William Cowper (1731-1800), Augustan Age: 18th Century Literature

Cowper was a poet who was born in Hertfordshire in 1731. His father was a clergyman. After his mother’s death, he could not receive proper attention at home and was often neglected. This resulted in his growing into a sensitive child with a weak physical frame. His life thus became miserable for him. Even at school, he had to encounter bullies who enhanced his misery. After the demise of his father, he happened to come into contact with a generous lady, Mrs. Unwin, who always treated him as her own son. He reciprocated the lady by addressing her as ‘Mary’ in all his poems. Unfortunately, he suffered from insanity bouts which made his life miserable. Cowper began to write poetry late in life. It was a means of keeping his mind from preying upon itself and from brooding over those torturing religious anxieties which turned his melancholy into positive lunacy. He was not a student of poetry; he hardly gave any attention to it as an art, but to express himself. Some critics have seen in his poems a premonition of Wordsworth; others, of Byron. However, he foreshadowed both of them. In his love of nature and his emotional harmony with it, and his sympathetic treatment of humble rural life, he is akin to Wordsworth; but when we consider the character of the man and his creed, his poetry is replete with social unrest, found in Byron.

His works are:

  1. The Sofa: It is written in blank verse.
  2. John Gilpin.
  3. The Progress of Error.
  4. Truth
  5. Table Talk
  6. Translation of Homer: It is also in blank verse.
  7. The Task (1785): This long blank verse poem is in one sense as much the poetic masterpiece of latter eighteenth-century evangelicalism as Paradise Lost is a masterpiece of militant puritanism of the seventeenth century.
  8. Olney Hymns (1779)
  9. Poems (1782)

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