Read Poetry: Cowper (pronounced coo-per)

Posted on July 14, 2011

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Long summer days and no work commitments have given me time to do something that I haven’t in a long time: Read poetry. I had forgotten how much it can awaken thoughts and feelings that often lie dormant in the bustle of life.

I have also realized how the internet has really shaped the way I read. I rarely read slowly and thoughtfully, as poetry requires. I often skim through a website or a blog post, my eyes jumping from one paragraph to the next get the “gist” of something. Reading poetry is teaching me to again soak in the words, rather than just rapidly consume them.

This week I have been reading William Cowper. From a book.  Yes, real pages with 100 year old ink pressed onto them. It’s delightful. As often seems to be the case with powerful artists, his life was marked by suffering. Unrequited love, severe bouts of depression, multiple suicide attempts, and the occasional certainty that he was condemned to Hell provided the backdrop for which he wrote multiple hymns, epic poems and verse on everyday life. Surprisingly, his poetry has a much more sanguine tone.

I have slowly been working my way through one of his longer poems, Hope. I have here included a short snippet of the poem, a passage I find particularly beautiful.

Men deal with life as children at their play,

Who first misuse, then caste their toys away;

Live to no sober purpose and contend

That their Creator had no serious end.

When God and man stand opposite in view,

Man’s disappointment must, of course, ensue.

The just Creator condescends to write,

In beams of inextinguishable light,

His names of wisdom, goodness, power, and love,

On all that blooms below or shines above,

To catch the wandering notice of mankind,

And teach the world, if not perversely blind,

His gracious attributes, and prove the share

His offspring hold in His paternal care.

If, led from earthly things to things divine,

His creatures thwart not His august design,

Then praise is heard instead of reasoning pride,

And captious cavil and complaint subside.

Nature, employ’d in her allotted place,

Is handmaid to the purposes of Grace;

By good vouchsafed makes known superior good,

And bliss not seen by blessings understood:

That bliss, reveal’d in Scripture, with a glow

Bright as the covenant-ensuring bow,

Fires all his feelings with a noble scorn

Of sensual evil, and thus hope is born.

-William Cowper, 1731-1800

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