‘The Summit Gained. Behold The Proud Alcove Crowns It!’

Cowper's AlcoveHow do I get a nice snowy photo when it hasn’t snowed here this December? I take the photo in 2010 and I don’t tell you. Er, whoops…

Mr Cowper’s Task

William Cowper published his long poem The Task in 1785 and it’s seen as his greatest achievement. He was 54. But what has the poem to do with this odd looking building in these photos, over half a mile up a narrow lane from the little village of Weston Underwood?

This Grade 2 listedbuilding is known as Cowper’s Alcove and was constructed in 1753 as a folly in the grounds of Weston Park. The park is mostly farm land now. An avenue of Limes once led back towards the village and the old, now long demolished Weston House.

Cowper's Alcove in Weston ParkThis was taken from the lane to Cowper's Alcove. The lane runs along the Western edge of the old Weston Park.

Cowper (pronounced ‘Cooper’) would rest here on his walks when he lived in Olney a couple of miles away. When he moved to Weston Underwood in 1786 he continued his walks. Many of his most famous poems were written at the alcove, including The Task. See the photo below.

Cowper's The TaskAn appropriate piece of the poem is engraved on this stone (click to enlarge)

Here’s a couple of excerpts from The Task:

From Book 1, The Sofa.

“At length a generation more refined
Improved the simple plan, made three legs four,
Gave them a twisted form vermicular,
And o’er the seat, with plenteous wadding stuffed,
Induced a splendid cover green and blue,
Yellow and red, of tapestry richly wrought
And woven close, or needlework sublime.
There might ye see the peony spread wide,
The full-blown rose, the shepherd and his lass,
Lapdog and lambkin with black staring eyes,
And parrots with twin cherries in their beak.”

From Book 4, The Winter Evening.

“Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.”

Cowper's Alcove with fisheyePortrait of the photographer as a light stand. This photo was taken in 2013 with a fisheye lens which I hadn’t had very long, and I did not appreciate just how wide an angle it could take in. I hadn’t meant to be in the photo, but there I am, holding my flashgun...

I've also written about Cowper's Alcove, and Orchard Side, the house where Cowper lived in Olney, here. That's already up on my other blog, The North Bucks Wanderer.

Well that’s it. I found a nice snowy photo for you, so this is your Christmas post. Read the excerpt from book 4 again, it’s just right for this time of year. Stay warm, stay well and best wishes for the New Year.