Sunday, January 23, 2011

Still Water in William Cowper's "The Task and Other Poems"

What mystery draws me forth to the becoming which is my task?  Idle searching this morning has led me blind and deaf to this evocation of life's purpose from William Cowper's The Task and Other Poems.

How various his employments, whom the world
  Calls idle, and who justly in return
  Esteems that busy world an idler, too!
  Friends, books, a garden, and perhaps his pen,
  Delightful industry enjoyed at home,
  And nature in her cultivated trim
  Dressed to his taste, inviting him abroad—
  Can he want occupation who has these?
  Will he be idle who has much to enjoy?
  Me, therefore, studious of laborious ease,
  Not slothful; happy to deceive the time,
  Not waste it; and aware that human life
  Is but a loan to be repaid with use,
  When He shall call His debtors to account,
  From whom are all our blessings; business finds
  Even here: while sedulous I seek to improve,
  At least neglect not, or leave unemployed,
  The mind He gave me; driving it, though slack
  Too oft, and much impeded in its work
  By causes not to be divulged in vain,
  To its just point—the service of mankind.
  He that attends to his interior self,
  That has a heart and keeps it; has a mind
  That hungers and supplies it; and who seeks
  A social, not a dissipated life,
  Has business; feels himself engaged to achieve
  No unimportant, though a silent task.
  A life all turbulence and noise may seem,
  To him that leads it, wise and to be praised;
  But wisdom is a pearl with most success
  Sought in still water, and beneath clear skies.
  He that is ever occupied in storms,
  Or dives not for it or brings up instead,
  Vainly industrious, a disgraceful prize.

And the mystery, like a fog, is pierced by a teasing glimpse and the call of that still small voice.