"The Busy Trifler"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: William Cowper, frequently suffering from a sense of wrong-doing and several times confined in an insane asylum for religious mania, remonstrates in 734 lines with his country for her ungodly ways. "Why weeps the Muse for England?" he queries in his opening line. Everything looks attractive and successful in the land, yet things are wrong. He reminds his readers that, before its downfall, prophets wept for Israel even when it seemed favored by God. And he goes still farther into antiquity to Assyria, called upon to repent, then to Greece and Rome, whose glories faded. At the conclusion, he calls on his country to take stock of itself and not be over-proud or seek comfort in the feeling that other nations are just as guilty of wrong-doing. God, not man, is responsible for the present blessings of the world. Man is only a busy trifler, making much ado about nothing. The poet uses a similar phrase, "important trifler," in Conversations (line 250).

Know, then, that heavenly wisdom on this ball
Creates, gives birth to, guides, comsummates all;
That, while laborious and quick-thoughted man
Snuffs up the praise of what he seems to plan,
He first conceives, then perfects his design,
As a mere instrument in hands divine:
Blind to the workings of that secret power,
That balances the wings of every hour,
The busy trifler dreams himself alone,
Frames many a purpose, and God works his own.