"The shifts and turns, / The expedients and inventions multiform / To which the mind resorts, in chase of terms / Though apt, yet coy, and difficult to win,-- / To arrest the fleeting images that fill / The mirror of the mind, and hold them fast, / And force them sit, till he has pencil'd off / A faithful likeness of the forms he views."
— Cowper, William (1731-1800)
Which only poets know. The shifts and turns,
The expedients and inventions multiform
To which the mind resorts, in chase of terms
Though apt, yet coy, and difficult to win,--
To arrest the fleeting images that fill
The mirror of the mind, and hold them fast,
And force them sit, till he has pencil'd off
A faithful likeness of the forms he views;
Then to dispose his copies with such art
That each may find its most propitious light,
And shine by situation, hardly less
Than by the labour and the skill it cost,
Are occupations of the poet's mind
So pleasing, and that steal away the thought
With such address, from themes of sad import,
That lost in his own musings, happy man!
He feels the anxieties of life, denied
Their wonted entertainment, all retire.
Such joys has he that sings. But ah! not such,
Or seldom such, the hearers of his song.
Fastidious, or else listless, or perhaps
Aware of nothing arduous in a task
They never undertook, they little note
His dangers or escapes, and haply find
There least amusement where he found the most.
But is amusement all? studious of song,
And yet ambitious not to sing in vain,
I would not trifle merely, though the world
Be loudest in their praise who do no more.
Yet what can satire, whether grave or gay?
It may correct a foible, may chastise
The freaks of fashion, regulate the dress,
Retrench a sword-blade, or displace a patch;
But where are its sublimer trophies found?
What vice has it subdued? whose heart reclaim'd
By rigour, or whom laugh'd into reform?
Alas! Leviathan is not so tamed.
Laugh'd at, he laughs again; and stricken hard,
Turns to the stroke his adamantine scales,
That fear no discipline of human hands.
(Bk. II, ll. 285-325, pp. 146-7)
See The Task, a Poem, in Six Books. By William Cowper (London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1785). <Link to ECCO>
Reading William Cowper, The Poems of William Cowper. 3 vols. ed. John D. Baird and Charles Ryskamp (Oxford: Oxford UP: 1980). Vol II.