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THE TASK.

BOOK II.

THE TIME-PIECE.

O 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 T'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.

Sure there is need of social intercourse, Benevolence, and peace, and mutual aid, Between the nations in a world, that seems To toll the death bell of its own decease,

And by the voice of all its elements
To preach the general doom.* When were the winds
Let slip with such a warrant to destroy ?
When did the waves so haughtily o’erleap
Their ancient barriers, deluging the dry ?
Fires from beneath, and meteorst from above,
Portentous, unexampled, unexplained,
Have kindled beacons in the skies ; and th' old
And crazy earth has had her shaking fits
More frequent, and foregone her usual rest.
Is it a time to wrangle, when the props
And pillars of our planet seem to fail,
And Natures with a dim and sickly eye
To wait the close of all ? But grant her end
More distant, and that prophecy demands
A longer respite, unaccomplished yet ;
Still they are frowning signals, and bespeak
Displeasure in his breast, who smites the Earth
Or heals it, makes it languish or rejoice.
And 'tis but seemly, that, where all deserve
And stand exposed by common peccancy
To what no few have felt, there should be peace,
And brethren in calamity should love.

Alas for Sicily! rude fragments now
Lie scattered, where the shapely column stood.
Her palaces are dust. In all her streets
The voice of singing and the sprightly chord

* Alluding to the calamities in Jamaica. † August 18, 1783.

| Alluding to the fog, that covered both Europe and Asia diring the wnole summer of 1783.

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Are silent. Revelry, and dance, and show;
Suffer a syncope and solemn pause ;
While God performs upon the trembling stage
Of his own works his dreadful part alone.
How does the Earth receive him ?--with what signs
Of gratulation and delight her king?
Pours she not all her choicest fruits abroad,
Her sweetest flowers, her aromatic gums,
Disclosing Paradise where'er he treads ?
She quakes at his approach. Her hollow womb,
Conceiving thunders, through a thousand deeps
And fiery caverns, roars beneath his foot.
The hills move lightly, and the mountains smoke,
For he has touched them. From the extremest point
Of elevation down into the abyss
His wrath is busy, and his frown is felt.
The rocks fall headlong, and the valleys rise,
The rivers die into offensive pools,
And charged with putrid verdure, breathe a gross
And mortal nuisance into all the air.
What solid was, by transformation strange,
Grows fluid; and the fixed and rooted earth,
Tormented into billows, heaves and swells,
Or with vortiginous and hideous whirl
Sucks down its prey insatiable. Immense
The tumult and the overthrow, the pangs
And agonies of human and of brute
Multitudes, fugitive on every side,
And fugitive in vain. The sylvan scene
Migrates uplifted; and, with all its soil
Alighting in far distant fields, finds out

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A new possessor, and survives the change. Ocean has caught the frenzy, and, upwrought To an enormous and o'erbearing height. Not by a mighty wind, but by that voice, Which winds and waves obey, invades the shore Resistless. Never such a sudden flood, Upridged so high, and sent on such a charge, Possessed an inland scene. Where now the throng, That pressed the beach, and, hasty to depart, Looked to the sea for safety? They are gone, Gone with the refluent wave into the deepA prince with half his people: Ancient towers, And roofs embattled high, the gloomy scenes, Where beauty oft and lettered worth consume Life in the unproductive shades of death, Fall prone: the pale inhabitants come forth, And, happy in their unforeseen release From all the rigours of restraint, enjoy The terrors of the day, that sets them free. Who then, that has thee, would not hold thee fast, Freedom ? whom they that lose thee so regret, That e'en a judgment, making way for thee, Seems in their eyes a mercy for thy sake ?

Such evils Sin hath wrought; and such a flame Kindled in Heaven, that it burns down to Earth, And in the furious inquest, that it makes On God's behalf, lays waste his fairest works. The very elements, though each be meant The minister of man, to serve his wants, Conspire against him. With his breath he draws A plague into his blood; and cannot use

VOL. IL

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