did in other poems contained in his six-volume collection The Task, William Cowper expressed his appreciation of the quotidian, or the everyday aspects of our lives, in "A Landscape. Rural Sound." It appeared in Book 1, offering readers a glimpse into not only Cowp-er's geographical environment, but also his personal environment. He begins his 60 unrhymed lines by addressing his lifelong companion, Mary Unwin, and, by extension, his audience, when he begins,
Thou knowest my praise of nature most sincere, And that my raptures are not conjured up To serve occasions of poetic pomp, but genuine, and art partner of them all.
This seemingly simple statement reveals much of Cow-per the poet. Readers understand that he is a nature poet but has no grandiose design to achieve his goal of praise of his physical surroundings. He prefers simple language, not that suitable for grand occasions, such as for the praise of monarchy or celebration of a holiday. However, because he labels his poems his raptures, they are brimming with emotion, emotion that is real. He next allows readers to continue eavesdropping on him as he chats with Mary by noting that they have often "slackened to a pause" in their stroll in order best to observe a favorite "eminence." At such times, they
. . . have borne. The ruffling wind, scarce conscious that it blew, While admiration, feeding at the eye, And still unsated, dwelt upon the scene.
Cowper adopts figurative language (figure of speech), using a technique known as synesthesia, in which one sense perception is used to describe another, in "feeding at the eye / And still unsated." Here he suggests taste in the act of feeding, yet the eye is "fed" through vision. Cowper and Mary gorge on the scenery, unable to be satisfied, such is its visual attraction. However, when he informs readers what they observed with such pleasure, it is nothing more than
The distant plow slow moving, and beside
His laboring team, that swerved not from the track,
The sturdy swain diminished to a boy!
Poetic skill guides Cowper's juxtaposition of the terms plow and slow, creating an eye rhyme, in which two words look as if they would rhyme but do not. In addition, Cowper inserts alliteration, as he often does, in the pairing "sturdy swain," scattering additional s sounds throughout those lines. Finally, he alludes to the most delightful aspect of the view based upon perspective, a term important to painting, allowing him to reflect on nature as natural art.
The next lines note the presence of the river Ouse, on which his village is located, noting that it "Conducts the eye along its sinuous course / Delighted." His use of enjambment, followed by the caesura invoked by his insertion of punctuation after the term Delighted that brings the reader to a full stop, emphasizes pointedly human response to natural phenomena. Further description praises the "sloping land," the "hedgerow beauties," "groves," and "heaths," interspersed among which one may note a "Tall spire, from which the sound of cheerful bells / Just undulates upon the listening ear" and "smoking villages." He praises such sights daily over the years, as their "novelty survives" even a poet's "scrutiny."
Cowper then begins praise not of "rural sights alone, but rural sounds," as they also "Exhilarate the spirit, and restore / The tone of languid Nature." Winds carry music to a "far-spreading wood / of ancient growth," which the poet compares to music made by "The dash of ocean on his winding shore." As he does in "The Winter Evening: A Brown Study," he then observes that they act to "lull the spirit while they fill the mind," nature serving a dual purpose. He also enjoys "leaves fast fluttering," although his alliteration prevents the line's rapid reading, and "the roar / of distant floods," as well as "the softer voice / Of neighboring fountain, or of rills that slip / Through the cleft rock, and, chiming
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as they fall / upon loose pebbles, lose themselves at length / in matted grass." Cowper references rural sounds then recreates them with the use of sound imagery as well as through his word choice, for example, in the close proximity of the terms loose and lose.
Cowper goes on to consider the creatures in nature, introducing them with another nicely turned phrase that uses repetition of sound and words, while inverting the word order: "nature inanimate employs sweet sounds, / But animated nature sweeter still." That sweetness includes "The thousand warblers," which "Nice-fingered art must emulate in vain," as well as "cawing rooks, and kites that swim sublime," "The jay, the pie, and even the boding owl / That hails the rising moon." All charm the poet, despite the seeming contradiction on which he concludes his poem:
Sounds inharmonious in themselves and harsh,
Yet heard in scenes where peace forever reigns,
And only there, please highly for their sake.
One might say the same of Cowper's efforts, which "please highly for their" own poetic "sake."
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