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THE TASK.

BOOK V.

THE

WINTER MORNING WALK.

'TIS morning; and the sun, with ruddy orb Ascending, fires the 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, tingeing all with his own rosy bue, From every herb and every 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; acd, as I bear approach The cottage, walk along the plaster'd wall, Preposterous 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, fledged with icy feathers, nod superb.
The cattle mourn in corners, where the fence
Screeps them, and seem half petrified to sleep
In unrecumbent sadness. There they wait
Their wonted fodder; not like hungering man,
Fretful if unsupplied; but sitent, meek,
And patient of the slow-paced swain's delay.
He from the stack carves out the 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 heedless care,
Lest storns should overset the leaning pile
Deciduous, or its own unbalanced weight.
Forth goes the woodman, leaving unconcern'd
The cheerful haunts of man; to wield the axe,
And drive the wedge, in yonder forest drear,
From morn to eve his solitary task,
Shaggy, and lean, and shrewd, with pointed ears,
And tail cropp'd short, half lurcher and half cur,
His dog attends him. Close behind his heel
Now creeps he slow; and now, with many a frisk
Wide-scampering, snatches up the drifted snow
With ivory teeth, or ploughs it with his spout;
Then shakes his powder'd coat, and barks for joy.
Heedless of all his pranks, the sturdy churl
Moves right toward the mark; nor stops for aught,
But now and then with pressure of his thumb
To adjust the fragrant charge of a short tube,
That fumes beneath his nose : the trailing cloud
Streams far behind him, scénting all the air.
Now from the roost, or from the neighbouring pale,
Where, diligent to catch the first faint gleam
Of smiling day, they gossipp'd side by side,
Come trooping at the housewife's well-known call
The feather'd tribes domestic. Ilalf oo wing,
And half on foot, they brush the fleecy flood,
Conscious and fearful of too deep a plunge,

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The sparrows peep, and quit the sheltering eaves,
To seize the fair occasion; well they eye
The scatter'd grain, and thievishly resolved
To escape the impending famine, often scared
As oft return, a pert voracious kind.
Clean riddance quickly made, one only care
Remains to each, the search of sunny nook,
Or shed impervious to the blast. Resign'd
To sad necessity, the cock foregoes
His wonted strut; and, wading at their head
With well-consider'd steps, seems to resent
His alter'd gait and stateliness retrench'd.
How find the myriads, that in summer cheer
The bills and valleys with their ceaseless songs,
Due sustenance, or where subsist they now?
Earth yields them naught; the imprison'd worm is

safe
Beneath the frozen clod; all seeds of herbs
Lie cover'd close; and berry-bearing thorns,
That feed the thrush, (whatever some suppose)
Afford the smaller minstrels po supply.
The long.protracted rigour of the year
Thins all their numerous flocks. In chinks and holes
Ten thousand seek an uninolested end,
As igstinct prompts; self-buried ere they die.
The very rooks and daws forsake the fields,
Where neither grub, nor root, nor earth-nut, now
Repays their labour more; and perch'd aloft
By the wayside, or stalking in the path,
Lean pensioners upon the traveller's track,
Pick

up their nauseous dole, though sweet to them, Of voided pulse or half-digested grain. The streams are lost amid the splendid blank, O'erwhelming all distinction. On the food, Indurated and fix'd, the snowy weight Lies undissolved; while silently beneath, And unperceived, the current steals away. Not so where, scornful of a check, it leaps The mill.dam, dashes on the restless wheel,

And wantons in the pebbly gulf below: No frost can bind it there ; its utmost force Can but arrest the light and smoky mist, That in its fall the liquid sheet throws wide. And see where it has hung tíe embroider'd banks With forms so various, that no powers of art, The pencil or the pen, may trace the scene! Here glittering turrets rise, upbearing high (Fantastic misarrangement!) on the roof Large growth of what may seem the sparkling trees And shrubs of fairy land. The crystal drops, That trickle down the branches, fast congeald, Shoot into pillars of pellucid length, And prop the pile they but adorn'd before. Here grotto within grotto safe defies The sunbeam; there, emboss'd and fretted wild, The growing wonder takes a thousand shapes Capricious, in which fancy seeks in vain The likeness of some object seen before. Thus Nature works as if to mock at Art, And in defiance of her rival powers; By these fortuitous and random strokes Performing such inimitable feats, As she with all her rules can never reach. Less worthy of applause, though more admired, Because a novelty, the work of man, Imperial mistress of the fur-clad Russ, Thy most magnificent and mighty freak, The wonder of the North. No forest fell, When thou wouldst build; no quarry sent its stores To enrich thy walls: but thou didst hew the floods, And make thy marble of the glassy wave, In such a palace Aristæus found Cyrene, when he bore the plaintive tale Of his lost bets to her maternal ear: lu such a palace Poetry might place The armory of Winter; where his troops, The gloomy clouds, find weapons, arrowy sleet, Skin-piercing volley, blossom bruising hail,

And snow, that often blinds the traveller's course,
And wraps him in an unexpected tomb.
Silently as a dream the fabric rose ;
No sound of hammer or of saw was there :
Ice upon ice, the well-adjusted parts
Were soon conjoin'd, nor other cement ask'd
Than water interfused to make them one.
Lamps gracefully disposed, and of all hues,
Illumined every side: a watery light
Gleam'd through the clear transparency, that seem'd
Another moon new risen, or meteor fallen
From Heaven to Earth, of lambeut flame serene.
So stood the brittle prodigy; though smooth
And slippery the materials, yet frost-bound
Firm as a rock. Nor wanted aught within,
That royal residence might well befit,
For grandeur or for use. Long wavy wreaths
Of flowers, that fear'd no enemy but warmth,
blush'd on the pannels. Mirror needed none
Where all was vitreous; but in order due
Convivial table and commodious seat
(What seem'd at least commodious seat) were there;
Sofa, and couch, aod high-built throne august.
The same lubricity was found in all,
And all was moist to the warm touch ; a scene
Of evanescent glory, once a stream,
And soon to slide into a stream again.
Alas! 'twas but a mortifying stroke
Of undesign'd severity, that glanced
(Made by a monarch) on her own estate,
On human grandeur and the courts of kings.
'Twas transient in its nature, as in show
'Twas durable; as worthless, as it seem'd
Intrinsically precious; to the foot
Treacherous and false ; it smiled, and it was cold.
Great princes have great playthings. Some have

play'd
At bewing mountains into men, and some
At building human wonders mountain-high.
Some have amused the dull, sad years of life,

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