The Task "The First Smith Was The First Murderer's Son"

Denise Levertov

"The First Smith Was The First Murderer's Son"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Cowper's descriptions of nature in Miltonian blank verse with their re-creation of the sights and sounds of the country anticipated what was later to be called Romanticism. This poem became immediately popular, as did his technique. He used the same meter later in his translations of Homer (1791). Shortly afterward his old melancholia, for which he had several times spent periods in insane asylums, came upon him, and he wrote very little from then until his death. A frosty morning entices the poet to take a walk. He wonders where the song birds have gone, and whether the earthworm is safe under the cold sod. The sight of a frozen water fall recalls to him the Ice Palace of the Russian Empress, Catherine the Great, who ruled from 1762 to 1796. He thinks of her amusements, including war. That reminds him of "the first artificer of death," Tubal-cain, six generations after Cain, who killed his brother. The Bible refers to Tubal-cain as "the forger of every cutting instrument of brass and iron." (Genesis 4:22) Vulcan was the Roman fire god and blacksmith. A falchion is a curved, medieval broadsword.

Cain had already shed a brother's blood;
The Deluge washed it out, but left unquenched
The seeds of murder in the breast of man.
Soon, by a righteous judgment, in the line
Of his descending progeny was found
The first artificer of death: the shrewd
Contriver who first sweated at the forge,
And forced the blunt and yet unbloodied steel
To a keen edge, and made it bright for war.
Him, Tubal named, the Vulcan of old Times
The sword and falchion their inventor claim,
And the first smith was the first murd'rer's son.