The Task: from Book VI: The Winter Walk at Noon

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Thus heav'nward all things tend. For all were oncePerfect, and all must be at length restor'd.So God has greatly purpos'd; who would elseIn his dishonour'd works himself endureDishonour, and be wrong'd without redress.Haste then, and wheel away a shatter'd 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 fairThe creature is that God pronounces good,How pleasant in itself what pleases him.Here ev'ry drop of honey hides a sting;Worms wind themselves into our sweetest flow'rs,And ev'n the joy, that haply some poor heartDerives from heav'n, pure as the fountain is,Is sully'd in the stream; taking a taintFrom touch of human lips, at best impure.Oh for a world in principle as chasteAs this is gross and selfish! over whichCustom and prejudice shall bear no sway,That govern all things here, should'ring asideThe meek and modest truth, and forcing herTo seek a refuge from the tongue of strifeIn 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 esteemThe occasion it presents of doing goodMore than the perquisite; where law shall speakSeldom, and never but as wisdom prompts,And equity; not jealous more to guardA 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.


He is the happy man, whose life ev'n nowShows somewhat of that happier life to come:Who, doom'd to an obscure but tranquil state,Is pleas'd with it, and, were he free to choose,Would make his fate his choice; whom peace, the fruitOf virtue, and whom virtue, fruit of faith,Prepare for happiness; bespeak him oneContent indeed to sojourn while he mustBelow the skies, but having there his home.The world o'eriooks him in her busy searchOf 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 prov'd them vain.He cannot skim the ground like summer birdsPursuing gilded flies, and such he deemsHer honours, her emoluments, her joys.Therefore in contemplation is his bliss,Whose pow'r is such, that whom she lifts from earthShe makes familiar with a heav'n unseen,And shows him glories yet to be reveal'd.


So life glides smoothly and by stealth away,More golden than that age of fabled goldRenown'd in ancient song; not vex'd with careOr stain'd with guilt, beneficent, approv'dOf God and man, and peaceful in its end.So glide my life away! and so at lastMy share of duties decently fulfill'd,May some disease, not tardy to performIts destin'd office, yet with gentle stroke,Dismiss me weary to a safe retreat,Beneath a turf that I have often trod.It shall not grieve me, then, that once, when call'dTo dress a sofa with the flow'rs of verse,I play'd awhile, obedient to the fair,With that light task; but soon, to please her more,Whom flow'rs alone I knew would little please,Let fall th' unfinish'd wreath, and rov'd for fruit;Rov'd far, and gather'd much: some harsh, 'tis true,Pick'd from the thorns and briars of reproof,But wholesome, well digested; grateful someTo palates that can taste immortal truth,Insipid else, and sure to be despis'd.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 chimeAnd 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 ev'n mine.

© William Cowper