‘The cups that cheer but not inebriate’ would be one of the best lines extolling the virtues of TEA. During my college days I was never a great fan of William Cowper, even though later in life I have often borrowed his phrase many a time to caption my photos of steaming cups of tea. Some of our tastes and views change as we grow old and I have been reading Cowper, who was known as the forerunner of Romantic Poetry. Considered as one of those pioneers who started writing about simple everyday life of the English countryside, Cowper’s poems would have been a breath of fresh air after the reign of metaphysical and cavalier poems.
On a cold February morning, I met this stout, confident, nonchalant woman in a flower and vegetable market in Jaipur, Rajasthan sipping her cup of tea after unloading a heavy sack of vegetables from her head. Though at first she looked a little intimidating , she gave a broad smile after enjoying her tea and started conversing with us.
Here are those famous lines from Cowper’s The Task Book IV, written in Blank Verse. Lines that bring warmth and a smile! It is said that the phrase The cup that cheers but not inebriates was much quoted during the 19th century Temperance Movement against the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
“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
Throw up a steamy column and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each
So let us welcome peaceful ev’ning in”