The Task: Book V, The Winter Morning Walk (excerpts)

'Tis morning; and the sun, with ruddy orb
  Ascending, fires th' 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, tinging all with his own rosy hue,
  From ev'ry herb and ev'ry spiry blade
  Stretches a length of 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 proportion'd limb
  Transform'd to a lean shank. The shapeless pair,
  As they design'd to mock me, at my side
  Take step for step; and, as I near approach
  The cottage, walk along the plaster'd wall,
  Prepost'rous 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 fledg'd 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 hung'ring man,
  Fretful if unsupply'd; but silent, meek,
  And patient of the slow-pac'd swain's delay.
  He from the stack carves out th' accustom'd 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,
  Lest storms should overset the leaning pile
  Deciduous, or its own unbalanc'd weight....

  'Tis liberty alone that gives the flower
  Of fleeting life its lustre and perfume,
  And we are weeds without it. All constraint,
  Except what wisdom lays on evil men,
  Is evil; hurts the faculties, impedes
  Their progress in the road of science; blinds
  The eyesight of discovery, and begets,
  In those that suffer it, a sordid mind
  Bestial, a meagre intellect, unfit
  To be the tenant of man's noble form.
  Thee therefore, still, blameworthy as thou art,
  With all thy loss of empire, and though squeez'd
  By public exigence till annual food
  Fails for the craving hunger of the state,
  Thee I account still happy, and the chief
  Among the nations, seeing thou art free,
  My native nook of earth! . . ....

  But there is yet a liberty unsung
  By poets, and by senators unprais'd,
  Which monarchs cannot grant, nor all the pow'rs
  Of earth and hell confederate take away;
  A liberty which persecution, fraud,
  Oppression, prisons, have no pow'r to bind;
  Which whoso tastes can be enslav'd no more.
  'Tis liberty of heart, deriv'd from Heav'n,
  Bought with his blood who gave it to mankind,
  And seal'd with the same token. It is held
  By charter, and that charter sanction'd sure
  By th' unimpeachable and awful oath
  And promise of a God. His other gifts
  All bear the royal stamp that speaks them his,
  And are august, but this transcends them all.

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William Cowper

William Macquarie Cowper was an Australian Anglican archdeacon and Dean of Sydney. more…

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