1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cowper

Carlos Wilcox, in "The Religion of Taste" 1824; Remains (1828) 197-98.



Rousseau could weep, — yes, with a heart of stone
The impious sophist could recline beside
The pure and peaceful lake, and muse alone
On all its loveliness at even tide,—
On its small running waves in purple died
Beneath bright clouds or all the glowing sky,
On the white sails that o'er its bosom glide,
And on surrounding mountains wild and high
Till tears unbidden gushed from his enchanted eye.

But his were not the tears of feeling fine
Of grief or love; at fancy's flash they flowed,
Like burning drops from some proud lonely pine
By lightning fired; his heart with passion glowed
Till it consumed his life, and yet he showed
A chilling coldness both to friend and foe,
As Etna, with its centre an abode
Of wasting fire, chills with the icy snow
Of all its desert brow the living world below.

Was he but justly wretched from his crimes?
Then why was Cowper's anguish oft as keen,
With all the heaven-born virtue that sublimes
Genius and feeling, and to things unseen
Lifts the pure heart through clouds, that roll between
The earth and skies, to darken human hope?
Or wherefore did those clouds thus intervene
To render vain faith's lifted telescope,
And leave him in thick gloom his weary way to grope?

He too could give himself to musing deep,
By the calm lake at evening he could stand,
Lonely and sad, to see the moon light sleep
On all its breast by not an insect fanned,
And hear low voices on the far-off strand,
Or through the still and dewy atmosphere
The pipe's soft tones waked by some gentle hand,
From fronting shore and woody island near
In echoes quick returned more mellow and more clear.

And he could cherish wild and mournful dreams,
In the pine grove, when low the full moon fair
Shot under lofty tops her level beams,
Stretching the shades of trunks erect and bare,
In stripes drawn parallel with order rare,
As of some temple vast or colonnade,
While on green turf made smooth without his care
He wandered o'er its stripes of light and shade,
And heard the dying day-breeze all the boughs pervade.

'Twas thus in nature's bloom and solitude
He nursed his grief till nothing could assuage;
'Twas thus his tender spirit was subdued,
Till in life's toils it could no more engage;
And his had been a useless pilgrimage,
Had he been gifted with no sacred power,
To send his thoughts to every future age;—
But he is gone where grief will not devour,
Where beauty will not fade, and skies will never lower.