Pilgrim in slow motion, Cowper

  • Thirteen years stuck, depressed,

    then one May morning blessed,

    Pentecost-pierced your dread-heart,

    doom-delivered, the rhymes restart.


    Apple trees bloom in Orchard Side,

    petal scents sneaked summer inside,

    bloom wilted soon, your spiritual ardour

    sheltered only briefly in this harbour.


    Lady Austen charmed, infatuated,

    her soothing presence animated,

    breezily she arrived by horse coach,

    your hair-lock in her bosomed brooch.


    Garrulous, her worldly ways quite glib,

    flattering you, fooling you with fibs

    but never doubted your lonely trauma,

    turbulent salvation-damnation drama.


    Helpmeet Mary broke the Austen spell,

    Newton’s severe shadow made unwell,

    hymnal hope again lost, laughter gone,

    flown away, Ouse now absent of swans.


    God’s goodness gone: nightmare visions,

    hell flames flared, devilish derisions;

    Mary’s death stole your divine devotion:

    heaven-healed, pilgrim in slow motion.

    Cowper (1731 – 1800 A.D.) English poet and hymnodist. One of the most popular poets of his time, Cowper changed the direction of 18th century nature poetry by writing of everyday life and scenes of the English countryside.

    After being institutionalised for insanity in the period 1763–65, Cowper found refuge in a fervent evangelical Christianity, the inspiration behind his much-loved hymns. In 1773, Cowper experienced an attack of insanity, imagining not only that he was eternally condemned to hell, but that God was commanding him to make a sacrifice of his own life. Mary Unwin took care of him with great devotion, and after a year he began to recover.

    His religious sentiment and association with John Newton (who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace”) led to much of the poetry for which he is best remembered. In 1781 Cowper met a sophisticated and charming widow named Lady Austen who inspired new poetry.

    image: Cowper by the Fire, Boiling His Watch and Timing it with an Egg


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