1788
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Morning Dream.

The Bath Chronicle (29 May 1788).

William Cowper


A dream vision in six double-quatrain stanzas, not signed. Cowper's pastoral ballad is to be sung "To the tune of Tweed Side." The dreamer finds himself upon the ocean, accompanied by a daunting lady with a shield like the sun; they travel to an island dominated by a scourge-wielding figure named Oppression who sickens and dies at the sight of the maiden; the poet awakes reflecting that Britannia, from the hatred she bears to oppression, will resolve to have nothing to do with the slave trade. This is unusal matter to handle in a pastoral ballad; in this instance it seems to be Cowper's intention to use pastoral simplicity to underscore the simplicity of the argument against slavery. In November the poem was reprinted in the Gentleman's Magazine as "by he Author of The Task."

Leigh Hunt: "As to poor Cowper, he stood alone, 'Like to the culver on the bared bough.' The same misery which rendered him original in some things, made him too feeble to be so in others. He was alone, not because he led the way, but because he was left on the road side. His greatest claims are higher and more reverend things — claims on the higher state of existence; and we trust they have been made up to him" The Examiner (15 July 1821) 445.

William Crowe: "Those among our writers in anapestic verse, who have succeeded as well as any, are Shenstone, Cunningham, and Byrom, whose well-known pastoral (his best production in that measure) first appeared in the eighth volume of the Spectator; but none have excelled Cowper" "On English Versification" London Magazine 7 (March 1823) 275.

George Barrell Cheever: "The influence which an intimacy with his writings is calculated to exert upon the soul, is truly delightful. The most religious mind may give itself away to the enjoyment of his fine poetry, and feel safe in the assurance that it is at the same time breathing the pure atmosphere of piety and truth, and that its thoughts will never be led where the remembrance of God and of heaven would not follow with delight. For the manner in which he has blended together devotional fervour and poetic genius, he stands perfectly alone, and is well entitled t be named by way of eminence the Christian Poet. The spirit, besides, which animates his pages, is one of quiet gentleness and benevolence amidst his fellow men, mingled often with touches of original familiar humour that are extremely fascinating" The Study of Poetry (1830) 182.



'Twas in the sweet season of spring,
Asleep at the dawn of the day,
I dream'd what I cannot but sing,
So pleasant it seem'd as I lay.
I dream'd, that on ocean afloat,
Far West from fair Albion I sail'd,
While the billows high lifted the boat,
And the fresh-blowing breeze never fail'd.

In the steerage a Woman I saw,
Such, at least, was the form that she wore,
Whose beauty impress'd me with awe
Ne'er taught me by woman before.
She sat, and a shield at her side
Shed light, like a Sun on the waves,
And smiling divinely, she cried,
"I go to make freemen of slaves."

Then raising her voice to a strain
The sweetest that ear ever heard,
She sung of the slave's broken chain,
Wherever her glory appear'd.
Some clouds, which had over us hung
Fled chaced by her melody clear,
And, methought, while she Liberty sung,
It was Liberty only to hear.

Thus, swiftly dividing the flood,
To a slave-cultur'd island we came,
Where a Daemon, her enemy, stood,
Oppression his terrible name.
In his hand, as a sign of his sway,
A scourge hung with lashes he bore,
And stood looking out for his prey
From Africa's sorrowful shore.

But soon as approaching the land
That Goddess-like Woman he view'd,
The scourge he let fall from his hand,
With blood of his subjects embrued.
I saw him both sicken and die,
And, the moment the monster expir'd,
Heard shouts which ascended the sky
From thousands with rapture inspir'd.

Awakening, how could I but muse
On what such a dream might betide?
But soon my ear caught the glad news
Which serv'd my weak thoughts for a guide,
That BRITANNIA, renown'd o'er the waves,
For the hatred she ever has shown
To the black-scepter'd rulers of slaves,
Resolves to have none of her own.

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