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THE TA S K.

BOOK IV.

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 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 tranquillity 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?
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 asham’d and griev'd
T'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;

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The dearth of information and good sense
That it foretells us always comes to pass.
Cat'racts 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, Heav'n, earth, and ocean, plunder'd of their sweets, Nectareous essences, Olympian dews, Sermons, and city feasts, and fav’rite airs, Æthereal journies, submarine exploits, And Katterfelto, with his hair on end At his own wonders, wond'ring for his bread.

'Tis pleasant through the loop-holes of retreat peep at such a world; to see the stir

To

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