To Sir Joshua Reynolds.

A poem by William Cowper

Dear President, whose art sublime
Gives perpetuity to time,
And bids transactions of a day,
That fleeting hours would waft away
To dark futurity, survive,
And in unfading beauty live,—
You cannot with a grace decline
A special mandate of the Nine—
Yourself, whatever task you choose,
So much indebted to the Muse.
Thus say the sisterhood:—We come—
Fix well your pallet on your thumb,
Prepare the pencil and the tints—
We come to furnish you with hints.
French disappointment, British glory,
Must be the subject of the story.
First strike a curve, a graceful bow,
Then slope it to a point below;
Your outline easy, airy, light,
Fill’d up becomes a paper kite.
Let independence, sanguine, horrid,
Blaze like a meteor in the forehead:
Beneath (but lay aside your graces)
Draw six-and-twenty rueful faces,
Each with a staring, stedfast eye,
Fix’d on his great and good ally.
France flies the kite—’tis on the wing—
Britannia’s lightning cuts the string.
The wind that raised it, ere it ceases,
Just rends it into thirteen pieces,
Takes charge of every fluttering sheet,
And lays them all at George’s feet.
Iberia, trembling from afar,
Renounces the confederate war.
Her efforts and her arts o’ercome,
France calls her shatter’d navies home,
Repenting Holland learns to mourn
The sacred treaties she has torn;
Astonishment and awe profound
Are stamp’d upon the nations round:
Without one friend, above all foes,
Britannia gives the world repose.

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