William Cowper


[Written Dec. 20, 1781.  Published by Johnson, 1815. There is a
copy among the Ash MSS.]

WHEN a bar of pure silver or ingot of gold
     Is sent to be flatted or wrought into length,
It is pass'd between cylinders often, and roll'd
     In an engine of utmost mechanical strength.

Thus tortur'd and squeezed, at last it appears,
     Like a loose heap of ribbon, a glittering show,
Like music it tinkles and rings in your ears,
     And warm'd by the pressure is all in a glow.

This process achiev'd, it is doom'd to sustain
     The thump after thump of a gold-beater's mallet,
And at last is of service in sickness or pain
     To cover a pill from a delicate palate.

Alas for the poet! who dares undertake
     To urge reformation of national ill,
His head and his heart are both likely to ache
     With the double employment of mallet and mill.

If he wish to instruct, he must learn to delight,
     Smooth, ductile, and even, his fancy must flow,
Must tinkle and glitter, like gold to the sight,
     And catch in its progress a sensible glow.

After all, he must beat it as thin and as fine
     As the leaf that enfolds what an invalid swallows,
For truth is unwelcome, however divine,
     And unless you adorn it, a nausea follows.




The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper.
H. S. Milford, ed.
London: Henry Frowde, 1905. 337-8.


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