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The Task: Book VI, The Winter Walk at Noon (excerpts)

William Cowper 1731 (Berkhamsted) – 1800 (Dereham)

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

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

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

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:39 min read

William Cowper

William Macquarie Cowper was an Australian Anglican archdeacon and Dean of Sydney. more…

All William Cowper poems | William Cowper Books

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