The Task "Indolent Vacuity Of Thought"

Denise Levertov

"Indolent Vacuity Of Thought"

Context: Writing at the urging of a friend, Lady Austen, to uphold the superiority of "rural ease and leisure" over London life, for people who sought to live in virtue, Cowper was the first eighteenth century poet to relish country life for its own sake. Being a highly moral person, he abhorred the many opportunities for lapses from virtue in a big city, but in addition, the poet loved the country, its landscape, its activities, and, here, its moments for relaxation. This highly autobiographical work foreshadows the kind of poetry Wordsworth was to write. It is Cowper's greatest poem. Written in blank verse, and containing many digressions, it commences in Book I, called "The Sofa," to trace the history of a place to sit, from the early stool to a luxurious sofa. Then come Book II, "The Time Piece," Book III, "The Garden," and Book IV, "The Winter Evening." Following the arrival of the post, and the reading of the newspaper, comes dinner and later relaxation before a fire in the mirrored drawing room. This pleasure can happen only during "Winter, ruler of the inverted year." Staring at the imaginary pictures in the fireplace, the poet wonders, whenever thoughts enter his lazy, inactive brain, whether there are people "that never felt a stupor, know no pause, nor need one." He sees:

Trees, churches, and strange visages expressed
In the red cinders, while with poring eye
I gazed, myself creating what I saw.
Not less amused have I quiescent watched
The sooty films that play upon the bars,
. . .
'T is thus the understanding takes repose
In indolent vacuity of thought
And sleeps, and is refreshed. . . .