For those who enjoyed The Life of William Cowper, this journal continues an appreciation of this Christian poet. View the blog index here.


The Charm of Culture without Censure

Religion does not censure or exclude

Unnumber'd pleasures harmlessly pursu'd;

To study culture, and with artful toil

To meliorate and tame the stubborn soil;

To give dissimilar yet fruitful lands

The grain, or herb, or plant, that each demands;

To cherish virtue in an humble state,

And share the joys your bounty may create;

To mark the matchless workings of the pow'r

That shuts within its seed the future flow'r,

Bids these in elegance of form excel,

In colour these, and those delight the smell,

Sends nature forth the daughter of the skies,

To dance on earth, and charm all human eyes;

To teach the canvass innocent deceit,

Or lay the landscape on the snowy sheet -

These, these are arts pursu'd without a crime,

That leave no stain upon the wing of time.

from Retirement by William Cowper

Lines 783-800



We, too, are friends to loyalty. We love

The king who loves the law, respects his bounds,

And reigns content within them: him we serve

Freely and with delight, who leaves us free:

But recollecting still that he is man,

We trust him not too far. King though he be,

And king in England too, he may be weak,

And vain enough to be ambitious still;

May exercise amiss his proper pow'rs,

Or covet more than freemen choose to grant:

Beyond that mark is treason. He is our's,

T' administer, to guard, t' adorn the state,

But not to warp or change it. We are his

To serve him nobly in the common cause,

True to the death, but not to be his slaves.

Mark now the diff'rence, ye that boast your love

Of kings, between your loyalty and our's.

We love the man; the paltry pageant you. 

We the chief patron of the commonwealth;

You the regardless author of its woes.

We, for the sake of liberty, a king;

You chains and bondage, for a tyrant's sake.

Our love is principle, and has its root

In reason, is judicious, manly, free;

Your's, a blind instinct, crouches to the rod,

And licks the foot that treads it in the dust.

The Task, Book V, The Winter Morning Walk by William Cowper

(lines 331-356)


Retirement (excerpt)

It is comforting to find any author who is willing to name a spade a spade and, in this case, to state that mere novelty and celebrity are empty and hollow. Retirement was written more than 200 years ago. It has not aged.

Luxury gives the mind a childish cast,

And while she polishes, perverts the taste;

Habits of close attention, thinking heads,

Become more rare as dissipation spreads,

Till authors hear at length, one gen’ral cry,

Tickle and entertain us, or we die.

The loud demand, from year to year the same,

Beggars invention and makes fancy lame,

Till farce itself, most mournfully jejune,

Calls for the kind assistance of a tune;

And novels (witness ev’ry month’s review)

Belie their name, and offer nothing new.


Retirement, lines 703-714, by William Cowper

The changing of the seasons are seemingly predictable. And yet there is something akin to novelty in the wonder of spring and the reality of new life. Cowper stands with one fist raised at the idle rich (whom he knew all too well) who waited for amusement to jump into their lap and make life worth living. His other hand is gently stroking a dog or a hare, while his eyes are examining whether the pineapple will bloom.

Perhaps all good poets (or writers for that matter) must have the two: one fist raised in complaint and the other hand caressing that which is good. Have only the fist are you are too angry for anyone to hear you. Have only the gentle stroke and you are deemed out of touch with the world and no one will find you of interest. Cowper was capable of both.

A voice is heard that mortal ears hear not

Till thou hast touch’d them; ‘tis the voice of song -

A loud hosanna sent from all thy works;

Which he that hears it with a shout repeats,

And adds his rapture to the gen’ral praise.

In that blest moment Nature, throwing wide

Her veil opaque, discloses with a smile

The author of her beauties, who, retir’d

Behind his own creation, works unseen

By the impure, and hears his power denied.

Thou art the source and centre of all minds,

Their only point of rest, eternal Word!

From thee departing, they are lost, and rove

At random, without honour, hope, or peace.

From thee is all that sooths the life of man,

His high endeavour, and his glad success,

His strength to suffer, and his will to serve.

But oh thou bounteous giver of all good,

Thou art of all thy gifts thyself the crown!

Give what thou canst, without thee we are poor;

And with thee rich, take what thou wilt away.

The Winter Morning Walk, lines 886 - end


Human Frailty

Weak and irresolute is man;

The purpose of to-day,

Woven with pains into his plan,

To-morrow rends away.


The bow well bent, and smart the spring,

Vice seems already slain;

But passion rudely snaps the string,

And it revives again.


Some foe to his upright intent

Finds out his weaker part;

Virtue engages his assent,

But pleasure wins his heart.


'Tis here the folly of the wise

Through all his art we view;

And, while his tongue the charge denies

His conscience owns it true.


Bound on a voyage of awful length

And dangers little known,

A stranger to superior strength,

Man vainly trusts his own.


But oars alone can ne'er prevail

To reach the distant coast.

The breath of heav'n must swell the sail,

Or all the toil is lost.


William Cowper, 1779


To Miss Creuze on her birthday

How many between East and West

Disgrace their parent earth,

Whose deeds constrain us to detest

The day that gave them birth!


Not so, when Stella's natal morn

Revolving months restore,

We can rejoice that She was born,

And wish her born once more.

By William Cowper, 1780

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