Monday, October 21, 2013

The Task, Book IV., The Winter Evening, 2nd Stanza, by William Cowper

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
  Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
  And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
  Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
  That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
  So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
  Not such his evening, who with shining face
  Sweats in the crowded theatre, and squeezed
  And bored with elbow-points through both his sides,
  Outscolds the ranting actor on the stage;
  Nor his, who patient stands till his feet throb
  And his head thumps, to feed upon the breath
  Of patriots bursting with heroic rage,
  Or placemen all tranquillity and smiles.
  This folio of four pages, happy work!
  Which not even critics criticise, that holds
  Inquisitive attention while I read
  Fast bound in chains of silence, which the fair,
  Though eloquent themselves, yet fear to break,
  What is it but a map of busy life,
  Its fluctuations and its vast concerns?
  Here runs the mountainous and craggy ridge
  That tempts ambition.  On the summit, see,
  The seals of office glitter in his eyes;
  He climbs, he pants, he grasps them.  At his heels,
  Close at his heels, a demagogue ascends,
  And with a dextrous jerk soon twists him down
  And wins them, but to lose them in his turn.
  Here rills of oily eloquence, in soft
  Meanders, lubricate the course they take;
  The modest speaker is ashamed and grieved
  To engross a moment's notice, and yet begs,
  Begs a propitious ear for his poor thoughts,
  However trivial all that he conceives.
  Sweet bashfulness! it claims, at least, this praise,
  The dearth of information and good sense
  That it foretells us, always comes to pass.
  Cataracts of declamation thunder here,
  There forests of no meaning spread the page
  In which all comprehension wanders lost;
  While fields of pleasantry amuse us there,
  With merry descants on a nation's woes.
  The rest appears a wilderness of strange
  But gay confusion; roses for the cheeks
  And lilies for the brows of faded age,
  Teeth for the toothless, ringlets for the bald,
  Heaven, earth, and ocean plundered of their sweets.
  Nectareous essences, Olympian dews,
  Sermons and city feasts and favourite airs,
  Ethereal journeys, submarine exploits,
  And Katterfelto with his hair on end
  At his own wonders, wondering for his bread.

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