« PreviousContinue »
Delight us, happy to renounce a while,
Not senseless of its charms, what still we love,
That such short absence may endear it more,
Then forests, or the savage rock inay please
That hides the sea-mew in his hollow clefts
Above the reach of man; his hoary head
Conspicuous many a league, the mariner
Bound homeward, and in hope already there,
Greets with three cheers exulting. At his waist
A girdle of half-withered shrubs he shews,
And at his feet the baffled billows die.
The common overgrown with fern, and rough
With prickly goss, that, shapoless and deform,
And dangerous to the touch, has yet its bloom,
And decks itself with ornaments of gold,
Yields no unpleasing ramble; there the turf
Smells fresh, and rich in odoriferous herbs
And fungous fruits of earth, regales the sense
With luxury of unexpected sweets.
From the beginning to the end of The Task' we never lose sight of the author. His love of country rambles, when a boy,
O'er hills, through valleys, and by river's brink ; his walks with Mrs. Unwin, when he had exchanged the Thames for the Ouse, and had 'grown sober in the vale of years;' his playful satire and tender admonition, his denunciation of slavery, his noble patriotism, his devotional earnestness and sublimity, his warm sympathy with his fellow-men, and his exquisite paintings of domestic peace and happiness, are all so much self-portraiture, drawn with the ripe skill and taste of the master, yet with a modesty that shrinks from the least obtrusiveness and display. The very rapidity of his transitions, where things light and sportive are drawn up with the most solemn truths, and satire, pathos, and reproof alternately min. gle or repel each other, are characteristic of his mind and temperament in ordinary life. His inimitable ease and colloquial freedom, which lends such a charm to his letters, is never long absent from his poetry; and his peculiar tastes, as seen in that somewhat grandilo. quent line.
Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too, are all pictured in the pure and lucid pages of The Task. It cannot be said that Cowper ever abandoned his sectarian religious tenets, yet they are little seen in his great work. His piety is that which all should feel and venerate; and if his sad experience of the world had tinged the prospect of life, ‘its fluctuations and its vast concerns,' with a deeper shade than seems consonant with the ge. neral welfare and happiness, it also imparted a higher authority and more impressive wisdom to his earnest and solemn appeals. He was 'a stricken deer that left the herd,' conscious of the follies and wants of those he left behind, and inspired with power to minister to the delight and instruction of the whole human race.
From · Conversation.'
The emphatic speaker dearly loves to oppose,
In contact inconvenient, nose to nose,
As if the gnomon on his neighbour's phiz,
Touched with a magnet, had attracted his.
His whispered theme, dilated and at large,
Proves after all a wind-gun's airy charge
An extract of his diary-no more-
A tasteless journal of the day before.
He walked abroad, o'ertaken in the rain,
Called on a friend, drank tea, stept home again;
Resumed his purpose, had a world of talk
With one he stumbled on, and lost his walk :
I interrupt him with a sudden bow,
Adieu, dear sir, lest you should lose it now.
A graver coxcomb we may sometimes see,
Quite as absurd, though not so light as he:
A shallow brain behind a serious mask,
An oracle within an empty cask,
The solemn fop, significant and budge; ' "
A fool with judges, amongst fools a judge;
He says but little, and that little said,
Owes all its weight, like loaded dice, to lead.
His wit invites you by his looks to come,
But when you knock, it never is at home :
'Tis like a parcel sent you by the stage,
Some handsome present, as your hopes presage;
"Tis heavy, bulky, and bids fair to prove
An absent friend's fidelity of love;
But when unpacked, your disappointment groans
To find it stuffed with brickbats, earth, and stones.
Some men employ their health-an ugly trick
In making known how oft they have been sick,
And give us in recitals of disease
A doctor's trouble but without the fees;
Relate how many weeks they kept their bed,
How an emetic or cathartic sped;
Nothing is slightly touched, much less forgot;
Nose, ears, and eyes seem present on the spot.
Now the distemper, spite of draught or pill,
Victorious seemed, and now the doctor's skill;
And now-alas for unforeseen mishaps !
They put on a damp night-cap, and relapse ;
They thought they must have died, they were so bad;
Their peevish hearers almost wished they had.
Some fretful tempers wince at every touch,
You always do too little or too much :
You speak with life, in hopes to entertain-
Your elevated voice goes through the brain;
You fall at once into a lower key-
That's worse-the drone-pipe of a humble-bee.
The southern sash admits too stroug a light;
You rise and drop the curtain-now 'tis night.
He shakes with cold-you stir the fire, and strive
To make a blaze-that's roasting him alive.
Serve him with venison, and he chooses fish:
With sole-that's just the sort he would not wish.
He takes what he at first professed to loathe,
And in due time feeds heartily on both;
Yet still o'erclonded with a constant frown,
He does not swallow, but he gulps it down,
Your hope to please him vain on every plan,
Himself should work that wonder, if he can.
Alas! his efforts double his distress.
He likes yours little, and his own still less;
Thus always teasing others, always teased,
His only pleasure is to be displeased.
I pity bashful men, who feel the pain
Of fancied scorn and undeserved disdain,
And bear the marks upon a blushing face
Of needless shame and self-imposed disgrace.
Our sensibilities are so acute,
The fear of being silent makes us mute.
We sometimes think we could a speech produco
Much to the purpose, if our tongues were loose;
But being tried, it dies upon the lip,
Faint as a chicken's note that has the pip;
Our wasted oil unprofitably burns,
Like hidden lamps in old sepulchral urns.
On the Receipt of his Mother's Picture.
Oh that those lips had language ! Life has passed
With me but roughly since I heard thee last.
Those lips are thinethy own sweet smiles I see,
The same that oft in childhood solaced me;
Voice only fails, else, how distinct they say:
Grieve not, my child ; chase all thy fears away!
The meek intelligence of those dear eyes
Blest be the art that can immortalise,
The art that baffles time's tyrannic claim
To quench it-here shines on me still the same.
Faithful remembrancer of one so dear,
O welcome guest, though unexpected here !
Who bidd'st me honour, with an artless song
Affectionate, a mother lost so long.
I will obey, not willingly alone,
But gladly, as the precept were her own:
And while that face renews my filial grief,
Fancy shall weave a charm for my relief;
Shall steep me in Elysian reverie,
A momentary dream, that thou art she.
My mother! when I learned that thou wast dead,
Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed ?
Hovered thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son,
Wretch even then, life's journey just begun ?
Perhaps thou gavest me, though unseen, a kiss;
Perhaps a tear, if souls can weep in bliss
Ah, that maternal sinile! it artswerg--yes.
I heard the bell tolled on thy burial-day,
I saw the hearse that bore thee slow away,
And turning from my nursery window, drew
A long, long sigh, and wept a ast adieu !
But was it such ? It was. Where thou art gone,
Adieus and fareweils are a sound unknown.
May I but meet thee on that peaceful shore,
The parting sound shall pass my lips no more!
Thy maidens grieved themselves at my concern,
Oft gave me promise of a quick return;
What ardently I wished, I long believed, s,' i
And, disappointed still, was still deceived;
By disappointment every day beguiled,
Dupe of to-morrow even from a child.
Thus many a sad to-morrow came and went,
Till, all my stock of infant sorrow spent,
I learned at last submission to my lot,
But, though I less deplored thee, ne'er forgot.
Where once we dwelt our name is heard no more,
Children not thine have trod my nursery floor;
And where the gardener Robin, day by day,
Drew me to school along the public way,
Delighted with my bauble coach, and wrapt
In scarlet mantle warm, and velvet capt,
Tis now become a history little known,
That once we called the pastoral house our own.
Short-lived possession ! but the record fair,
That memory keeps of all thy kindness there,
Still outlives many a storm, that has effaced
A thousand other themes less deeply traced.
Thy nightly visits to my chamber made,
That thou mightst know me safe and warmly laid;
Thy morning bounties ere I left my home,
The biscuit or confectionary plum;
The fragrant waters on my cheeks bestowed
By thine own hand, till fresh they shone and glowed:
All this, and more endearing still than all,
Thy constant flow of love, that knew no fall,
Ne'er roughened by those cataracts and breaks,
That humour interposed too often makes ;
All this, still legible in memory's page,
And still to be so to my latest age,
Adds joy to duty, makes me glad to pay
Such honours to thee as my numbers may ;
Perhaps a frail memorial, but sincere,
Not scorned in heaven, though little noticed here.
Could Time, his flight reversed, restore the hours, When, playing with thy vesture's tissued flowers, The violet, the pink, and jessamine, I pricked them into paper with a pinAnd thou wast happier than myself the while, Would softly speak, and stroke my head and smile Could those few pleasant hours again appear, Might one wish bring them, would I wish them here? I would not trust my heart--the dear delight Seems so to be desired, perhaps I might. But no-what here we call our life is such, So little to be loved, and thou so much, That I should ill requite thee to constrain Thy unbound spirit into bonds again.
Thou, as a gallant bark from Albion's coast-
The storms all weathered and the ocean crossed
Shoots into port at some well-hävened isle,
Where spices breathe and brighter seasons smile,
There sits quiescent on the floods, that shew
Her beauteous form reflected clear below,
While airs impregnated with incense play
Around her, fanning light her streamers gay ;
.So thou, with sails how swift ! hast reached the shore
Where tempests never beat nor billows roar;'*
And thy loved consort on the dangerous tide
Of life, has long since anchored at thy side.
But me, scarce hoping to attain that rest,
Always from port withheld, always distressed-
Me howling blasts drive devions, tempest-tossed.
Sails ript, seams opening wide, and compass lost;
And day by day some current's thwarting force
Sets me more distant from a prosperous course.
But oh the thought, that thou art safe, and he!
That thought is joy, arrive what may to me
My boast is not that I deduce my birth
From loins enthroned, and rulers of the earth;
But higher far my proud pretentions rise-
The son of parents passed into the skies.
And now, farewell-Time unrevoked has run
His wonted course, yet what I wished is done.
By contemplation's help, not sought in vain,
I seem to have lived my childhood o'er again :
To have renewed the joys that once were mine,
Without the sin of violating thine;
And, while the wings of fancy still are free,
And I can view this mimic show of thee,
Time has but half succeeded in his theft
Thyself removed, thy power to sooth me left.
Voltaire and the Lace-worker.-From Truth.'
Yon cottager, who weaves at her own door,
Pillow and bobbins all her little store;
Content though mean, and cheerful if not gay,
Shuffling her threads about the livelong day,
Just earns a scanty pittance, and at night
Lies down secure, her heart and pocket light;
She, for her humble sphere by nature fit,
Has little understanding, and no wit;
Receives no praise; but though her lot be such-
Toilsome and indigent-she renders much;
Just knows, and knows no more, her Bible true
A truth the brilliant Frenchman never knew;
And in that charter reads, with sparkling eyes,
Her title to a treasure in the skies.
O happy peasant! O unhappy bard!
. His the mere tinsel, hers the rich reward;
He praised, perhaps, for ages yet to come,
She never heard of half a mile from home;
He lost in errors his vain heart prefers,
She safe in the simplicity of hers.
To Mary (Mrs. Unwin). ---Autumn, 1793. The twentieth year is well-nigh past For though thou gladly wouldst fulfil Since first our sky was overcast;
The same kind office for me still, Ah, would that this might be the last!! Thy sight now seconds not thy will, My Mary!
My Mary! Thy spirits have a fainter flow,
But well thou play dst the housewife's I see thee daily weaker grow;
part, 'Twas my distress that brought thee And all thy threads, with magic art, low,
Have wound themselves about this heart,
My Mary! Thy needles, once a shining store. For my sake restless heretofore,
Thy indistinct expressions seem Now rust disused, and shine no more, Like language uttered in a dream;
My Mary! Yet me they charm, whate'er the theme,