William Cowper: The Task

(1916 words)
  • Joseph Musser (Ohio Wesleyan University)

The Task, William Cowper’s masterpiece, was first published in 1785, and quickly became the most popular poem of the late eighteenth century. Cowper had begun writing the poem in October 1783 when, according to his prefatory “Advertisement”, “A lady [Lady Ann Austen], fond of blank verse, demanded a poem of that kind from the author, and gave him the Sofa for a subject”. The opening line proclaims, “I sing the Sofa”. But the poem soon expands in scope and subject matter far beyond that beginning, to embrace, as Vincent Newey suggests, “practically the entire spectrum of contemporary English life” (Cowper’s Poetry 93).

The subject of the poem is really Cowper himself, and The Task often h…

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Musser, Joseph. "The Task". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 12 January 2005
[http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=7888, accessed 27 September 2016.]