WHEN a bar of pure silver or ingot of gold
Is sent to be flatted or wrought into length,
It is pass'd between cylinders often, and roll'd
In an engine of utmost mechanical strength.
Thus tortured and squeezed, at last it appears
Like a loose heap of ribbon, a glittering show,
Like music it tinkles and rings in your ears,
And warm'd by the pressure is all in a glow.
This process achiev'd, it is doom'd to sustain
The thump-after-thump of a gold-beater's mallet,
And at last is of service in sickness or pain
To cover a pill from a delicate palate.
Alas for the Poet, who dares undertake
To urge reformation of national ill!
His head and his heart are both likely to ache
With the double employment of mallet and mill.
If he wish to instruct, he must learn to delight,
Smooth, ductile, and even, his fancy must flow,
Must tinkle and glitter like gold to the sight,
And catch in its progress a sensible glow.
After all he must beat it as thin and as fine
As the leaf that enfolds what an invalid swallows,
For truth is unwelcome, however divine,
And unless you adorn it, a nausea follows.
William Cowper (1731 – 1800)
Today is the birthday of one of my favorite poets, Ted Kooser, whose works I've featured here frequently. Frequently enough, in fact, that I decided to go in another direction. Perusing Wikipedia, I noticed that April 25 was also the day William Cowper died. I recently started reading (well, listening to) Sense and Sensibility, and I recalled that Cowper was a poet whose work frequently almost drove Marianne Dashwood wild*. Please be advised that if you read this poem with calmness and indifference, Marianne will find you wanting.
Please be further advised that Cowper is pronounced "Cooper." I mention this just in case you ever are involved in the recording of an audio version Sense and Sensibility. I know one person who was not so advised.
* Chapter 3