Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings
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Hopes's Triumph

an extract from "Hope" by William Cowper

Throughout mankind, the Christian kind at least,
There dwells a consciousness in ev'ry breast,
That folly ends where genuine hope begins,
And he that finds his heav'n must lose his sins.
Nature opposes, with her utmost force,
This riving stroke, this ultimate divorce;
And, while religion seems to be her view,
Hates with a deep sincerity the true:
For this-of all that ever influenc'd man,
Since Abel worshipp'd, or the world began-
This only spares no lust; admits no plea;
But makes him, if at all, completely free;
Sounds forth the signal, as she mounts her car
Of an eternal, universal war;
Rejects all treaty; penetrates all wiles;
Scorns with the same indiff'rence frowns and smiles;
Drives through the realms of sin, where riot reels,
And grinds his crown beneath her burning wheels!
Hence all that is in man-pride, passion, art,
Pow'rs of the mind, and feelings of the heart-
Insensible of Truth's almighty charms,
Starts at her first approach, and sounds, To arms!
While bigotry, with well-dissembled fears,
His eyes shut fast, his fingers in his ears,
Mighty to parry and push by God's word
With senseless noise, his argument the sword,
Pretends a zeal for godliness and grace,
And spits abhorrence in the Christian's face.

Parent of Hope, immortal Truth! make known
Thy deathless wreaths and triumphs, all thine own:
The silent progress of thy pow'r is such,
Thy means so feeble, and despis'd so much,
That few believe the wonders thou hast wrought,
And none can teach them but whom thou hast taught.
Oh, see me sworn to serve thee, and command
A painter's skill into a poet's hand!
That, while I, trembling, trace a work divine,
Fancy may stand aloof from the design,
And light, and shade, and ev'ry stroke, be thine.

If ever thou hast felt another's pain,
If ever when he sigh'd hast sigh'd again,
If ever on thine eye-lid stood the tear
That pity had engender'd, drop one here!
This man was happy-had the world's good word,
And with it ev'ry joy it can afford;
Friendship and love seem'd tenderly at strife,
Which most should sweeten his untroubled Life;
Politely learn'd and of a gentle race,
Good-breeding and good sense gave all a grace,
And, whether at the toilette of the fair
He laugh'd and trifled, made him welcome there,
Or, if in masculine debate he shar'd,
Ensur'd him mute attention and regard.
Alas, how chang'd!-Expressive of his mind,
His eyes are sunk, arms folded, head reclin'd;
Those awful syllables, hell, death, and sin,
Though whisper'd, plainly tell what works within;
That conscience there performs her proper part,
And writes a doomsday sentence on his heart!
Forsaking, and forsaken of all friends,
He now perceives where earthly pleasure ends;
Hard task-for one who lately knew no care,
And harder still, as learnt beneath despair!
His hours no longer pass unmark'd away,
A dark importance saddens every day;
He hears the notice of the clock, perplex'd,
And cries-perhaps eternity strikes next!
Sweet music is no longer music here,
And laughter sounds like madness in his ear:
His grief the world of all her pow'r disarms;
Wine has no taste, and beauty has no charms:
God's holy word, once trivial in his view,
Now by the voice of his experience true,
Seems, as it is, the fountain whence alone
Must spring that hope he pants to make his own.
     Now let the bright reverse be known abroad;
Say man's a worm, and pow'r belongs to God.

As when a felon, whom his country's laws
Have justly doom'd for some atrocious cause,
Expects, in darkness and heart-chilling fears,
The shameful close of all his mispent years;
If chance, on heavy pinions slowly born,
A tempest usher in the dreaded morn,
Upon his dungeon walls the lightning play,
The thunder seems to summon him away,
The warder at the door his key applies,
Shoots back the bolt, and all his courage dies:
If then, just then, all thoughts of mercy lost,
When hope, long ling'ring, at last yields the ghost,
The sound of pardon pierce his startled ear,
He drops at once his fetters and his fear;
A transport glows in all he looks and speaks,
And the first thankful tears bedew his cheeks.
Joy, far superior joy, that much outweighs
The comfort of a few poor added days,
Invades. possesses, and o'erwhelms the soul
Of him, whom hope has with a touch made whole.
'Tis heav'n, all heav'n, descending on the wings
Of the glad legions of the King of kings;
'Tis more-'tis God diffus'd through ev'ry part
'Tis God himself triumphant in his heart!
Oh, welcome now the sun's once hated light,
His noon-day beams were never half so bright.
Not kindred minds alone are call'd t' employ
Their hours, their days! in list'ning to his joy;
Unconscious nature, all that he surveys
Rocks, groves, and streams, must join him in his praise.

These are thy glorious works, eternal Truth,
The scoff of wither'd age and beardless youth;
These move the censure and illib'ral grin
Of fools that hate thee and delight in sin:
But these shall last when night has quench'd the pole,
And heav'n is all departed as a scroll:
And when, as justice has long since decreed,
This earth shall blaze, and a new world succeed,
Then these thy glorious works, and they who share
That hope which can alone exclude despair,
Shall live exempt from weakness and decay,
The brightest wonders of an endless day.

Happy the bard (if that fair name belong
To him that blends no fable with his song)
Whose lines, uniting, by an honest art,
The faithful monitor's and poet's part,
Seek to delight, that they may mend mankind,
And, while they captivate, inform the mind:
Still happier, if he till a thankful soil,
And Fruit reward his honourable toil:
But happier far, who comfort those that wait
To hear plain truth at Judah's hallow'd gate.
Their language simple, as their manners meek,
No shining ornaments have they to seek;
Nor labour they, nor time, nor talents, waste,
In sorting flow'rs to suit a fickle taste;
But, while they speak the wisdom of the skies,
Which art can only darken and disguise,
Th' abundant harvest, recompense divine,
Repays their work-the gleaning only mine.

Index to the Poems of William Cowper

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