William Cowper (1731-1800) was an English poet and hymn writer. He was immensely popular during his lifetime, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge called him “the best modern poet.” From 1782, when his first major volume appeared, until 1837, when Robert Southey completed the monumental Life and Works of Cowper, more than a hundred editions of Cowper’s poems were published in Britain and almost fifty editions in America. Many of his poems were written for or mention Mary Unwin, the widow with whom he lived for 35 years.
To a Young Lady
Apt emblem of a virtuous maid
Silent and chaste she steals along,
Far from the world’s gay busy throng:
With gentle yet prevailing force,
Intent upon her destined course;
Graceful and useful all she does,
Blessing and blest where’er she goes;
Pure-bosom’d as that watery glass,
And Heaven reflected in her face.
The Symptoms of Love
My last thought at night, and the first when I wake;
With my prayers and best wishes preferred for her sake.
Let her guess what I muse on, when rambling alone
I stride o’er the stubble each day with my gun,
Never ready to shoot till the covey is flown.
Let her think what odd whimsies I have in my brain,
When I read one page over and over again,
And discover at last that I read it in vain.
Let her say why so fixed and so steady my look,
Without ever regarding the person who spoke,
Still affecting to laugh, without hearing the joke.
Or why when the pleasure her praises I hear,
(That sweetest of melody sure to my ear),
I attend, and at once inattentive appear.
And lastly, when summoned to drink to my flame,
Let her guess why I never once mention her name,
Though herself and the woman I love are the same.
On Her Endeavouring to Conceal Her Grief at Parting
Those gentle signs of undissembled woe?
When from soft love proceeds the deep distress,
Ah! why forbid the willing tears to flow?
Since for my sake each dear translucent drop
Breaks forth, best witness of thy truth sincere,
My lips should drink the precious mixture up,
And, ere it falls, receive the trembling tear.
Trust me, these symptoms of thy faithful heart,
In absence, shall my dearest hope sustain,
Delia! since such thy sorrow that we part,
Such when we meet thy joy shall be again.
Hard is that heart and unsubdued by love
That feels no pain, nor ever heaves a sigh,
Such hearts the fiercest passions only prove,
Or freeze in cold insensibility.
Oh! then indulge thy grief, nor fear to tell
The gentle source from whence thy sorrows flow!
Nor think it weakness when we love to feel,
Nor think it weakness what we feel to show.