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Retirement (excerpt)

It is comforting to find any author who is willing to name a spade a spade and, in this case, to state that mere novelty and celebrity are empty and hollow. Retirement was written more than 200 years ago. It has not aged.

Luxury gives the mind a childish cast,

And while she polishes, perverts the taste;

Habits of close attention, thinking heads,

Become more rare as dissipation spreads,

Till authors hear at length, one gen’ral cry,

Tickle and entertain us, or we die.

The loud demand, from year to year the same,

Beggars invention and makes fancy lame,

Till farce itself, most mournfully jejune,

Calls for the kind assistance of a tune;

And novels (witness ev’ry month’s review)

Belie their name, and offer nothing new.


Retirement, lines 703-714, by William Cowper

The changing of the seasons are seemingly predictable. And yet there is something akin to novelty in the wonder of spring and the reality of new life. Cowper stands with one fist raised at the idle rich (whom he knew all too well) who waited for amusement to jump into their lap and make life worth living. His other hand is gently stroking a dog or a hare, while his eyes are examining whether the pineapple will bloom.

Perhaps all good poets (or writers for that matter) must have the two: one fist raised in complaint and the other hand caressing that which is good. Have only the fist are you are too angry for anyone to hear you. Have only the gentle stroke and you are deemed out of touch with the world and no one will find you of interest. Cowper was capable of both.

A voice is heard that mortal ears hear not

Till thou hast touch’d them; ‘tis the voice of song -

A loud hosanna sent from all thy works;

Which he that hears it with a shout repeats,

And adds his rapture to the gen’ral praise.

In that blest moment Nature, throwing wide

Her veil opaque, discloses with a smile

The author of her beauties, who, retir’d

Behind his own creation, works unseen

By the impure, and hears his power denied.

Thou art the source and centre of all minds,

Their only point of rest, eternal Word!

From thee departing, they are lost, and rove

At random, without honour, hope, or peace.

From thee is all that sooths the life of man,

His high endeavour, and his glad success,

His strength to suffer, and his will to serve.

But oh thou bounteous giver of all good,

Thou art of all thy gifts thyself the crown!

Give what thou canst, without thee we are poor;

And with thee rich, take what thou wilt away.

The Winter Morning Walk, lines 886 - end

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