I sing the Sofa. I, who lately sang
Truth, Hope, and Charity, and touched with awe
The solemn chords, and with a trembling hand,
Escaped with pain from that advent'rous flight,
Now seek repose upon a humbler theme
Such a thing might have been, or at least seemed, a piffle -- but despite this opening, Cowper soon turns his verse to more solemn themes: the bounty of nature, the pleasures of the contemplative life, and the true nature of faith. Indeed, as the then-eminent critic Goldwin Smith put it, "As Paradise Lost is to militant Puritanism, so is The Task to the religious movement of its author's time."
The Scots poet Robert Burns was said to have always carried a copy in his pocket; Jane Austen was another fan, and quoted or paraphrased on many occasions in her novels. In many ways, as with Gray's Elegy (our next reading), The Task foreshadows the Romantic movement; in the graveyards and ruins of human endeavor, moss creeps upon the stone, trees bend and shadow, and sweet birds sing, evoking a vision of nature as somehow beyond or even superior to all the supposedly enlightened, civilized world.