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new question of the future destiny of the race, as a whole, are introduced by Cowper into English poetry. And though splendor and passion were added, by the poets who succeeded him, to the new poetry, yet they worked on the thoughts he had laid down, and he is their leader.”
Cowper is one of the first symptoms, if not the originator, of a revolution in style which is soon to become a revolution in ideas. The clear, crisp English ’ of his verse is not the work of a man who belongs to a school, or follows some conventional pattern. It is for his amusement, he repeats again and again in his letters, that he is a poet; just as it has been for his amusement that he has worked in the garden and made rabbit-hutches. He writes because it pleases him, without a thought of his fame or of contriving what the world will admire.
The Task, his most characteristic poem, is indeed a work of great labor; but the labor is not directed, as Pope's labor was directed, towards methodizing or arranging the material, towards working up the argument, towards forcing the ideas into the most striking situations. The labor is in the cadences and the language; as for the thoughts, they are allowed to show themselves just as they come, in their natural order, so that the poem reads like the speech of a man talking to himself. To turn from a poem of Cowper's to a poem of Pope's, or even of Goldsmith's, is to turn from one sphere of art to quite another, from unconscious to conscious art. 'Formal gardens in comparison with woodland scenery,' as Southey said. And how much that means! It means that the day of critical, and so-called classical, poetry is over; that the day of spontaneous, natural, romantic poetry has begun. Burns and Wordsworth are not yet, but they are close at hand. We read Cowper not for his passion or for his ideas, but for his love of nature and his faithful rendering of her beauty, for his truth of portraiture, for his humor, for his pathos; for the refined honesty of his style, for the melancholy interest of his life, and for the simplicity and the loveliness of his character.”—Thomas H. Ward.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. COWPER.–Cowper's Letters; Southey's Life of; Bagehot’s Estimates of some Eng. and Scotchmen; F. Jeffrey's Essays, Thomson's Celebrated Friendships; Eng. Men of Let. Series; Ward's Anthology; Black. Mag., v. 109, 1871; Fort. Rev., v. 3, 1865; Fraser's Mag., v. 64, 1861; Nat. Quar. Rev., v. 7, 1863; N. Br. Rev., v. 22, 1854; Quar. Rev., v. 107, 1860.
Faithful remembrancer of one so dear,
My mother! when I learned that thou wast dead,
What ardently I wished I long believed,
Where once we dwelt our name is heard no more,
Could Time, his flight reversed, restore the hours, When, playing with thy vesture's tissued flowers, The violet, the pink, and jessamine, I pricked them into paper with a pin
And thou wast happier than myself the while,
—what here we call our life is such,
Thou, as a gallant bark from Albion's coast (The storms all weathered and the ocean crossed) Shoots into port at some well-havened isle, Where spices breathe, and brighter seasons smile, There sits quiescent on the floods that show Her beauteous form reflected clear below, While airs, impregnated with incense, play Around her, fanning light her streamers gay; So thou, with sails how swift! hast reached the shore “Where tempests never beat nor billows roar.” And thy loved consort on the dangerous tide Of life long since has anchored by thy side. But me, scarce hoping to attain that rest, Always from port withheld, always distressed, Me howling blasts drive devious, tempest-tost, Sails ripped, seams opening wide, and compass lost, And day by day some current's thwarting force Sets me more distant from a prosperous course. Yet, oh, the thought that thou art safe, and he! That thought is joy, arrive what may to me. My boast is not that I deduce my birth From loins enthroned and rulers of the earth; But higher far my proud pretensions riseThe son of parents passed into the skies! And now, farewell—Time, unrevoked, has run His wonted course, yet what I wished is done. By contemplation's help, not sought in vain, I seem to have lived my childhood o'er again; To have renewed the joys that once were mine, Without the sin of violating thine.
And, while the wings of Fancy still are free,
From The Task—The Winter Evening. Hark! 'tis the twanging horn! O'er yonder bridge, That with its wearisome but needful length Bestrides the wintry flood, in which the moon Sees her unwrinkled face reflected bright, He comes, the herald of a noisy world, With spattered boots, strapped waist, and frozen locks, News from all nations lumbering at his back. True to his charge, the close-packed load behind, Yet careless what he brings, his one concern Is to conduct it to the destined inn, And, having dropped the expected bag, pass on. He whistles as he goes, light-hearted wretch, Cold and yet cheerful: messenger of grief Perhaps to thousands, and of joy to some, To him indifferent whether grief or joy. Houses in ashes, and the fall of stocks, Births, deaths, and marriages, epistles wet With tears that trickled down the writer's cheeks Fast as the periods from his fluent quill, Or charged with amorous sighs of absent swains, Or nymphs responsive, equally affect His horse and him, unconscious of them all. But oh the important budget! ushered in With such heart-shaking music—who can say What are its tidings? Have our troops awaked? Or do they still, as if with opium drugged, Snore to the murmurs of the Atlantic wave? Is India free? and does she wear her plumed And jewelled turban with a smile of peace, Or do we grind her still? The grand debate, The popular harangue, the tart reply, The logic, and the wisdom, and the wit, And the loud laugh-I long to know them all; I burn to set the imprisoned wranglers free, And give them voice and utterance once again,