William Cowper

Here you will find the Long Poem The Task: Book I, The Sofa (excerpts) of poet William Cowper

The Task: Book I, The Sofa (excerpts)


 Thou know'st my praise of nature most sincere,
 And that my raptures are not conjur'd up
 To serve occasions of poetic pomp,
 But genuine, and art partner of them all.
 How oft upon yon eminence our pace
 Has slacken'd to a pause, and we have borne
 The ruffling wind, scarce conscious that it blew,
 While admiration, feeding at the eye,
 And still unsated, dwelt upon the scene.
 Thence with what pleasure have we just discern'd
 The distant plough slow moving, and beside
 His lab'ring team, that swerv'd not from the track,
 The sturdy swain diminish'd to a boy!
 Here Ouse, slow winding through a level plain
 Of spacious meads with cattle sprinkled o'er,
 Conducts the eye along its sinuous course
 Delighted. There, fast rooted in his bank,
 Stand, never overlook'd, our fav'rite elms,
 That screen the herdsman's solitary hut;
 While far beyond, and overthwart the stream
 That, as with molten glass, inlays the vale,
 The sloping land recedes into the clouds;
 Displaying on its varied side the grace
 Of hedge-row beauties numberless, square tow'r,
 Tall spire, from which the sound of cheerful bells
 Just undulates upon the list'ning ear,
 Groves, heaths and smoking villages remote.
 Scenes must be beautiful, which, daily view'd,
 Please daily, and whose novelty survives
 Long knowledge and the scrutiny of years.
 Praise justly due to those that I describe....

 But though true worth and virtue, in the mild
 And genial soil of cultivated life,
 Thrive most, and may perhaps thrive only there,
 Yet not in cities oft: in proud and gay
 And gain-devoted cities. Thither flow,
 As to a common and most noisome sewer,
 The dregs and feculence of every land.
 In cities foul example on most minds
 Begets its likeness. Rank abundance breeds
 In gross and pamper'd cities sloth and lust,
 And wantonness and gluttonous excess.
 In cities vice is hidden with most ease,
 Or seen with least reproach; and virtue, taught
 By frequent lapse, can hope no triumph there
 Beyond th'achievement of successful flight.
 I do confess them nurseries of the arts,
 In which they flourish most; where, in the beams
 Of warm encouragement, and in the eye
 Of public note, they reach their perfect size.
 Such London is, by taste and wealth proclaim'd
 The fairest capital of all the world,
 By riot and incontinence the worst.
 There, touch'd by Reynolds, a dull blank becomes
 A lucid mirror, in which Nature sees
 All her reflected features. Bacon there
 Gives more than female beauty to a stone,
 And Chatham's eloquence to marble lips....

 God made the country, and man made the town.
 What wonder then that health and virtue, gifts
 That can alone make sweet the bitter draught
 That life holds out to all, should most abound
 And least be threaten'd in the fields and groves?
 Possess ye therefore, ye who, borne about
 In chariots and sedans, know no fatigue
 But that of idleness, and taste no scenes
 But such as art contrives, possess ye still
 Your element; there only ye can shine,
 There only minds like yours can do no harm.
 Our groves were planted to console at noon
 The pensive wand'rer in their shades. At eve
 The moonbeam, sliding softly in between
 The sleeping leaves, is all the light they wish,
 Birds warbling all the music. We can spare
 The splendour of your lamps, they but eclipse
 Our softer satellite. Your songs confound
 Our more harmonious notes: the thrush departs
 Scared, and th'offended nightingale is mute.
 There is a public mischief in your mirth;
 It plagues your country. Folly such as yours,
 Grac'd with a sword, and worthier of a fan,
 Has made, which enemies could ne'er have done,
 Our arch of empire, steadfast but for you,
 A mutilated structure, soon to fall.