Seat, William||Baker, Orville
M.A. (Master of Arts)
Department of English
Cowper; William; 1731-1800. Task
The eighteenth century poet, William Cowper, has stated that he despised imitation and that he had never imitated anyone in his writing of poetry, Gilbert Thomas, one of his biographers, states that "no writer ever borrowed less from literature." This statement Is a misleading generalization. The present study indicates that Cowper did, in fact, borrow from the Authorized Version of the Bible. In many instances, to read his poetry is to read a distillation of the Scriptures. This study, limited to Cowper's principal work, The Task, examines four areas of that poem in an effort to discover whether there is a significant similarity to the Authorized Version of the Bible. These areas are (1) quotations and paraphrases, (2) imagery and symbolism, (3) themes and doctrines, and (4) style and structure. Any one of these areas In itself does not constitute significant evidence of Bible influence in The Task. Together, however, they form a "Biblical syndrome" which gives conclusive evidence that Cowper is indebted to the King James Bible for much of The Task. The numerous references to God, to Bible persons, to Bible geographic areas, and to Bible occasions are evidence of Bible influence. Coupled with the repeated use of words such as faith, grace, heaven, judgment, shepherd, and blasphemy, these references become an even stronger indication of Biblical influence. The moat convincing evidence of Cowper's reliance upon the Bible in the language of The Task is the nearly one hundred quotations and paraphrases drawn from the Old and New Testaments. The imagery of The Task also is similar to Bible imagery. Cowper's images, in which God uses excesses of nature to voice his disapproval of man's excesses, are Biblical images. The tumultuous sea, raging storms, and gigantic earthquakes are symbols of judgment both in the Bible and in The Task: for instance, storms symbolize judgment, and worms symbolize depraved man. Many of the prominent doctrines of the Bible are delineated in The Task. The doctrine of Judgment seems to occupy the most prominent place. Other dominant doctrines are (1) the infallibility of the inspired Scriptures? (2} the holiness of God? (3) the depravity of man; (4) the redemption of fallen man through faith, by the mercy of God; (5) election and predestination; (6) free will; (7) the Christian way of life; and (8) the immortality of the soul. Finally, The Task contains stylistic devices found in the Bible. Biblical structure is seen in Cowper's use of contrasts; furthermore, many of Cowper's contrasts are found in the Bible. A second device imitated is the rhetorical question. Finally, Cowper's use of parallel structure is typical of Bible poetry. In The Task there is the same kind of synonymous, antithetical, and climactic parallelism that there is in the Psalms. The Authorized Version of the English Bible is everywhere in evidence in The Task: indeed, to remove the Bible language, images, doctrines, and structures would be to take the heart out of the poem. The Bible is an integral part of The Task.
Haught, Evelyn, "The Bible in William Cowper's The task" (1965). Graduate Research Theses & Dissertations. 5340.
vi, 94 pages
Northern Illinois University
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