Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE TASK.

BOOK II.

THE TIME-PIECE.

O FOR a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where rumour of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful or successful war,
Might never reach me more! My ear is pain'd,
My soul is sick with ev'ry days report
of wrong and outrage with wbich earth is fill'd.
There is no flesh in man's obdurate heart;
It does not feel for man ; the natural bond
of brotherhood is sever'd as the flax,
That falls asunder at the touch of fire.
He finds his fellow guilty of a skin
Not colourd like his own; and having pow'r
T' enforce the wrong, for such a worthy cause
Dooms and devotes him as a lawful prey.
Lands intersected by a narrow frifth

Abhor each other. Mountains interpos'd
Make enemies of nations, who had else
Like kindred drops been kindled into one.
Thus man devotes his brother, and destroy8;
And worse than all, and most to be deplor'd,
As human nature's broadest, foulest blot,
Chaing him, and tasks him, and exacts his sweat
With stripes, that Mercy with a bleeding heart,
Weeps when she sees inflicted on a beast.
Then what is man? And what man, seeing this,
And having human feelings, does not blush,
And hang his head, to think himself a man?
I would not have a slave to till my ground,
To carry me, to fan me while I sleep,
And tremble when I wake, for all the wealth
That sinews bought and sold have ever earn’d.
No: dear as freedom is, and in my heart's
Just estimation prized above all price,
I had much rather be myself the slave,
And wear the bonds, than fasten them on him.
We have no slaves at home.-Then why abroad?
And they themselves, once ferried o'er the wave
That parts us, are emancipate and loos’d.
Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs
Receive our air, that moment they are free ;
They touch our country, and their shackles fall.
That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud
And jealous of the blessing. Spread it, then,
And let it circulate through every vein
of all your empire : that, where Britain's pow's
[8 felt, mankind may feel her mercy too.

Sure there is need of social intercourse,
Benevolence, and peace, and mutual aid,
Between the nations, in a world that seems
To toll the death bell of its own desceage,
And by the voice of all its elements

To preach the gen'ral doom.* When were the winds
Let slip with such a warrant to destroy ?
When did the waves so haughtily o'erleap
Their ancient barriers, deluging the dry?
Fires from beneath, and meteorst from above,
Portentous, unexampled, unexplain'd,
Have kindled beacons in the skies; and th' old
And crazy Earth has had her shaking fits
More frequent, and forgone her usual rest.
Is it a time to wrangle, when the props
And pillars of our planet seem to fail,
And Nature with a dim and sickly eyef
To wait the close of all ? But grant her end
More distant, and that prophecy demands
A longer respite, unaccomplish'd yet ;
Still they are frowning signals, and bespeak
Displeasure in his breast who smites the Earth
Or heals it, makes it languish or rejoice.
And 'tis but seemly, that, where all deserve
And stand expog'd by common peccancy
To what no few have felt, there should be peace,
And brethren in calamity should love.

Alas for Sicily! rude fragments now
Lie scatter'd where the shapely columns stood.
Her palaces are dust. In all her streets
The voice of singing and the sprightly chord
Are silent. Revelry, and dance, and show,
Suffer a syncope and solemn pause ;
While God performs upon the trembling stage
of his own works his dreadful part alone.
How does the earth receive him ? with what signs

* Alluding to the calamities in Jamaica.

August 18, 1783.

Alluding to the fog that covered both Europe and Asia during the whole summer of 1783.

or gratulation and delight her king ?
Pours she not all her choicest fruits abroad,
Her sweetest flow'rs, her aromatick gums,
Disclosing Paradise where'er he treads?
She quakes at his approach. Her hollow womb,
Conceiving thunders, through a thousand deeps
And fiery caverns roars beneath his foot.
The hills move lightly, and the mountains smoke,
For he has touch'd them. From th' extremest point
Of elevation down into the abyss
His wrath is busy, and his frown is felt.
The rocks fall headlong, and the valleys rise,
The rivers die into offensive pools,
And, charg'd with putrid verdure, breathe a gross
And mortal nuisance into all the air.
What solid was, by transformation strange,
Grows fluid; and the fix'd and rooted earth,
Tormented into billows, heaves and swells,
Or with vortiginous and hideous whirl
Sucks down its prey insatiable. Immense
The tumult and the overthrow, the pangs
And agonies of human and of brute
Multitudes, fugitive on ev'ry side,
And fugitive in vain. The sylvan scene
Migrates uplifted : and, with all its soil
Alighting in far distant fields, finds out
A new possessor, and survives the change.
Ocean has caught the frenzy, and, upwrought
To an enormous and o'erbearing beight,
Not by a mighty wind, but by that voice
Which winds and waves obey, invades the shore
Resistless. Never such a sudden flood,
Upridg'd so high, and sent on such a charge,
Possess'd an inland scene. Where now the throng
That press'd the beach, and, hasty to depart,
Look'd to the sea for safety? They are gone,

Gone with the refluent wave into the deep A prince with half his people ! Ancient tow'rs, And roofs embattled high, the gloomy scenes Where beauty oft and letter'd worth consume Life in the unproductive shades of death, Fall prone : the pale inhabitants come forth, And, happy in their unforeseen release From all the rigours of restraint enjoy, The terrours of the day that sets them free. Who, then, that has thee, would not hold thee fast, Freedom ! whom they that lose thee so regret, That e'en a judgment, making way for thee, Seems in their eyes a mercy for thy sake? Such evil Sin hath wrought; and such a flame Kindled in Heav'n, that it burns down to Earth, And in the furious inquest that it makes On God's behalf, lays waste his fairest works. The very elements, though each be meant The minister of man, to serve his wants, Conspire. against him. With his breath he draws A plague into his blood; and cannot use Life's necessary means, but he must die. Storms rise t'o'erwhelm him; or if stormy winds Rise not, the waters of the deep shall rise, And, needing none assistance of the storm, Shall roll themselves ashore, and reach him there. The earth shall shake him out of all his holds, Or make his house his grave: nor so content, Shall counterfeit the motions of the flood, And drown him in her dry and dusty guifs. What then!--were they the wciked above all, And we the righteous, whose fast-anchor'd isle Mov'd not, while theirs was rock'd, like a light skiff, The sport of every wave ? No; none are clear, And none than we more guilty. But, where all Stand chargeable with guilt, and to the shafts

« PreviousContinue »