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Task

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TASK, The, a descriptive poem written William Cowper (q.v.) in the summer of 1783, and published two years later in a volume con taining also "An Epistle to Joseph Hill, Esq.,0 "Tirocinium,D and "John Gilpinx' (q.v.). It is in blank verse of excellent quality, though at times echoing Milton a bit too plainly, and it is distributed into six books, the aggregate number of lines being somewhat over 5,000. The metrical form and the theme with which he begins, °the sofa,x' are said to have been taken by the poet from Lady Austen, who also told him the story of "John Gilpin,)) and the title commemorates the fact that in 'writing he was obeying her injunction. The scenery, the descriptions of which have per haps done snore than anything else to make the poem a classic standing not far below the great elaborate poems of the language, is that of Olney, in Buckinghamshire, and the neigh boring Weston. "The Task') set the seal on Cowper's popularity with his own generation and that succeeding, and without it, despite the extraordinary and too little recognized ex cellence of his shorter pieces, notable in range and quality, he would perhaps not rank so high as a poet to-day, although it is to be feared that too many readers know his master Piece only through quotations, such as uGod made the country, and man made the town.* "Variety's the very spice of life," "the cups that cheer but not inebriate,o and the like, or else through selections such as the pathetic description of "Crazy Kate,x' or the patriotic "England, with all thy faults I love thee still,* or the picture of the postman outside in the winter evening, while all is domestic comfort within, or the poignant bit of autobiography that begins aI was a stricken deer)) That the desultory and somewhat spun out "Task)) with its longueurs, its exhibitions of intellectual narrowness and religious bigotry, its compara tive lack of high and sustained itnagination, should tempt to slcimming and even to tast ing by selections does not afford matter for surprise; yet the admirer of Cowper and the student of English poetry must contend that so to treat "The Task° is to stand in one's own light The ease and skill of the transi tions malce the very desultoriness of the poem an eschibition of art, Cowper at his narrowest is still perhaps the most urbane of our poets, the descriptions of scenery are scarcely equaled, as etchings in words, whether by Thomson or by Wordsworth, and, although there is little of the latter's philosophic insight into the heart of nature and into that of man, there is in compensation the absolutely sin cere expression of the observations, reflections and emotions of a sensitive poetic genius un spoiled by literary or social sophistication.

When in addition we think of Cowper's play ful humor, his feeling for domesticity, his hu manitarianism, his satiric power — witness the passage on the excise in the fourth hook— as exhibited in "The Task,D we are led to wonder whether our great-grandfathers in their hearty appreciation of the poem as a whole were not wiser than we are in our res ervations and in our glib phrases with regard to Cowper's services as a precursor of the Geor gian romantics.

WILLIAbi P. TRENT.