The Task is a 5,000-line volume in six parts. It represents William Cowper’s shift to using blank verse after having written couplets for many years. The first part, “The Sofa,” was his first attempt in that form, which he attempted at the encouragement of his friend Lady Austen.
This volume of 5,000 lines is divided into six parts: “The Sofa,” “The Time-Piece,” “The Garden,” “The Winter Evening,” “The Winter Morning Walk,” and “The Winter Walk at Noon.” The Task's success was immediate, launching a career and a reputation for the middle-aged poet.
In writing about a sofa, the poet speaks of comfort and self-indulgence as a less-than-admirable human trait. More generally, he reflects on enjoyment through such things as walking in nature and traveling. At the same time, he considers the serious responsibility of the poet to confront and expose the dark side of earthly existence, such as cruelty and poverty.
“The Time-Piece” is concerned with history and memory, including his reflections on important points in England’s past. The poem includes one of his most well-known lines: “England, with all thy faults, I love thee still.” While indulging in nostalgia, he desires that modern political reform stems from genuine Christian feeling.
The importance of nature is celebrated in “The Garden,” which also symbolizes the virtues of domesticity, tranquility, and rural life. He also speaks of the value of a contemplative life away from society, as a deer away from the herd; this experience also brought him to a greater appreciation of family and true affection.
His ideas about living within, but apart from, the world also appear in “The Winter Evening.” The speaker cautions against the excesses of urban life, such as indulging in fashion and frivolity. While not avoiding news of serious events, one should not underestimate the simple pleasures.
A singular example of such a pleasure is “The Winter Morning Walk.” While out and about on a winter day, the speaker reflects on the invigorating effects of the harsh, cold environment. His appreciation focuses on the dormancy in winter that nourishes optimism for spring’s renewal. The poem includes a political and moral aspect, as he criticizes tyranny and slavery and praises the liberty that man finds for himself through God.
This poem's counterpart is “The Winter Walk at Noon.” The speaker looks back on his life, comparing it to a winter landscape. The anticipation of spring emerges stronger here. He expresses his views about the poet’s calling in expressing the truths that come always from God.