William Cowper's The Task: 'The growing seeds of wisdom'

Course Dates: 26/04/23 - 05/07/23
Time: 14:30 - 16:30
Location: Online
William Cowper’s THE TASK (1785) is the great forgotten epic of English poetry. A blank verse meditative poem, it was immediately immensely popular. Both Wordsworth and Jane Austen refer to Cowper approvingly, while Coleridge plagiarised The Task in ‘Frost at Midnight’. Cowper offers both trenchant and subtle reflections on worldly success as against inward authenticity and integrity, while evoking the healing powers of nature and pleading for kindness towards all creatures.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Full fee £219.00 Senior fee £175.00 Concession £142.00

This course has now started

Course Code: HLT18

Started Wed, day, 26 Apr - 05 Jul '23

Duration: 10 sessions (over 11 weeks)

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

This online literature course will present all six books of Cowper’s poem in their entirety, carefully edited to facilitate reading and discussion. The poem’s context and sources, and its influence upon subsequent poetry, will be clarified. Above all, we shall enjoy the unique flavour of Cowper’s verse, its distinctive combination of intense feeling for the natural world with equally powerful satirical diatribes against the vanity, selfishness and spiritual vacuity that he saw possessing so many of his contemporaries.

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

Please see the description above. Although the initial stimulus for the poem was famously absurd, Cowper’s apparently effortless reflective manner enables him to address fundamental existential questions while simultaneously offering an intimate portrait of externally unambitious rural life in the late eighteenth-century. Tracing the means by which he achieves this marriage of (supposed) opposites will be one of the principal rewards of this innovatory course.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

1.Demonstrate understanding of Cowper’s intentions and achievement in composing The Task.
2. Appreciate the particular qualities of Cowper’s contribution to the tradition of reflective blank verse poetry.
3. Identify how Cowper’s life and circumstances influenced his most ambitious poem.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

No particular prior knowledge will be assumed, but you will be motivated by the prospect of reading and discussing The Task in its entirety. You will be willing and able to read sections of the poem in advance of each class. You will be interested in listening to – and learning from – the responses of other students to the poem, and in developing your analytical skills.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

Teacher explanation; group discussion.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

You will be provided with edited, illustrated handouts week by week. However, in order to gain the most from the course, you will also need to have a good edition to hand. The Longman Annotated Texts edition, The Task and Selected Other Poems, edited by James Sambrook, is the most accessible and is well annotated.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Look for other poetry courses at www.citylit.ac.uk under History, Culture and Writing/Literature/Poetry.

Peter Brennan

Peter Brennan is a poet, and was for many years Head of English at The Latymer School, Edmonton. He founded Visionary Company courses in 2005, and is Editor-in-Chief of Perdika Press.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.