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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, 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,
Prorokes 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 hungʻring man,
Fretful if unsupplied; but silent, meek,
And patient of the slow-pac'd 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 storms should overset the leaning pile
Deciduous, or its own unbalanc'd 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-scamp’ring, snatches up the drifted snow
With iv'ry teeth, or ploughs it with his snout ;

Then shakes his powder'd coat, and barks for joy.
Heedless of all his pranks, the sturdy churl
Muves 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, scenting all the air.
Now from the roost, or from the neighb’ring pale,
Where, diligent to catch the first faint gleam
Of smiling day, they gossip'd side by side,
Come trooping at the housewife's well-known call
The feather'd tribes domestic. Half on wing,
And half on foot, they brush the fleecy flood,
Conscious and fearful of too deep a plunge.
The sparrows peep, and quit the shelt'ring eaves,
To seize the fair occasion ; well they eye
The scatter'd grain, and thievishly resolv'd
To' escape the impending famine, often scar'd
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'l
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 hills and valleys with their ceaseless songs,
Due sustenance, or where subsist they now?
Earth yields them nought; 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 thrash, (whatever some suppose)
Afford the smaller minstrels no supply.
The long protracted rigour of the year,
Thins all their num’rous flocks. In chinks and

holes Ten thousand seek an unmolested end, As instinct prompts; self.buried ere they die.

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The very looks 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 travöller'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 flood,
Indurated and fix'd, the snowy weight
Lies undissolv'd; while silently beneath,
And unperceiv'd, the current steals away.
Not so where, scornful of a check, it leaps
The milldam, dashes on the restless wbeel,
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 the embroider'd banks
With forms so various, that no pow'rs 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,

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And in defiance of her rival pow'rs ;
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 admir'it,
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 bees to her maternal ear:
In such a palace Poetry might place
The armory of Winter; where his troops,
The gloomy clouds, find weapons, arrow sleet,
Skin-piercing volley, blossom-bruising hail,
And snow, that often blinds the trav’ller'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 interfus'd to make them one.
Lamps gracefully dispos'd, and of all hues,
Illumin'd ev'ry side: a wat’ry light
Gleam'd through the clear transparency,that seem'd
Another moon new ris'n, or meteor fallin
From Heav'n to Earth, of lambent flame serene.
So stood the brittle prodigy; though smooth
And slipp’ry the materials, yet frostbound
Firm as a rock. Nor wanted aught within,
Vol. XXXVII.

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