Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE TASK.

BOOK V.

THE WINTER MORNING WALK,

Argument. A frosty morning.---The foddering of cattle.---The woodman

and his dog.---The poultry.--Whimsical effects of a 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 and 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.

'TIS morning ; and the sun, with ruddy orb
Ascending, fires the horizon; while the clouds,
That crowd away before the driving wind,
More ardent as the disk emerges more,
Resemble most some city in a blaze,
Seen through the leafless wood. His slanting ray
Slides ineffectual down the snowy vale,
And tingeing all with his own rosy hue,
From every herb and every spiry blade
Stretches a length shadow o'er the field.

Mine, spindling into longitude immense,
In spite of gravity, and sage remark
That I myself am but a fleeting shade,
Provokes me to a smile. With eye askance
I view the muscular proportioned limb
Transformed to a lean shank. The shapeless pair,
As they designed to mock me, at my side
Take step for step; and as I near approach
The cottage, walk along the plastered wall,
Preposterous sight; the legs without the man,
The verdure of the plain lies buried deep
Beneath the dazzling deluge; and the bents,
And coarser grass, upspearing o'er the rest,
Of late unsightly and unseen, now shine
Conspicuous, and in bright apparel clad,
And fledged with icy feathers, nod superb.
The cattle mourn in corners where the fence
Screens them, and seem half petrified to sleep
In unrecumbent sadness. There they wait
Their wonted fodder; not like hungering man,
Fretful if unsupplied; but silent, meek,
And patient of the slow-paced swain's delay.
He from the stack carves out the accustomed load,
Deep-plunging, and again deep-plunging, oft,
His broad keen knife into the solid mass :
Smooth as a wall the upright remnant stands,
With such undeviating and even force
He severs it away: no needless care,
Less storms should overset the leaning pile
Deciduous, or it's own unbalanced weight.
Forth goes the woodman, leaving unconcerned
The cheerful haunts of man, to wield the axe
And drive the wedge in yonder forest drear,
From morn to eve his solitary task.
Shaggy, and lean, and shrewd, with pointed ears
And tail cropped short, half lurcher and half cur,
His dog attends him. Close behind his heel
Now creeps he slow; and

with many a frisk Wide-scampering, snatches up the drifted snow With ivory teeth, or ploughs it with his snout; Then shakes his powdered coat, and barks for joy. Heedless of all his pranks, the sturdy churl

now,

Moves right toward the mark; nor stops for anght,
But now and then with pressure of his thumb
To adjust the fragrant charge of a short tube,
That fumes beneath his nose: the trailing cloud
Streams far behind hiin, scenting all the air.
Now from the roost, or from the neighbouring pale,
Where, diligent to catch the first faint gleam
Of smiling day, they gossipped side by side,
Come trooping at the housewife's well known call
The feathered tribes domestic. Half on wing
And half on foot, they brush the fleecy flood,
Conscious and fearful of too deep a plunge.
The sparrows peep, and quit the sheltering eaves
To seize the fair occasion. Well they eye
The scattered grain, and thievishly resolved
To escape the impending famine, often scared
As oft return, a pert voracious kind.
Clean riddance quickly made, one only care
Remains to each, the search of sunny nook,
Or shed impervious to the blast. Resigned
To sad necessity, the cock foregoes
His wonted strut; and, wading at their head
With well-considered steps seems to resent
His altered gait and stateliness retrenched.
How find the myriads, that in summer cheer
The hills and vallies with their ceaseless songs,
Due sustenance, or where subsist they now ?
Earth yields them nought; the imprisoned worm is safe
Beneath the frozen clod; all seeds of herbs
Lie covered close: and berry-bearing thorns,
That feed the thrush, (whatever some suppose)
Afford the smaller minstrels no supply.
The long protracted rigour of the year
Thins all their numerous Pocks. In chinks and holes
Ten thousand seek an unmolested end,
As instinct prompts; self buried ere they die.
The very rooks and daws forsake the fields,
Where neither grub, nor root, nor earth-nut, now
Repays their labour more ; and perched aloft
By the way-side, or stalking in the path,
Lean pensioners upon the traveller's track,
Pick up their nauseous dole, though sweet to them,

Of voided pulse or half digested grain.
The streams are lost amid the splendid blank,
O’erwhelming all distinction. On the flood,
Indurated and fixt, the snowy weight
Lies undissolved; while silently beneath,
And unperceived, the current steals away.
Not so where, scornful of a check it leaps
The mill-dam, dashes on the restless wheel,
And wantons in the pebbly gulph below:
No frost can bind it there; its utmost force
Can but arrest the light and smoky mist,
That in its fall the liquid sheet throws wide.
And see where it has hung the embroidered banks
With forms so various, that no powers of art,
The pencil or the pen, may trace the scene !
Here glittering turrets rise, upbearing high
(Fantastic misarrangement !) on the roof
Large growth of what may seem the sparkling trees
And shrubs of fairy land. The crystal drops,
That trickle down the branches, fast congealed,
Shoot into pillars of pellucid length,
And prop the pile they but adorned before.
Here grotto within grotto safe defies
The sun-beam; there, embossed and fretted wild,
The growing wonder takes a thousand shapes
Capricious, in which fancy seeks in vain
The likeness of some object seen before,
Thus nature works as if to mock at art,
And in defiance of her rival powers ;
By these fortuitous and random strokes
Performing such inimitable feats,
As she with all her rules can never reach.
Less worthy of applause though more admired,
Because a novelty, the work of man,
Imperial mistress of the fur-clad Russ!
Thy most magnificent and mighty-freak,
The wonder of the north. No forest fell
When thou wouldst build ; no quarry sent its stores
To enrich thy walls ; but thou didst hew the floods,
And make thy marble of the glassy wave.
In such a palace Aristæas found
Cyrene, when he bore the plaintive tale

Of his lost bees to her maternal ear :
In such a palace poetry might place
The armory of winter ; where his troops,
The gloomy clouds, find weapons, arrowy sleet,
Skin-piercing volley, blossom-bruising hail,
And snow, that often blinds the traveller's course ;
And wraps him in an unexpected tonıb.
Silently as a dream the fabric rose;
No sound of hammer or of saw was there :
Ice upon ice, the well adjusted parts
Were soon conjoined, nor other cement asked
Than water interfused to make them one.
Lamps gracefully disposed, and of all hues,
Illumined every side : a watery light
Gleamed through the clear transparency, that seemed
Another moon new risen, or meteor fallen
From heaven to earth, of lambent flame serene.
So stood the brittle prodigy! though smooth
And slippery the materials, yet frost-bound
Firm as a rock. Nor wanted aught within,
That royal residence might well befit,
For grandeur or for use. Long wavy wreaths
Of flowers, that feared no enemy but warmtb,
Blushed on the pannels. Mirror needed none
Where all was vitreous; but in order due
Convivial table and commodious seat
(What seemed at least commodious seat) were there
Sofa, and couch, and high built throne august.
The same lubricity was found in all,
And all was moist to the warm touch; a scene
Of evanescent glory, once a stream,
And soon to slide into a stream again.
Alas! 'twas but a mortifying stroke
Of undesigned severity, that glanced
(Made by a monarch) on her own estate,
On human grandeur and the courts of kings.
'Twas transient in its nature, as in show
'Twas durable ; as worthless, as it seemed
Intrinsically precious; to the foot
Treacherous and false; it smiled, and it was cold.

Great princes havegreat playthings. Some have play'd At hewing mountains into men, and some

« PreviousContinue »