Best Famous William Cowper Poems

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Written by William Cowper | Create an image from this poem

The Castaway

 Obscurest night involv'd the sky,
Th' Atlantic billows roar'd,
When such a destin'd wretch as I,
Wash'd headlong from on board,
Of friends, of hope, of all bereft,
His floating home for ever left.
No braver chief could Albion boast Than he with whom he went, Nor ever ship left Albion's coast, With warmer wishes sent.
He lov'd them both, but both in vain, Nor him beheld, nor her again.
Not long beneath the whelming brine, Expert to swim, he lay; Nor soon he felt his strength decline, Or courage die away; But wag'd with death a lasting strife, Supported by despair of life.
He shouted: nor his friends had fail'd To check the vessel's course, But so the furious blast prevail'd, That, pitiless perforce, They left their outcast mate behind, And scudded still before the wind.
Some succour yet they could afford; And, such as storms allow, The cask, the coop, the floated cord, Delay'd not to bestow.
But he (they knew) nor ship, nor shore, Whate'er they gave, should visit more.
Nor, cruel as it seem'd, could he Their haste himself condemn, Aware that flight, in such a sea, Alone could rescue them; Yet bitter felt it still to die Deserted, and his friends so nigh.
He long survives, who lives an hour In ocean, self-upheld; And so long he, with unspent pow'r, His destiny repell'd; And ever, as the minutes flew, Entreated help, or cried--Adieu! At length, his transient respite past, His comrades, who before Had heard his voice in ev'ry blast, Could catch the sound no more.
For then, by toil subdued, he drank The stifling wave, and then he sank.
No poet wept him: but the page Of narrative sincere; That tells his name, his worth, his age, Is wet with Anson's tear.
And tears by bards or heroes shed Alike immortalize the dead.
I therefore purpose not, or dream, Descanting on his fate, To give the melancholy theme A more enduring date: But misery still delights to trace Its semblance in another's case.
No voice divine the storm allay'd, No light propitious shone; When, snatch'd from all effectual aid, We perish'd, each alone: But I beneath a rougher sea, And whelm'd in deeper gulfs than he.
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The Retired Cat

 A poet's cat, sedate and grave
As poet well could wish to have,
Was much addicted to inquire
For nooks to which she might retire,
And where, secure as mouse in chink,
She might repose, or sit and think.
I know not where she caught the trick-- Nature perhaps herself had cast her In such a mould [lang f]philosophique[lang e], Or else she learn'd it of her master.
Sometimes ascending, debonair, An apple-tree or lofty pear, Lodg'd with convenience in the fork, She watch'd the gardener at his work; Sometimes her ease and solace sought In an old empty wat'ring-pot; There, wanting nothing save a fan To seem some nymph in her sedan, Apparell'd in exactest sort, And ready to be borne to court.
But love of change, it seems, has place Not only in our wiser race; Cats also feel, as well as we, That passion's force, and so did she.
Her climbing, she began to find, Expos'd her too much to the wind, And the old utensil of tin Was cold and comfortless within: She therefore wish'd instead of those Some place of more serene repose, Where neither cold might come, nor air Too rudely wanton with her hair, And sought it in the likeliest mode Within her master's snug abode.
A drawer, it chanc'd, at bottom lin'd With linen of the softest kind, With such as merchants introduce From India, for the ladies' use-- A drawer impending o'er the rest, Half-open in the topmost chest, Of depth enough, and none to spare, Invited her to slumber there; Puss with delight beyond expression Survey'd the scene, and took possession.
Recumbent at her ease ere long, And lull'd by her own humdrum song, She left the cares of life behind, And slept as she would sleep her last, When in came, housewifely inclin'd The chambermaid, and shut it fast; By no malignity impell'd, But all unconscious whom it held.
Awaken'd by the shock, cried Puss, "Was ever cat attended thus! The open drawer was left, I see, Merely to prove a nest for me.
For soon as I was well compos'd, Then came the maid, and it was clos'd.
How smooth these kerchiefs, and how sweet! Oh, what a delicate retreat! I will resign myself to rest Till Sol, declining in the west, Shall call to supper, when, no doubt, Susan will come and let me out.
" The evening came, the sun descended, And puss remain'd still unattended.
The night roll'd tardily away (With her indeed 'twas never day), The sprightly morn her course renew'd, The evening gray again ensued, And puss came into mind no more Than if entomb'd the day before.
With hunger pinch'd, and pinch'd for room, She now presag'd approaching doom, Nor slept a single wink, or purr'd, Conscious of jeopardy incurr'd.
That night, by chance, the poet watching Heard an inexplicable scratching; His noble heart went pit-a-pat And to himself he said, "What's that?" He drew the curtain at his side, And forth he peep'd, but nothing spied; Yet, by his ear directed, guess'd Something imprison'd in the chest, And, doubtful what, with prudent care Resolv'd it should continue there.
At length a voice which well he knew, A long and melancholy mew, Saluting his poetic ears, Consol'd him, and dispell'd his fears: He left his bed, he trod the floor, He 'gan in haste the drawers explore, The lowest first, and without stop The rest in order to the top; For 'tis a truth well known to most, That whatsoever thing is lost, We seek it, ere it come to light, In ev'ry cranny but the right.
Forth skipp'd the cat, not now replete As erst with airy self-conceit, Nor in her own fond apprehension A theme for all the world's attention, But modest, sober, cured of all Her notions hyperbolical, And wishing for a place of rest Anything rather than a chest.
Then stepp'd the poet into bed, With this reflection in his head:MORAL Beware of too sublime a sense Of your own worth and consequence.
The man who dreams himself so great, And his importance of such weight, That all around in all that's done Must move and act for him alone, Will learn in school of tribulation The folly of his expectation.
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Lines Written During A Period Of Insanity

 Hatred and vengence—my eternal portion
Scarce can endure delay of execution— 
Wait with impatient readiness to seize my
Soul in a moment.
Damned below Judas; more abhorred than he was, Who for a few pence sold his holy Master! Twice betrayed, Jesus me, the last delinquent, Deems the profanest.
Man disavows, and Deity disowns me: Hell might afford my miseries a shelter; Therefore Hell keeps her ever-hungry mouths all Bolted against me.
Hard lot! encompassed with a thousand dangers; Weary, faint, trembling with a thousand terrors, I'm called, if vanquished, to receive a sentence Worse than Abiram's.
Him the vindictive rod of angry Justice Sent quick and howling to the centre headlong; I, fed with judgment, in a fleshy tomb am Buried above ground.
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Grace and Providence

 Almighty King! whose wondrous hand
Supports the weight of sea and land;
Whose grace is such a boundless store,
No heart shall break that sighs for more.
Thy providence supplies my food, And 'tis Thy blessing makes it good; My soul is nourish'd by Thy Word, Let soul and body praise the Lord! My streams of outward comfort came From Him who built this earthly frame; Whate'er I want His bounty gives, By whom my soul forever lives.
Either His hand preserves from pain, Or, if I feel it, heals again; From Satan's malice shields my breast, Or overrules it for the best.
Forgive the song that falls so low Beneath the gratitude I owe! It means Thy praise: however poor, An angel's song can do no more.
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 Far from the world, O Lord, I flee,
From strife and tumult far;
From scenes where Satan wages still
His most successful war.
The calm retreat, the silent shade, With prayer and praise agree; And seem, by Thy sweet bounty made, For those who follow Thee.
There if Thy Spirit touch the soul, And grace her mean abode, Oh, with what peace, and joy, and love, She communes with her God! There like the nightingale she pours Her solitary lays; Nor asks a witness of her song, Nor thirsts for human praise.
Author and Guardian of my life, Sweet source of light Divine, And, -- all harmonious names in one, -- My Saviour! Thou art mine.
What thanks I owe Thee, and what love, A boundless, endless store, Shall echo through the realms above, When time shall be no more.
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 Fresh fields and woods! the Earth's fair face, 
God's foot-stool, and man's dwelling-place.
I ask not why the first Believer Did love to be a country liver? Who to secure pious content Did pitch by groves and wells his tent; Where he might view the boundless sky, And all those glorious lights on high; With flying meteors, mists and show'rs, Subjected hills, trees, meads and flow'rs; And ev'ry minute bless the King And wise Creator of each thing.
I ask not why he did remove To happy Mamre's holy grove, Leaving the cities of the plain To Lot and his successless train? All various lusts in cities still Are found; they are the thrones of ill; The dismal sinks, where blood is spill'd, Cages with much uncleanness fill'd.
But rural shades are the sweet fense Of piety and innocence.
They are the Meek's calm region, where Angels descend and rule the sphere, Where heaven lies leiger, and the dove Duly as dew, comes from above.
If Eden be on Earth at all, 'Tis that, which we the country call.
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Welcome to the Table

 This is the feast of heavenly wine,
And God invites to sup;
The juices of the living Vine
Were press'd to fill the cup.
Oh! bless the Saviour, ye that eat, With royal dainties fed; Not heaven affords a costlier treat, For Jesus is the bread.
The vile, the lost, He calls to them; Ye trembling souls, appear! The righteous in their own esteem Have no acceptance here.
Approach, ye poor, nor dare refuse The banquet spread for you; Dear Saviour, this is welcome news, Then I may venture too.
If guilt and sin afford a plea, And may obtain a place, Surely the Lord will welcome me, And I shall see his face.
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 (Phillipians, iv.
11) Fierce passions discompose the mind, As tempests vex the sea, But calm, content and peace we find, When, Lord, we turn to Thee.
In vain by reason and by rule We try to bend the will; For none but in the Saviour's school Can learn the heavenly skill.
Since at His feet my soul has sate, His gracious words to hear, Contented with my present state, I cast on Him my care.
"Art thou a sinner, soul?" He said, "Then how canst thou complain? How light thy troubles here, if weigh'd With everlasting pain! "If thou of murmuring wouldst be cured, Compare thy griefs with mine! Think what my love for thee endured, And thou wilt not repine.
"'Tis I appoint thy daily lot, And I do all things well; Thou soon shalt leave this wretched spot, And rise with me to dwell.
"In life my grace shall strength supply, Proportion'd to thy day; At death thou still shalt find me nigh, To wipe thy tears away.
" Thus I, who once my wretched days In vain repinings spent, Taught in my Saviour's school of grace, Have learnt to be content.
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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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The Christian

 Honor and happiness unite
To make the Christian's name a praise;
How fair the scene, how clear the light,
That fills the remnant of His days!

A kingly character He bears,
No change His priestly office knows;
Unfading is the crown He wears,
His joys can never reach a close.
Adorn'd with glory from on high, Salvation shines upon His face; His robe is of the ethereal dye, His steps are dignity and grace.
Inferior honors He disdains, Nor stoops to take applause from earth; The King of kings Himself maintains The expenses of His heavenly birth.
The noblest creature seen below, Ordain'd to fill a throne above; God gives him all He can bestow, His kingdom of eternal love! My soul is ravished at the thought! Methinks from earth I see Him rise! Angels congratulate His lot, And shout Him welcome to the skies.
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The Task: Book IV The Winter Evening (excerpts)

 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 spatter'd boots, strapp'd waist, and frozen locks;
News from all nations lumb'ring at his back.
True to his charge, the close-pack'd load behind, Yet careless what he brings, his one concern Is to conduct it to the destin'd inn: And, having dropp'd th' 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 indiff'rent 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 charg'd with am'rous sighs of absent swains, Or nymphs responsive, equally affect His horse and him, unconscious of them all.
But oh th' important budget! usher'd in With such heart-shaking music, who can say What are its tidings? have our troops awak'd? Or do they still, as if with opium drugg'd, Snore to the murmurs of th' Atlantic wave? Is India free? and does she wear her plum'd And jewell'd 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 th' imprison'd wranglers free, And give them voice and utt'rance once again.
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 ev'ning in.
Not such his ev'ning, who with shining face Sweats in the crowded theatre, and, squeez'd And bor'd with elbow-points through both his sides, Out-scolds 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 tranquility and smiles.
This folio of four pages, happy work! Which not ev'n 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?.
Oh winter, ruler of th' inverted year, Thy scatter'd hair with sleet like ashes fill'd, Thy breath congeal'd upon thy lips, thy cheeks Fring'd with a beard made white with other snows Than those of age, thy forehead wrapp'd in clouds, A leafless branch thy sceptre, and thy throne A sliding car, indebted to no wheels, But urg'd by storms along its slipp'ry way, I love thee, all unlovely as thou seem'st, And dreaded as thou art! Thou hold'st the sun A pris'ner in the yet undawning east, Short'ning his journey between morn and noon, And hurrying him, impatient of his stay, Down to the rosy west; but kindly still Compensating his loss with added hours Of social converse and instructive ease, And gath'ring, at short notice, in one group The family dispers'd, and fixing thought, Not less dispers'd by day-light and its cares.
I crown thee king of intimate delights, Fire-side enjoyments, home-born happiness, And all the comforts that the lowly roof Of undisturb'd retirement, and the hours Of long uninterrupted ev'ning, know.
No rattling wheels stop short before these gates; No powder'd pert proficient in the art Of sounding an alarm, assaults these doors Till the street rings; no stationary steeds Cough their own knell, while, heedless of the sound, The silent circle fan themselves, and quake: But here the needle plies its busy task, The pattern grows, the well-depicted flow'r, Wrought patiently into the snowy lawn, Unfolds its bosom; buds, and leaves, and sprigs, And curling tendrils, gracefully dispos'd, Follow the nimble finger of the fair; A wreath that cannot fade, or flow'rs that blow With most success when all besides decay.
The poet's or historian's page, by one Made vocal for th' amusement of the rest; The sprightly lyre, whose treasure of sweet sounds The touch from many a trembling chord shakes out; And the clear voice symphonious, yet distinct, And in the charming strife triumphant still; Beguile the night, and set a keener edge On female industry: the threaded steel Flies swiftly, and, unfelt, the task proceeds.
The volume clos'd, the customary rites Of the last meal commence.
A Roman meal; Such as the mistress of the world once found Delicious, when her patriots of high note, Perhaps by moonlight, at their humble doors, And under an old oak's domestic shade, Enjoy'd--spare feast!--a radish and an egg! Discourse ensues, not trivial, yet not dull, Nor such as with a frown forbids the play Of fancy, or proscribes the sound of mirth: Nor do we madly, like an impious world, Who deem religion frenzy, and the God That made them an intruder on their joys, Start at his awful name, or deem his praise A jarring note.
Themes of a graver tone, Exciting oft our gratitude and love, While we retrace with mem'ry's pointing wand, That calls the past to our exact review, The dangers we have 'scaped, the broken snare, The disappointed foe, deliv'rance found Unlook'd for, life preserv'd and peace restor'd-- Fruits of omnipotent eternal love.
Oh ev'nings worthy of the gods! exclaim'd The Sabine bard.
Oh ev'nings, I reply, More to be priz'd and coveted than yours, As more illumin'd, and with nobler truths.
That I, and mine, and those we love, enjoy.
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 The billows swell, the winds are high,
Clouds overcast my wintry sky;
Out of the depths to Thee I call, --
My fears are great, my strength is small.
O Lord, the pilot's part perform, And guard and guide me through the storm; Defend me from each threatening ill, Control the waves, -- say, "Peace! be still.
" Amidst the roaring of the sea My soul still hangs her hope on Thee; Thy constant love, thy faithful care, Is all that saves me from despair.
Dangers of every shape and name Attend the followers of the Lamb, Who leave the world's deceitful shore, And leave it to return no more.
Though tempest-toss'd and half a wreck, My Saviour through the floods I seek; Let neither winds nor stormy main Force back my shatter'd bark again.
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Prayer for Children

 Gracious Lord, our children see,
By Thy mercy we are free;
But shall these, alas! remain
Subjects still of Satan's reign?
Israel's young ones, when of old
Pharaoh threaten'd to withhold,
Then Thy messenger said, "No;
Let the children also go!"

When the angel of the Lord,
Drawing forth his dreadful sword,
Slew with an avenging hand,
All the first-born of the land;
Then Thy people's door he pass'd,
Where the bloody sign was placed:
Hear us, now, upon our knees,
Plead the blood of Christ for these!

Lord, we tremble, for we know
How the fierce malicious foe,
Wheeling round his watchful flight,
Keeps them ever in his sight:
Spread Thy pinions, King of kings!
Hide them safe beneath Thy wings;
Lest the ravenous bird of prey
Stoop and bear the brood away.
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Joy and Peace in Believing

 Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing on His wings;
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.
In holy contemplation We sweetly then pursue The theme of God's salvation, And find it ever new; Set free from present sorrow, We cheerfully can say, E'en let the unknown to-morrow Bring with it what it may! It can bring with it nothing, But He will bear us through; Who gives the lilies clothing, Will clothe His people too; Beneath the spreading heavens No creature but is fed; And He who feeds the ravens Will give His children bread.
Though vine nor fig tree neither Their wonted fruit shall bear, Though all the field should wither, Nor flocks nor herds be there: Yet God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice; For, while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.
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The Task: Book II The Time-Piece (excerpts)

 England, with all thy faults, I love thee still--
My country! and, while yet a nook is left
Where English minds and manners may be found,
Shall be constrain'd to love thee.
Though thy clime Be fickle, and thy year most part deform'd With dripping rains, or wither'd by a frost, I would not yet exchange thy sullen skies, And fields without a flow'r, for warmer France With all her vines; nor for Ausonia's groves Of golden fruitage, and her myrtle bow'rs.
To shake thy senate, and from heights sublime Of patriot eloquence to flash down fire Upon thy foes, was never meant my task: But I can feel thy fortunes, and partake Thy joys and sorrows, with as true a heart As any thund'rer there.
And I can feel Thy follies, too; and with a just disdain Frown at effeminates, whose very looks Reflect dishonour on the land I love.
How, in the name of soldiership and sense, Should England prosper, when such things, as smooth And tender as a girl, all essenc'd o'er With odours, and as profligate as sweet; Who sell their laurel for a myrtle wreath, And love when they should fight; when such as these Presume to lay their hand upon the ark Of her magnificent and awful cause? Time was when it was praise and boast enough In ev'ry clime, and travel where we might, That we were born her children.
Praise enough To fill th' ambition of a private man, That Chatham's language was his mother tongue, And Wolfe's great name compatriot with his own.
Farewell those honours, and farewell with them The hope of such hereafter! They have fall'n Each in his field of glory; one in arms, And one in council--Wolfe upon the lap Of smiling victory that moment won, And Chatham heart-sick of his country's shame! They made us many soldiers.
Chatham, still Consulting England's happiness at home, Secur'd it by an unforgiving frown If any wrong'd her.
Wolfe, where'er he fought, Put so much of his heart into his act, That his example had a magnet's force, And all were swift to follow whom all lov'd.
Those suns are set.
Oh, rise some other such! Or all that we have left is empty talk Of old achievements, and despair of new.
There is a pleasure in poetic pains Which only poets know.
The shifts and turns, Th' expedients and inventions multiform To which the mind resorts in chase of terms Thought apt, yet coy, and difficult to win, T' arrest the fleeting images that fill The mirror of the mind, and hold them fast, And force them sit, till he has pencill'd off A faithful likeness of the forms he views; Then to dispose his copies with such art That each may find its most propitious light, And shine by situation hardly less Than by the labour and the skill it cost, Are occupations of the poet's mind So pleasing, and that steal away the thought With such address from themes of sad import, That, lost in his own musings, happy man! He feels th' anxieties of life, denied Their wonted entertainment, all retire.
Such joys has he that sings.
But ah! not such, Or seldom such, the hearers of his song.
Fastidious, or else listless, or perhaps Aware of nothing arduous in a task They never undertook, they little note His dangers or escapes, and haply find Their least amusement where he found the most.
But is amusement all? Studious of song, And yet ambitious not to sing in vain, I would not trifle merely, though the world Be loudest in their praise who do no more.
Yet what can satire, whether grave or gay? It may correct a foible, may chastise The freaks of fashion, regulate the dress, Retrench a sword-blade, or displace a patch; But where are its sublimer trophies found? What vice has it subdu'd? whose heart reclaim'd By rigour, or whom laugh'd into reform? Alas! Leviathan is not so tam'd.
Laugh'd at, he laughs again; and, stricken hard, Turns to the stroke his adamantine scales, That fear no discipline of human hands.
The pulpit, therefore, (and I name it fill'd With solemn awe, that bids me well beware With what intent I touch that holy thing)-- The pulpit (when the satirist has at last, Strutting and vapouring in an empty school, Spent all his force, and made no proselyte)-- I say the pulpit (in the sober use Of its legitimate, peculiar pow'rs) Must stand acknowledg'd, while the world shall stand, The most important and effectual guard, Support, and ornament of Virtue's cause.