1731–1800

Introduction

portrait

Born: No­vem­ber 26 (Ju­li­an & Wi­ki­pe­dia) or 15 (Can­ter­bu­ry Dic­tion­a­ry of Hym­no­lo­gy), 1731, Great Berk­hamp­stead, Hert­ford­shire, Eng­land.

Died: Ap­ril 25, 1800, East Dere­ham, Nor­folk, Eng­land.

Buried: St. Ni­cho­las church­yard, East Dere­ham, Nor­folk, Eng­land. Cow­per’s friend and hymn writ­ing par­tner John New­ton con­duc­ted the fun­er­al ser­vice.

portrait
portrait
© National Portrait Gallery

Biography

Cowper (pro­nounced Coo­per) was the son of Will­iam Cow­per (cha­plain to King George II) and Ann Donne.

He went through the mo­tions of be­com­ing an at­tor­ney, but ne­ver prac­ticed law.

He lived near Ol­ney, Buck­ing­ham­shire, the name­sake town of the Ol­ney Hymns, which he co-wrote with John New­ton, auth­or of Am­az­ing Grace. Cow­per al­so wrote po­et­ry, in­clud­ing The Ne­gro’s Com­plaint, an an­ti-slav­e­ry work, and the 5,000-line The Task.

Publications

Poems

A Visit to Cowper’s Grave

I went alone. ’Twas summer time;
And, standing there before the shrine
Of that illustrious bard,
I read his own familiar name,
And thought of his extensive fame,
And felt devotion’s sacred flame,
Which we do well to guard.

Far from the world, O Lord, I flee.
How sweet the words appeared to me,
Like voices in a dream!
The calm retreat, the silent shade
Describe the spot where he was laid,
And where surviving friendships paid
Their tribute of esteem.

There is a fountain. As I stood
I thought I saw the crimson flood,
And some beneath the wave;
I thought the stream still rolled along,
And that I saw the ransomed throng,
And that I heard the nobler song
Of Jesus’ power to save.

When darkness long has veiled my mind,
And from these words I felt inclined
In sympathy to weep;
But smiling day has dawned at last,
And all his sorrows now are past;
No tempter now, no midnight blast,
To spoil the poet’s sleep.

O for a closer—even so,
For we who journey here below
Have lived too far from God.
Oh, for that holy life I said,
Which Enoch, Noah, Cowper led!
Oh, for that purer light to shed
Its brightness on the road!

God moves in a mysterious way;
But now the poet seemed to say,
No mysteries remain.
On earth I was a sufferer,
In heaven I am a conqueror;
God is his own interpreter,
And he has made it plain.

An­on­y­mous

Cowper’s Grave

It is a place where poets crowned may feel the heart’s decaying;
It is a place where happy saints may weep amid their praying;
Yet let the grief and humbleness as low as silence can languish:
Earth surely now may give her calm to whom she gave her anguish.

O poets from a maniac’s tongue was poured the deathless singing!
O Christians, at your cross of hope a hopeless hand was clinging!
O men, this man in brotherhood your weary paths beguiling,
Groaned inly while he taught you peace, and died while ye were smiling!

And now, what time ye all may read through dimming tears his story,
How discord on the music fell and darkness on the glory,
And how when, one by one, sweet sounds zand wandering lights departed,
He wore no less a loving face because so broken-hearted.

With quiet sadness and no gloom, I learn to think upon him,
With meekness that is gratefulness to God whose Heaven hath won him,
Who suffered once the madness-cloud to His own love to blind him,
But gently led the blind along where breath and bird could find him.

And wrought within his shattered brain such quick poetic senses
As hills have language for, and stars, harmonious influences:
The pulse of dew upon the grass kept his within its number,
And silent shadows from the trees refreshed him like a slumber.

Wild timid hares were drawn from woods to share his home-caresses,
Uplooking to his human eyes with sylvan tendernesses,
The very world, by God’s constraining, from falsehood’s ways removing,
Its women and its men became, beside him, true and loving.

And though, in blindness, he remained unconscious of that guiding,
And things provided came without the sweet sense of providing,
He testified this solemn truth, while phrensy desolated—
Nor man nor nature satisfied whom only God created.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Sources

Lyrics

Translations

Help Needed

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