy beauty and to share thy joy
816 O Sion! an assembly such as earth
817 Saw never, such as heav'n stoops down to see.
818 Thus heav'n-ward all things tend. For all were once
819 Perfect, and all must be at length restored.
820 So God has greatly purposed; who would else
821 In his dishonoured works himself endure
822 Dishonor, and be wrong'd without redress.
823 Haste then, and wheel away a shatter'd world
824 Ye slow-revolving seasons! we would see,
825 (A sight to which our eyes are strangers yet)
826 A world that does not dread and hate his laws,
827 And suffer for its crime. Would learn how fair
828 The creature is that God pronounces good,
829 How pleasant in itself what pleases him.
830 Here ev'ry drop of honey hides a sting,
831 Worms wind themselves into our sweetest flow'rs,
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832 And ev'n the joy that haply some poor heart
833 Derives from heav'n, pure as the fountain is
834 Is sullied in the stream; taking a taint
835 From touch of human lips, at best impure.
836 Oh for a world in principle as chaste
837 As this is gross and selfish! over which
838 Custom and prejudice shall bear no sway
839 That govern all things here, should'ring aside
840 The meek and modest truth, and forcing her
841 To seek a refuge from the tongue of strife
842 In nooks obscure, far from the ways of men.
843 Where violence shall never lift the sword,
844 Nor cunning justify the proud man's wrong,
845 Leaving the poor no remedy but tears.
846 Where he that fills an office, shall esteem
847 Th' occasion it presents of doing good
848 More than the perquisite. Where law shall speak
849 Seldom, and never but as wisdom prompts
850 And equity; not jealous more to guard
851 A worthless form, than to decide aright.
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852 Where fashion shall not sanctify abuse,
853 Nor smooth good-breeding (supplemental grace)
854 With lean performance ape the work of love.
855 Come then, and added to thy many crowns
856 Receive yet one, the crown of all the earth,
857 Thou who alone art worthy! it was thine
858 By antient covenant 'ere nature's birth,
859 And thou hast made it thine by purchase since,
860 And overpaid its value with thy blood.
861 Thy saints proclaim thee king; and in their hearts
862 Thy title is engraven with a pen
863 Dipt in the fountain of eternal love.
864 Thy saints proclaim thee king; and thy delay
865 Gives courage to their foes, who, could they see
866 The dawn of thy last advent long-desired,
867 Would creep into the bowels of the hills,
868 And flee for safety to the falling rocks.
869 The very spirit of the world is tired
870 Of its own taunting question ask'd so long,
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871 "Where is the promise of your Lord's approach?"
872 The infidel has shot his bolts away,
873 'Till his exhausted quiver yielding none,
874 He gleans the blunted shafts that have recoiled,
875 And aims them at the shield of truth again.
876 The veil is rent, rent too by priestly hands,
877 That hides divinity from mortal eyes,
878 And all the mysteries to faith proposed
879 Insulted and traduced, are cast aside
880 As useless, to the moles and to the bats.
881 They now are deem'd the faithful and are praised,
882 Who constant only in rejecting thee,
883 Deny thy Godhead with a martyr's zeal,
884 And quit their office for their errors sake.
885 Blind and in love with darkness! yet ev'n these
886 Worthy, compared with sycophants, who knee
887 Thy name, adoring, and then preach thee man.
888 So fares thy church. But how thy church may fare
889 The world takes little thought; who will may preach,
890 And what they will. All pastors are alike
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891 To wand'ring sheep, resolved to follow none.
892 Two gods divide them all, pleasure and gain.
893 For these they live, they sacrifice to these,
894 And in their service wage perpetual war
895 With conscience and with thee. Lust in their hearts,
896 And mischief in their hands, they roam the earth
897 To prey upon each other; stubborn, fierce,
898 High-minded, foaming out their own disgrace.
899 Thy prophets speak of such; and noting down
900 The features of the last degen'rate times,
901 Exhibit ev'ry lineament of these.
902 Come then, and added to thy many crowns
903 Receive yet one, as radiant as the rest,
904 Due to thy last and most effectual work,
905 Thy word fulfilled, the conquest of a world.
906 He is the happy man, whose life ev'n now
907 Shows somewhat of that happier life to come.
908 Who doomed to an obscure but tranquil state
909 Is pleased with it, and were he free to chuse,
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910 Would make his fate his choice. Whom peace, the fruit
911 Of virtue, and whom virtue, fruit of faith,
912 Prepare for happiness; bespeak him one
913 Content indeed to sojourn while he must
914 Below the skies, but having there his home.
915 The world o'erlooks him in her busy search
916 Of objects more illustrious in her view;
917 And occupied as earnestly as she
918 Though more sublimely, he o'erlooks the world.
919 She scorns his pleasures, for she knows them not;
920 He seeks not hers, for he has proved them vain.
921 He cannot skim the ground like summer birds
922 Pursuing gilded flies, and such he deems
923 Her honors, her emoluments, her joys.
924 Therefore in contemplation is his bliss,
925 Whose pow'r is such, that whom she lifts from earth
926 She makes familiar with a heav'n unseen,
927 And shows him glories yet to be revealed.
928 Not slothful he, though seeming unemployed,
929 And censured oft as useless. Stillest streams
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930 Oft water fairest meadows, and the bird
931 That flutters least, is longest on the wing.
932 Ask him indeed, what trophies he has raised,
933 Or what atchievements of immortal fame
934 He purposes, and he shall answer none.
935 His warfare is within. There unfatigued
936 His fervent spirit labors. There he fights,
937 And there obtains fresh triumphs o'er himself,
938 And never-with'ring wreaths, compared with which
939 The laurels that a Caesar reaps are weeds.
940 Perhaps the self-approving haughty world
941 That as she sweeps him with her whistling silks
942 Scarce deigns to notice him, or if she see
943 Deems him a cypher in the works of God,
944 Receives advantage from his noiseless hours
945 Of which she little dreams. Perhaps she owes
946 Her sunshine and her rain, her blooming spring
947 And plenteous harvest, to the pray'r he makes,
948 When Isaac like, the solitary saint
949 Walks forth to meditate at even-tide,
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950 And think on her, who thinks not for herself.
951 Forgive him then, thou bustler in concerns
952 Of little worth, and idler in the best,
953 If author of no mischief and some good,
954 He seek his proper happiness by means
955 That may advance, but cannot hinder thine.
956 Nor though he tread the secret path of life,
957 Engage no notice, and enjoy much ease,
958 Account him an incumbrance on the state,
959 Receiving benefits, and rend'ring none.
960 His sphere though humble, if that humble sphere
961 Shine with his fair example, and though small
962 His influence, if that influence all be spent
963 In soothing sorrow and in quenching strife,
964 In aiding helpless indigence, in works
965 From which at least a grateful few derive
966 Some taste of comfort in a world of woe,
967 Then let the supercilious great confess
968 He serves his country; recompenses well
969 The state beneath the shadow of whose vine
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970 He sits secure, and in the scale of life
971 Holds no ignoble, though a slighted place.
972 The man whose virtues are more felt than seen,
973 Must drop indeed the hope of public praise,
974 But he may boast what few that win it can,
975 That if his country stand not by his skill,
976 At least his follies have not wrought her fall.
977 Polite refinement offers him in vain
978 Her golden tube, through which a sensual world
979 Draws gross impurity, and likes it well,
980 The neat conveyance hiding all th' offence.
981 Not that he peevishly rejects a mode
982 Because that world adopts it. If it bear
983 The stamp and clear impression of good sense,
984 And be not costly more than of true worth,
985 He puts it on, and for decorum sake
986 Can wear it e'en as gracefully as she.
987 She judges of refinement by the eye,
988 He by the test of conscience, and a heart
989 Not soon deceived; aware that what is base
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990 No polish can make sterling, and that vice
991 Though well perfumed and elegantly dress'd,
992 Like an unburied carcase trick'd with flow'rs
993 Is but a garnish'd nuisance, fitter far
994 For cleanly riddance than for fair attire.
995 So life glides smoothly and by stealth away,
996 More golden than that age of fabled gold
997 Renown'd in ancient song; not vex'd with care
998 Or stained with guilt, beneficent, approved
999 Of God and man, and peaceful in its end.
1000 So glide my life away! and so at last
1001 My share of duties decently fulfilled,
1002 May some disease, not tardy to perform
1003 Its destin'd office, yet with gentle stroke,
1004 Dismiss me weary to a safe retreat
1005 Beneath the turf that I have often trod.
1006 It shall not grieve me, then, that once when called
1007 To dress a Sofa with the flow'rs of verse,
1008 I play'd awhile, obedient to the fair
1009 With that light task, but soon to please her more
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1010 Whom flow'rs alone I knew would little please,
1011 Let fall th' unfinish'd wreath, and roved for fruit.
1012 Roved far and gather'd much. Some harsh, 'tis true,
1013 Pick'd from the thorns and briars of reproof,
1014 But wholesome, well-digested. Grateful some
1015 To palates that can taste immortal truth,
1016 Insipid else, and sure to be despised.
1017 But all is in his hand whose praise I seek.
1018 In vain the poet sings, and the world hears,
1019 If he regard not, though divine the theme.
1020 'Tis not in artful measures, in the chime
1021 And idle tinkling of a minstrel's lyre
1022 To charm his ear, whose eye is on the heart.
1023 Whose frown can disappoint the proudest strain,
1024 Whose approbation prosper even mine.

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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): [THE TASK, A POEM, IN SIX BOOKS.] BOOK VI.
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. [229]-283. [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