The Task and Other Poems
by William Cowper
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Some say that in the origin of things, When all creation started into birth, The infant elements received a law From which they swerve not since; that under force Of that controlling ordinance they move, And need not His immediate hand, who first Prescribed their course, to regulate it now. Thus dream they, and contrive to save a God The encumbrance of His own concerns, and spare The great Artificer of all that moves The stress of a continual act, the pain Of unremitted vigilance and care, As too laborious and severe a task. So man the moth is not afraid, it seems, To span Omnipotence, and measure might That knows no measure, by the scanty rule And standard of his own, that is to-day, And is not ere to-morrow's sun go down. But how should matter occupy a charge Dull as it is, and satisfy a law So vast in its demands, unless impelled To ceaseless service by a ceaseless force, And under pressure of some conscious cause? The Lord of all, Himself through all diffused Sustains and is the life of all that lives. Nature is but a name for an effect Whose cause is God. He feeds the secret fire By which the mighty process is maintained, Who sleeps not, is not weary; in whose sight Slow-circling ages are as transient days; Whose work is without labour, whose designs No flaw deforms, no difficulty thwarts, And whose beneficence no charge exhausts. Him blind antiquity profaned, not served, With self-taught rites and under various names Female and male, Pomona, Pales, Pan, And Flora and Vertumnus; peopling earth With tutelary goddesses and gods That were not, and commending as they would To each some province, garden, field, or grove. But all are under One. One spirit—His Who bore the platted thorns with bleeding brows— Rules universal nature. Not a flower But shows some touch in freckle, streak, or stain, Of His unrivalled pencil. He inspires Their balmy odours and imparts their hues, And bathes their eyes with nectar, and includes, In grains as countless as the sea-side sands, The forms with which He sprinkles all the earth. Happy who walks with Him! whom, what he finds Of flavour or of scent in fruit or flower, Or what he views of beautiful or grand In nature, from the broad majestic oak To the green blade that twinkles in the sun, Prompts with remembrance of a present God. His presence, who made all so fair, perceived, Makes all still fairer. As with Him no scene Is dreary, so with Him all seasons please. Though winter had been none had man been true, And earth be punished for its tenant's sake, Yet not in vengeance; as this smiling sky, So soon succeeding such an angry night, And these dissolving snows, and this clear stream, Recovering fast its liquid music, prove.

Who then, that has a mind well strung and tuned To contemplation, and within his reach A scene so friendly to his favourite task, Would waste attention at the chequered board, His host of wooden warriors to and fro Marching and counter-marching, with an eye As fixt as marble, with a forehead ridged And furrowed into storms, and with a hand Trembling, as if eternity were hung In balance on his conduct of a pin? Nor envies he aught more their idle sport, Who pant with application misapplied To trivial toys, and, pushing ivory balls Across the velvet level, feel a joy Akin to rapture, when the bauble finds Its destined goal of difficult access. Nor deems he wiser him, who gives his noon To Miss, the Mercer's plague, from shop to shop Wandering, and littering with unfolded silks The polished counter, and approving none, Or promising with smiles to call again. Nor him, who, by his vanity seduced, And soothed into a dream that he discerns The difference of a Guido from a daub, Frequents the crowded auction. Stationed there As duly as the Langford of the show, With glass at eye, and catalogue in hand, And tongue accomplished in the fulsome cant And pedantry that coxcombs learn with ease, Oft as the price-deciding hammer falls He notes it in his book, then raps his box, Swears 'tis a bargain, rails at his hard fate That he has let it pass—but never bids.

Here unmolested, through whatever sign The sun proceeds, I wander; neither mist, Nor freezing sky, nor sultry, checking me, Nor stranger intermeddling with my joy. Even in the spring and play-time of the year That calls the unwonted villager abroad With all her little ones, a sportive train, To gather king-cups in the yellow mead, And prank their hair with daisies, or to pick A cheap but wholesome salad from the brook, These shades are all my own. The timorous hare, Grown so familiar with her frequent guest, Scarce shuns me; and the stock-dove unalarmed Sits cooing in the pine-tree, nor suspends His long love-ditty for my near approach. Drawn from his refuge in some lonely elm That age or injury has hollowed deep, Where on his bed of wool and matted leaves He has outslept the winter, ventures forth To frisk awhile, and bask in the warm sun, The squirrel, flippant, pert, and full of play. He sees me, and at once, swift as a bird, Ascends the neighbouring beech; there whisks his brush, And perks his ears, and stamps and scolds aloud, With all the prettiness of feigned alarm, And anger insignificantly fierce.

The heart is hard in nature, and unfit For human fellowship, as being void Of sympathy, and therefore dead alike To love and friendship both, that is not pleased With sight of animals enjoying life, Nor feels their happiness augment his own. The bounding fawn that darts across the glade When none pursues, through mere delight of heart, And spirits buoyant with excess of glee; The horse, as wanton and almost as fleet, That skims the spacious meadow at full speed, Then stops and snorts, and throwing high his heels Starts to the voluntary race again; The very kine that gambol at high noon, The total herd receiving first from one, That leads the dance, a summons to be gay, Though wild their strange vagaries, and uncouth Their efforts, yet resolved with one consent To give such act and utterance as they may To ecstasy too big to be suppressed— These, and a thousand images of bliss, With which kind nature graces every scene Where cruel man defeats not her design, Impart to the benevolent, who wish All that are capable of pleasure pleased, A far superior happiness to theirs, The comfort of a reasonable joy.

Man scarce had risen, obedient to His call Who formed him from the dust, his future grave, When he was crowned as never king was since. God set His diadem upon his head, And angel choirs attended. Wondering stood The new-made monarch, while before him passed, All happy and all perfect in their kind, The creatures, summoned from their various haunts To see their sovereign, and confess his sway. Vast was his empire, absolute his power, Or bounded only by a law whose force 'Twas his sublimest privilege to feel And own, the law of universal love. He ruled with meekness, they obeyed with joy. No cruel purpose lurked within his heart, And no distrust of his intent in theirs. So Eden was a scene of harmless sport, Where kindness on his part who ruled the whole Begat a tranquil confidence in all, And fear as yet was not, nor cause for fear. But sin marred all; and the revolt of man, That source of evils not exhausted yet, Was punished with revolt of his from him. Garden of God, how terrible the change Thy groves and lawns then witnessed! every heart, Each animal of every name, conceived A jealousy and an instinctive fear, And, conscious of some danger, either fled Precipitate the loathed abode of man, Or growled defiance in such angry sort, As taught him too to tremble in his turn. Thus harmony and family accord Were driven from Paradise; and in that hour The seeds of cruelty, that since have swelled To such gigantic and enormous growth, Were sown in human nature's fruitful soil. Hence date the persecution and the pain That man inflicts on all inferior kinds, Regardless of their plaints. To make him sport, To gratify the frenzy of his wrath, Or his base gluttony, are causes good And just in his account, why bird and beast Should suffer torture, and the streams be dyed With blood of their inhabitants impaled. Earth groans beneath the burden of a war Waged with defenceless innocence, while he, Not satisfied to prey on all around, Adds tenfold bitterness to death by pangs Needless, and first torments ere he devours. Now happiest they that occupy the scenes The most remote from his abhorred resort, Whom once as delegate of God on earth They feared, and as His perfect image loved. The wilderness is theirs with all its caves, Its hollow glens, its thickets, and its plains Unvisited by man. There they are free, And howl and roar as likes them, uncontrolled, Nor ask his leave to slumber or to play. Woe to the tyrant, if he dare intrude Within the confines of their wild domain; The lion tells him, "I am monarch here;" And if he spares him, spares him on the terms Of royal mercy, and through generous scorn To rend a victim trembling at his foot. In measure, as by force of instinct drawn, Or by necessity constrained, they live Dependent upon man, those in his fields, These at his crib, and some beneath his roof; They prove too often at how dear a rate He sells protection. Witness, at his foot The spaniel dying for some venial fault, Under dissection of the knotted scourge; Witness the patient ox, with stripes and yells Driven to the slaughter, goaded as he runs To madness, while the savage at his heels Laughs at the frantic sufferer's fury spent Upon the guiltless passenger o'erthrown. He too is witness, noblest of the train That wait on man, the flight-performing horse: With unsuspecting readiness he takes His murderer on his back, and, pushed all day, With bleeding sides, and flanks that heave for life, To the far-distant goal, arrives and dies. So little mercy shows who needs so much! Does law, so jealous in the cause of man, Denounce no doom on the delinquent? None. He lives, and o'er his brimming beaker boasts (As if barbarity were high desert) The inglorious feat, and, clamorous in praise Of the poor brute, seems wisely to suppose The honours of his matchless horse his own. But many a crime, deemed innocent on earth, Is registered in heaven, and these, no doubt, Have each their record, with a curse annexed. Man may dismiss compassion from his heart, But God will never. When He charged the Jew To assist his foe's down-fallen beast to rise, And when the bush-exploring boy that seized The young, to let the parent bird go free, Proved He not plainly that His meaner works Are yet His care, and have an interest all, All, in the universal Father's love? On Noah, and in him on all mankind, The charter was conferred by which we hold The flesh of animals in fee, and claim, O'er all we feed on, power of life and death. But read the instrument, and mark it well; The oppression of a tyrannous control Can find no warrant there. Feed then, and yield Thanks for thy food. Carnivorous, through sin, Feed on the slain, but spare the living brute.

The Governor of all, Himself to all So bountiful, in whose attentive ear The unfledged raven and the lion's whelp Plead not in vain for pity on the pangs Of hunger unassuaged, has interposed, Not seldom, His avenging arm, to smite The injurious trampler upon nature's law, That claims forbearance even for a brute. He hates the hardness of a Balaam's heart, And, prophet as he was, he might not strike The blameless animal, without rebuke, On which he rode. Her opportune offence Saved him, or the unrelenting seer had died. He sees that human equity is slack To interfere, though in so just a cause, And makes the task His own; inspiring dumb And helpless victims with a sense so keen Of injury, with such knowledge of their strength, And such sagacity to take revenge, That oft the beast has seemed to judge the man. An ancient, not a legendary tale, By one of sound intelligence rehearsed, (If such, who plead for Providence may seem In modern eyes) shall make the doctrine clear.

Where England, stretched towards the setting sun, Narrow and long, o'erlooks the western wave, Dwelt young Misagathus; a scorner he Of God and goodness, atheist in ostent, Vicious in act, in temper savage-fierce. He journeyed, and his chance was, as he went, To join a traveller of far different note— Evander, famed for piety, for years Deserving honour, but for wisdom more. Fame had not left the venerable man A stranger to the manners of the youth, Whose face, too, was familiar to his view. Their way was on the margin of the land, O'er the green summit of the rocks whose base Beats back the roaring surge, scarce heard so high. The charity that warmed his heart was moved At sight of the man-monster. With a smile Gentle and affable, and full of grace, As fearful of offending whom he wished Much to persuade, he plied his ear with truths Not harshly thundered forth or rudely pressed, But, like his purpose, gracious, kind, and sweet. "And dost thou dream," the impenetrable man Exclaimed, "that me the lullabies of age, And fantasies of dotards such as thou, Can cheat, or move a moment's fear in me? Mark now the proof I give thee, that the brave Need no such aids as superstition lends To steel their hearts against the dread of death." He spoke, and to the precipice at hand Pushed with a madman's fury. Fancy shrinks, And the blood thrills and curdles at the thought Of such a gulf as he designed his grave. But though the felon on his back could dare The dreadful leap, more rational, his steed Declined the death, and wheeling swiftly round, Or ere his hoof had pressed the crumbling verge, Baffled his rider, saved against his will. The frenzy of the brain may be redressed By medicine well applied, but without grace The heart's insanity admits no cure. Enraged the more by what might have reformed His horrible intent, again he sought Destruction, with a zeal to be destroyed, With sounding whip and rowels dyed in blood. But still in vain. The Providence that meant A longer date to the far nobler beast, Spared yet again the ignobler for his sake. And now, his prowess proved, and his sincere, Incurable obduracy evinced, His rage grew cool; and, pleased perhaps to have earned So cheaply the renown of that attempt, With looks of some complacence he resumed His road, deriding much the blank amaze Of good Evander, still where he was left Fixed motionless, and petrified with dread. So on they fared; discourse on other themes Ensuing, seemed to obliterate the past, And tamer far for so much fury shown (As is the course of rash and fiery men) The rude companion smiled as if transformed. But 'twas a transient calm. A storm was near, An unsuspected storm. His hour was come. The impious challenger of power divine Was now to learn that Heaven, though slow to wrath, Is never with impunity defied. His horse, as he had caught his master's mood, Snorting, and starting into sudden rage, Unbidden, and not now to be controlled, Rushed to the cliff, and having reached it, stood. At once the shock unseated him; he flew Sheer o'er the craggy barrier, and, immersed Deep in the flood, found, when he sought it not, The death he had deserved, and died alone. So God wrought double justice; made the fool The victim of his own tremendous choice, And taught a brute the way to safe revenge.

I would not enter on my list of friends (Though graced with polished manners and fine sense, Yet wanting sensibility) the man Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm. An inadvertent step may crush the snail That crawls at evening in the public path; But he that has humanity, forewarned, Will tread aside, and let the reptile live. The creeping vermin, loathsome to the sight, And charged perhaps with venom, that intrudes A visitor unwelcome into scenes Sacred to neatness and repose, the alcove, The chamber, or refectory, may die. A necessary act incurs no blame. Not so when, held within their proper bounds And guiltless of offence, they range the air, Or take their pastime in the spacious field. There they are privileged; and he that hunts Or harms them there is guilty of a wrong, Disturbs the economy of Nature's realm, Who, when she formed, designed them an abode. The sum is this: if man's convenience, health, Or safety interfere, his rights and claims Are paramount, and must extinguish theirs. Else they are all—the meanest things that are— As free to live and to enjoy that life, As God was free to form them at the first, Who in His sovereign wisdom made them all. Ye, therefore, who love mercy, teach your sons To love it too. The spring-time of our years Is soon dishonoured and defiled in most By budding ills, that ask a prudent hand To check them. But, alas! none sooner shoots, If unrestrained, into luxuriant growth, Than cruelty, most devilish of them all. Mercy to him that shows it, is the rule And righteous limitation of its act, By which Heaven moves in pardoning guilty man; And he that shows none, being ripe in years, And conscious of the outrage he commits, Shall seek it and not find it in his turn.

Distinguished much by reason, and still more By our capacity of grace divine, From creatures that exist but for our sake, Which having served us, perish, we are held Accountable, and God, some future day, Will reckon with us roundly for the abuse Of what He deems no mean or trivial trust. Superior as we are, they yet depend Not more on human help, than we on theirs. Their strength, or speed, or vigilance, were given In aid of our defects. In some are found Such teachable and apprehensive parts, That man's attainments in his own concerns, Matched with the expertness of the brutes in theirs, Are ofttimes vanquished and thrown far behind. Some show that nice sagacity of smell, And read with such discernment, in the port And figure of the man, his secret aim, That oft we owe our safety to a skill We could not teach, and must despair to learn. But learn we might, if not too proud to stoop To quadruped instructors, many a good And useful quality, and virtue too, Rarely exemplified among ourselves; Attachment never to be weaned, or changed By any change of fortune, proof alike Against unkindness, absence, and neglect; Fidelity, that neither bribe nor threat Can move or warp; and gratitude for small And trivial favours, lasting as the life, And glistening even in the dying eye.

Man praises man. Desert in arts or arms Wins public honour; and ten thousand sit Patiently present at a sacred song, Commemoration-mad; content to hear (Oh wonderful effect of music's power!) Messiah's eulogy, for Handel's sake. But less, methinks, than sacrilege might serve— (For was it less? What heathen would have dared To strip Jove's statue of his oaken wreath And hang it up in honour of a man?) Much less might serve, when all that we design Is but to gratify an itching ear, And give the day to a musician's praise. Remember Handel! who, that was not born Deaf as the dead to harmony, forgets, Or can, the more than Homer of his age? Yes—we remember him; and, while we praise A talent so divine, remember too That His most holy Book from whom it came Was never meant, was never used before To buckram out the memory of a man. But hush!—the muse perhaps is too severe, And with a gravity beyond the size And measure of the offence, rebukes a deed Less impious than absurd, and owing more To want of judgment than to wrong design. So in the chapel of old Ely House, When wandering Charles, who meant to be the third, Had fled from William, and the news was fresh, The simple clerk, but loyal, did announce, And eke did rear right merrily, two staves, Sung to the praise and glory of King George. —Man praises man; and Garrick's memory next, When time has somewhat mellowed it, and made The idol of our worship while he lived The god of our idolatry once more, Shall have its altar; and the world shall go In pilgrimage to bow before his shrine. The theatre, too small, shall suffocate Its squeezed contents, and more than it admits Shall sigh at their exclusion, and return Ungratified. For there some noble lord Shall stuff his shoulders with King Richard's bunch, Or wrap himself in Hamlet's inky cloak, And strut, and storm, and straddle, stamp, and stare, To show the world how Garrick did not act, For Garrick was a worshipper himself; He drew the liturgy, and framed the rites And solemn ceremonial of the day, And called the world to worship on the banks Of Avon famed in song. Ah! pleasant proof That piety has still in human hearts Some place, a spark or two not yet extinct. The mulberry-tree was hung with blooming wreaths, The mulberry-tree stood centre of the dance, The mulberry-tree was hymned with dulcet airs, And from his touchwood trunk the mulberry-tree Supplied such relics as devotion holds Still sacred, and preserves with pious care. So 'twas a hallowed time: decorum reigned, And mirth without offence. No few returned Doubtless much edified, and all refreshed. —Man praises man. The rabble all alive, From tippling benches, cellars, stalls, and styes, Swarm in the streets. The statesman of the day, A pompous and slow-moving pageant, comes; Some shout him, and some hang upon his car To gaze in his eyes and bless him. Maidens wave Their kerchiefs, and old women weep for joy While others not so satisfied unhorse The gilded equipage, and, turning loose His steeds, usurp a place they well deserve. Why? what has charmed them? Hath he saved the state? No. Doth he purpose its salvation? No. Enchanting novelty, that moon at full That finds out every crevice of the head That is not sound and perfect, hath in theirs Wrought this disturbance. But the wane is near, And his own cattle must suffice him soon. Thus idly do we waste the breath of praise, And dedicate a tribute, in its use And just direction sacred, to a thing Doomed to the dust, or lodged already there. Encomium in old time was poet's work; But, poets having lavishly long since Exhausted all materials of the art, The task now falls into the public hand; And I, contented with a humble theme, Have poured my stream of panegyric down The vale of Nature, where it creeps and winds Among her lovely works, with a secure And unambitious course, reflecting clear If not the virtues yet the worth of brutes. And I am recompensed, and deem the toil Of poetry not lost, if verse of mine May stand between an animal and woe, And teach one tyrant pity for his drudge.

The groans of Nature in this nether world, Which Heaven has heard for ages, have an end. Foretold by prophets, and by poets sung, Whose fire was kindled at the prophets' lamp, The time of rest, the promised Sabbath, comes. Six thousand years of sorrow have well-nigh Fulfilled their tardy and disastrous course Over a sinful world; and what remains Of this tempestuous state of human things, Is merely as the working of a sea Before a calm, that rocks itself to rest. For He, whose car the winds are, and the clouds The dust that waits upon His sultry march, When sin hath moved Him, and His wrath is hot, Shall visit earth in mercy; shall descend Propitious, in His chariot paved with love, And what His storms have blasted and defaced For man's revolt, shall with a smile repair.

Sweet is the harp of prophecy; too sweet Not to be wronged by a mere mortal touch; Nor can the wonders it records be sung To meaner music, and not suffer loss. But when a poet, or when one like me, Happy to rove among poetic flowers, Though poor in skill to rear them, lights at last On some fair theme, some theme divinely fair, Such is the impulse and the spur he feels To give it praise proportioned to its worth, That not to attempt it, arduous as he deems The labour, were a task more arduous still.

Oh scenes surpassing fable, and yet true, Scenes of accomplished bliss! which who can see, Though but in distant prospect, and not feel His soul refreshed with foretaste of the joy? Rivers of gladness water all the earth, And clothe all climes with beauty; the reproach Of barrenness is past. The fruitful field Laughs with abundance, and the land once lean, Or fertile only in its own disgrace, Exults to see its thistly curse repealed. The various seasons woven into one, And that one season an eternal spring, The garden fears no blight, and needs no fence, For there is none to covet, all are full. The lion and the libbard and the bear Graze with the fearless flocks. All bask at noon Together, or all gambol in the shade Of the same grove, and drink one common stream. Antipathies are none. No foe to man Lurks in the serpent now. The mother sees, And smiles to see, her infant's playful hand Stretched forth to dally with the crested worm, To stroke his azure neck, or to receive The lambent homage of his arrowy tongue. All creatures worship man, and all mankind One Lord, one Father. Error has no place; That creeping pestilence is driven away, The breath of heaven has chased it. In the heart No passion touches a discordant string, But all is harmony and love. Disease Is not. The pure and uncontaminated blood Holds its due course, nor fears the frost of age. One song employs all nations; and all cry, "Worthy the Lamb, for He was slain for us!" The dwellers in the vales and on the rocks Shout to each other, and the mountain-tops From distant mountains catch the flying joy, Till nation after nation taught the strain, Each rolls the rapturous Hosanna round. Behold the measure of the promise filled, See Salem built, the labour of a God! Bright as a sun the sacred city shines; All kingdoms and all princes of the earth Flock to that light; the glory of all lands Flows into her, unbounded is her joy And endless her increase. Thy rams are there, Nebaioth,* and the flocks of Kedar there; The looms of Ormus, and the mines of Ind, And Saba's spicy groves pay tribute there. Praise is in all her gates. Upon her walls, And in her streets, and in her spacious courts Is heard salvation. Eastern Java there Kneels with the native of the farthest West, And AEthiopia spreads abroad the hand, And worships. Her report has travelled forth Into all lands. From every clime they come To see thy beauty and to share thy joy, O Sion! an assembly such as earth Saw never; such as heaven stoops down to see.

* Nebaioth and Kedar, the sons of Ishmael, and progenitors of the Arabs, in the prophetic scripture here alluded to may be reasonably considered as representatives of the Gentiles at large.—C.

Thus heavenward all things tend. For all were once Perfect, and all must be at length restored. So God has greatly purposed; who would else In His dishonoured works Himself endure Dishonour, and be wronged without redress. Haste then, and wheel away a shattered 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 every drop of honey hides a sting; Worms wind themselves into our sweetest flowers, And even the joy, that haply some poor heart Derives from heaven, pure as the fountain is, Is sullied 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, shouldering 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 laws 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.

Come then, and added to Thy many crowns Receive yet one, the crown of all the earth, Thou who alone art worthy! it was Thine By ancient covenant, ere nature's birth, And Thou hast made it Thine by purchase since, And overpaid its value with Thy blood. Thy saints proclaim Thee King; and in their hearts Thy title is engraven with a pen Dipt in the fountain of eternal love. Thy saints proclaim Thee King; and Thy delay Gives courage to their foes, who, could they see The dawn of Thy last advent, long-desired, Would creep into the bowels of the hills, And flee for safety to the falling rocks. The very spirit of the world is tired Of its own taunting question, asked so long, "Where is the promise of your Lord's approach?" The infidel has shot his bolts away, Till, his exhausted quiver yielding none, He gleans the blunted shafts that have recoiled, And aims them at the shield of truth again. The veil is rent, rent too by priestly hands, That hides divinity from mortal eyes; And all the mysteries to faith proposed, Insulted and traduced, are cast aside, As useless, to the moles and to the bats. They now are deemed the faithful and are praised, Who, constant only in rejecting Thee, Deny Thy Godhead with a martyr's zeal, And quit their office for their error's sake. Blind and in love with darkness! yet even these Worthy, compared with sycophants, who kneel, Thy Name adoring, and then preach Thee man! So fares Thy Church. But how Thy Church may fare, The world takes little thought; who will may preach, And what they will. All pastors are alike To wandering sheep resolved to follow none. Two gods divide them all, Pleasure and Gain; For these they live, they sacrifice to these, And in their service wage perpetual war With conscience and with Thee. Lust in their hearts, And mischief in their hands, they roam the earth To prey upon each other; stubborn, fierce, High-minded, foaming out their own disgrace. Thy prophets speak of such; and noting down The features of the last degenerate times, Exhibit every lineament of these. Come then, and added to Thy many crowns Receive yet one as radiant as the rest, Due to Thy last and most effectual work, Thy Word fulfilled, the conquest of a world.

He is the happy man, whose life even now Shows somewhat of that happier life to come; Who, doomed to an obscure but tranquil state, Is pleased 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'erlooks 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 proved 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 power is such, that whom she lifts from earth She makes familiar with a heaven unseen, And shows him glories yet to be revealed. Not slothful he, though seeming unemployed, And censured oft as useless. Stillest streams Oft water fairest meadows; and the bird That flutters least is longest on the wing. Ask him, indeed, what trophies he has raised, Or what achievements of immortal fame He purposes, and he shall answer—None. His warfare is within. There unfatigued His fervent spirit labours. There he fights, And there obtains fresh triumphs o'er himself, And never-withering wreaths, compared with which The laurels that a Caesar reaps are weeds. Perhaps the self-approving haughty world, That, as she sweeps him with her whistling silks, Scarce deigns to notice him, or if she see, Deems him a cipher in the works of God, Receives advantage from his noiseless hours Of which she little dreams. Perhaps she owes Her sunshine and her rain, her blooming spring And plenteous harvest, to the prayer he makes When, Isaac-like, the solitary saint Walks forth to meditate at eventide, And think on her who thinks not for herself. Forgive him then, thou bustler in concerns Of little worth, and idler in the best, If, author of no mischief and some good, He seeks his proper happiness by means That may advance, but cannot hinder thine. Nor, though he tread the secret path of life, Engage no notice, and enjoy much ease, Account him an encumbrance on the state, Receiving benefits, and rendering none. His sphere though humble, if that humble sphere Shine with his fair example, and though small His influence, if that influence all be spent In soothing sorrow and in quenching strife, In aiding helpless indigence, in works From which at least a grateful few derive Some taste of comfort in a world of woe, Then let the supercilious great confess He serves his country; recompenses well The state beneath the shadow of whose vine He sits secure, and in the scale of life Holds no ignoble, though a slighted place. The man whose virtues are more felt than seen, Must drop, indeed, the hope of public praise; But he may boast, what few that win it can, That if his country stand not by his skill, At least his follies have not wrought her fall. Polite refinement offers him in vain Her golden tube, through which a sensual world Draws gross impurity, and likes it well, The neat conveyance hiding all the offence. Not that he peevishly rejects a mode Because that world adopts it. If it bear The stamp and clear impression of good sense, And be not costly more than of true worth, He puts it on, and for decorum sake Can wear it e'en as gracefully as she. She judges of refinement by the eye, He by the test of conscience, and a heart Not soon deceived; aware that what is base No polish can make sterling, and that vice, Though well-perfumed and elegantly dressed, Like an unburied carcass tricked with flowers, Is but a garnished nuisance, fitter far For cleanly riddance than for fair attire. So life glides smoothly and by stealth away, More golden than that age of fabled gold Renowned in ancient song; not vexed with care, Or stained with guilt, beneficent, approved Of God and man, and peaceful in its end.

So glide my life away! and so at last, My share of duties decently fulfilled, May some disease, not tardy to perform Its destined office, yet with gentle stroke, Dismiss me weary to a safe retreat Beneath the turf that I have often trod. It shall not grieve me, then, that once, when called To dress a Sofa with the flowers of verse, I played awhile, obedient to the fair, With that light task, but soon to please her more, Whom flowers alone I knew would little please, Let fall the unfinished wreath, and roved for fruit; Roved far and gathered much; some harsh, 'tis true, Picked 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 despised. 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 even mine.



John Gilpin was a citizen Of credit and renown, A train-band captain eke was he Of famous London town.

John Gilpin's spouse said to her dear, "Though wedded we have been These twice ten tedious years, yet we No holiday have seen.

"To-morrow is our wedding-day, And we will then repair Unto 'The Bell' at Edmonton, All in a chaise and pair.

"My sister and my sister's child, Myself and children three, Will fill the chaise; so you must ride On horseback after we."

He soon replied, "I do admire Of womankind but one, And you are she, my dearest dear, Therefore it shall be done.

"I am a linen-draper bold, As all the world doth know, And my good friend the Calender Will lend his horse to go."

Quoth Mistress Gilpin, "That's well said; And, for that wine is dear, We will be furnished with our own, Which is both bright and clear."

John Gilpin kissed his loving wife; O'erjoyed was he to find That though on pleasure she was bent, She had a frugal mind.

The morning came, the chaise was brought, But yet was not allowed To drive up to the door, lest all Should say that she was proud.

So three doors off the chaise was stayed, Where they did all get in; Six precious souls, and all agog To dash through thick and thin.

Smack went the whip, round went the wheels, Were never folk so glad; The stones did rattle underneath As if Cheapside were mad.

John Gilpin at his horse's side Seized fast the flowing mane, And up he got, in haste to ride, But soon came down again;

For saddle-tree scarce reached had he, His journey to begin, When, turning round his head, he saw Three customers come in.

So down he came; for loss of time, Although it grieved him sore, Yet loss of pence, full well he knew, Would trouble him much more.

'Twas long before the customers Were suited to their mind. When Betty, screaming, came down stairs, "The wine is left behind!"

"Good lack!" quoth he; "yet bring it me, My leathern belt likewise, In which I bear my trusty sword, When I do exercise."

Now Mistress Gilpin (careful soul!) Had two stone bottles found, To hold the liquor that she loved, And keep it safe and sound.

Each bottle had a curling ear, Through which the belt he drew, And hung a bottle on each side, To make his balance true.

Then over all, that he might be Equipped from top to toe, His long red cloak, well brushed and neat, He manfully did throw.

Now see him mounted once again Upon his nimble steed, Full slowly pacing o'er the stones With caution and good heed!

But, finding soon a smoother road Beneath his well-shod feet, The snorting beast began to trot, Which galled him in his seat.

So, "Fair and softly," John he cried, But John he cried in vain; That trot became a gallop soon, In spite of curb and rein.

So stooping down, as needs he must Who cannot sit upright, He grasped the mane with both his hands, And eke with all his might.

His horse, who never in that sort Had handled been before, What thing upon his back had got Did wonder more and more.

Away went Gilpin, neck or naught; Away went hat and wig; He little dreamt, when he set out, Of running such a rig.

The wind did blow, the cloak did fly, Like streamer long and gay, Till, loop and button failing both, At last it flew away.

Then might all people well discern The bottles he had slung; A bottle swinging at each side, As hath been said or sung.

The dogs did bark, the children screamed, Up flew the windows all; And every soul cried out, "Well done!" As loud as he could bawl.

Away went Gilpin—who but he? His fame soon spread around— He carries weight! he rides a race! 'Tis for a thousand pound!

And still, as fast as he drew near, 'Twas wonderful to view How in a trice the turnpike men Their gates wide open threw.

And now, as he went bowing down His reeking head full low, The bottles twain behind his back Were shattered at a blow.

Down ran the wine into the road, Most piteous to be seen, Which made his horse's flanks to smoke As they had basted been.

But still he seemed to carry weight, With leathern girdle braced; For all might see the bottle-necks Still dangling at his waist.

Thus all through merry Islington These gambols he did play, And till he came unto the Wash Of Edmonton so gay.

And there he threw the wash about On both sides of the way, Just like unto a trundling mop, Or a wild goose at play.

At Edmonton, his loving wife From the bal-cony spied Her tender husband, wondering much To see how he did ride.

"Stop, stop, John Gilpin!—here's the house!" They all at once did cry; "The dinner waits, and we are tired." Said Gilpin, "So am I!"

But yet his horse was not a whit Inclined to tarry there; For why?—his owner had a house Full ten miles off, at Ware.

So like an arrow swift he flew, Shot by an archer strong; So did he fly—which brings me to The middle of my song.

Away went Gilpin, out of breath, And sore against his will, Till at his friend the Calender's His horse at last stood still.

The Calender, amazed to see His neighbour in such trim, Laid down his pipe, flew to the gate, And thus accosted him:—

"What news? what news? your tidings tell: Tell me you must and shall— Say why bareheaded you are come, Or why you come at all."

Now Gilpin had a pleasant wit, And loved a timely joke; And thus unto the Calender In merry guise he spoke:

"I came because your horse would come; And if I well forebode, My hat and wig will soon be here; They are upon the road."

The Calender, right glad to find His friend in merry pin, Returned him not a single word, But to the house went in;

Whence straight he came with hat and wig, A wig that flowed behind, A hat not much the worse for wear, Each comely in its kind.

He held them up, and, in his turn, Thus showed his ready wit,— "My head is twice as big as yours; They therefore needs must fit.

"But let me scrape the dirt away That hangs upon your face; And stop and eat, for well you may Be in a hungry case."

Says John, "It is my wedding-day, And all the world would stare, If wife should dine at Edmonton, And I should dine at Ware."

So turning to his horse, he said, "I am in haste to dine; 'Twas for your pleasure you came here, You shall go back for mine."

Ah, luckless speech, and bootless boast! For which he paid full dear; For while he spake, a braying ass Did sing most loud and clear;

Whereat his horse did snort as he Had heard a lion roar, And galloped off with all his might, As he had done before.

Away went Gilpin, and away Went Gilpin's hat and wig; He lost them sooner than at first, For why?—they were too big.

Now Mistress Gilpin, when she saw Her husband posting down Into the country far away, She pulled out half-a-crown.

And thus unto the youth she said, That drove them to "The Bell," "This shall be yours when you bring back My husband safe and well."

The youth did ride, and soon did meet John coming back amain, Whom in a trice he tried to stop By catching at his rein;

But not performing what he meant, And gladly would have done, The frighted steed he frighted more, And made him faster run.

Away went Gilpin, and away Went postboy at his heels, The postboy's horse right glad to miss The lumbering of the wheels.

Six gentlemen upon the road Thus seeing Gilpin fly, With postboy scampering in the rear, They raised the hue and cry:

"Stop thief! stop thief!—a highwayman!" Not one of them was mute; And all and each that passed that way Did join in the pursuit.

And now the turnpike gates again Flew open in short space, The tollmen thinking, as before, That Gilpin rode a race.

And so he did, and won it too, For he got first to town; Nor stopped till where he had got up He did again get down.

Now let us sing, "Long live the king, And Gilpin, long live he; And when he next doth ride abroad, May I be there to see!"


DEAR JOSEPH,—five and twenty years ago— Alas, how time escapes!—'tis even so— With frequent intercourse, and always sweet And always friendly, we were wont to cheat A tedious hour—and now we never meet. As some grave gentleman in Terence says ('Twas therefore much the same in ancient days), "Good lack, we know not what to-morrow brings— Strange fluctuation of all human things!" True. Changes will befall, and friends may part, But distance only cannot change the heart: And were I called to prove the assertion true, One proof should serve—a reference to you.

Whence comes it, then, that in the wane of life, Though nothing have occurred to kindle strife, We find the friends we fancied we had won, Though numerous once, reduced to few or none? Can gold grow worthless that has stood the touch? No. Gold they seemed, but they were never such. Horatio's servant once, with bow and cringe, Swinging the parlour-door upon its hinge, Dreading a negative, and overawed Lest he should trespass, begged to go abroad. "Go, fellow!—whither?"—turning short about— "Nay. Stay at home; you're always going out."— "'Tis but a step, sir; just at the street's end." "For what?"—"An please you, sir, to see a friend." "A friend!" Horatio cried, and seemed to start; "Yea, marry shalt thou, and with all my heart— And fetch my cloak, for though the night be raw I'll see him too—the first I ever saw."

I knew the man, and knew his nature mild, And was his plaything often when a child; But somewhat at that moment pinched him close, Else he was seldom bitter or morose. Perhaps, his confidence just then betrayed, His grief might prompt him with the speech he made; Perhaps 'twas mere good-humour gave it birth, The harmless play of pleasantry and mirth. Howe'er it was, his language in my mind Bespoke at least a man that knew mankind.

But not to moralise too much, and strain To prove an evil of which all complain (I hate long arguments, verbosely spun), One story more, dear Hill, and I have done. Once on a time, an emperor, a wise man. No matter where, in China or Japan, Decreed that whosoever should offend Against the well-known duties of a friend, Convicted once, should ever after wear But half a coat, and show his bosom bare; The punishment importing this, no doubt, That all was naught within and all found out.

Oh happy Britain! we have not to fear Such hard and arbitrary measure here; Else could a law, like that which I relate, Once have the sanction of our triple state, Some few that I have known in days of old Would run most dreadful risk of catching cold. While you, my friend, whatever wind should blow, Might traverse England safely to and fro, An honest man, close buttoned to the chin, Broad-cloth without, and a warm heart within.


The twentieth year is well-nigh past Since first our sky was overcast, Ah, would that this might be the last! My Mary!

Thy spirits have a fainter flow, I see thee daily weaker grow— 'Twas my distress that brought thee low, My Mary!

Thy needles, once a shining store, For my sake restless heretofore, Now rust disused, and shine no more, My Mary!

For though thou gladly wouldst fulfil The same kind office for me still, Thy sight now seconds not thy will, My Mary!

But well thou playedst the housewife's part, And all thy threads with magic art Have wound themselves about this heart, My Mary!

Thy indistinct expressions seem Like language uttered in a dream; Yet me they charm, whate'er the theme, My Mary!

Thy silver locks, once auburn bright, Are still more lovely in my sight Than golden beams of orient light, My Mary!

For could I view nor them nor thee, What sight worth seeing could I see? The sun would rise in vain for me, My Mary!

Partakers of thy sad decline, Thy hands their little force resign; Yet gently prest, press gently mine, My Mary!

Such feebleness of limbs thou prov'st, That now at every step thou mov'st Upheld by two, yet still thou lov'st, My Mary!

And still to love, though prest with ill, In wintry age to feel no chill, With me, is to be lovely still, My Mary!

But ah! by constant heed I know, How oft the sadness that I show, Transforms thy smiles to looks of woe, My Mary!

And should my future lot be cast With much resemblance of the past, Thy worn-out heart will break at last, My Mary!


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