The Task, Book II, A Time-Piece [excerpt]
Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness, Some boundless contiguity of shade, Where rumour of oppression and deceit, Of unsuccessful or successful war, Might never reach me more! My ear is pained, My soul is sick with every day's report Of wrong and outrage with which earth is filled. There is no flesh in man's obdurate heart, It does not feel for man. The natural bond Of brotherhood is severed as the flax That falls asunder at the touch of fire. He finds his fellow guilty of a skin Not coloured like his own, and having power To enforce the wrong, for such a worthy cause Dooms and devotes him as his lawful prey. Lands intersected by a narrow frith Abhor each other. Mountains interposed Make enemies of nations, who had else Like kindred drops been mingled into one. Thus man devotes his brother, and destroys; And worse than all, and most to be deplored, As human nature's broadest, foulest blot, Chains him, and tasks him, and exacts his sweat With stripes, that mercy, with a bleeding heart, Weeps when she sees inflicted on a beast. Then what is man? And what man, seeing this, And having human feelings, does not blush And hang his head, to think himself a man? I would not have a slave to till my ground, To carry me, to fan me while I sleep, And tremble when I wake, for all the wealth That sinews bought and sold have ever earned. No: dear as freedom is, and in my heart's Just estimation prized above all price, I had much rather be myself the slave And wear the bonds, than fasten them on him. We have no slaves at home—then why abroad? And they themselves, once ferried o'er the wave That parts us, are emancipate and loosed. Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs Receive our air, that moment they are free, They touch our country and their shackles fall. That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then, And let it circulate through every vein Of all your empire; that where Britain's power Is felt, mankind may feel her mercy too.
From The Task (1785) by William Cowper. This poem is in the public domain.
The first child of Reverend John Cowper and Ann Donne Cowper, Willam
Date Published: 1785-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/task-book-ii-time-piece-excerpt