Some Lines by William Cowper

William Cowper
William Cowper

We’re going back to the 18th century today, just briefly.

As I sat reading a selection of William Cowper’s poetry this morning I wondered how many people still read him. He is not a difficult poet and may be unfairly overlooked these days because he is overtly Christian.

The Poetry Foundation’s main article on him states, ‘William Cowper was the foremost poet of the generation between Alexander Pope and William Wordsworth and for several decades had probably the largest readership of any English poet.’[i]

Cowper was a contemporary of William Wilberforce and a friend of John Newton. He was too young to have seen much of the early years of Whitefield and Wesley’s preaching but was certainly impacted by the gospel message they preached.

His huge popularity as a poet existed not only because his Christian hymns were popular in the churches, but because of his notable skill as a poet.

I am reprinting here a section of his beautiful poem To Mary.

In their later years Mary Unwin and Cowper had been engaged and the love between them was very tender although they never married. He was at her side as her health declined in her final illness.

These verses take us right to her bedside. We see his devotion to her even though she can no longer communicate verbally, we share the thrill of her minute but definite responses to his love. No wonder Tennyson said that this poem was too touching, too moving, to be read out loud.

To Mary

Thy indistinct expressions seem
Like language utter’d in a dream;
Yet me they charm, whate’er the theme,
My Mary!

Thy silver locks, once auburn bright,
Are still more lovely in my sight
Than golden beams of orient light,
My Mary!

For could I view nor them nor thee,
What sight worth seeing could I see?
The sun would rise in vain for me,
My Mary!

Partakers of the sad decline,
Thy hands their little force resign;
Yet gently prest, press gently mine,
My Mary!

And then I feel that still I hold
A richer store ten thousandfold
Than misers fancy in their gold,
My Mary!

I suppose the ‘wow’ moment for me was the intensely touching lines, as Cowper sits by the bedside of his dying love.

‘Partakers of the sad decline,
Thy hands their little force resign;
Yet gently prest, press gently mine…’

It reminds me of a comment Billy Graham made about his wife Ruth when she was bedridden, how they could experience such ecstatic romance by simply staring into each other’s eyes for long periods of time and know their love was as complete and fulfilling as it could ever be.

Read Cowper’s lines again.

And maybe grab hold of some of his poetry from your local bookstore.

©2015 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog




Calvin on Preaching, Grieving and Singleness


While we don’t quite have a version of Luther’s famous ‘Table Talk’ for John Calvin, here are four quotes on different subjects. The first two deal with public ministry but the second two are highly personal and give us a glimpse of his own struggles and challenges.

On the act of preaching
A preacher ‘preaches so that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man.’ (p.107)

On the importance of sermon preparation
‘If I should enter the pulpit without deigning to glance at a book, and should frivolously think to myself, ‘Oh well, when I preach, God will give me enough to say’, and come here without troubling to read or thinking what I ought to declare, and do not carefully consider how I must apply Holy Scripture to the edification of the people, then I should be an arrogant upstart.’ (p.110)

On the death of his beloved, formerly Anabaptist, wife
‘Truly mine is no common grief. I have been bereaved of the best friend of my life, of one who, if it had been so ordained, would willingly have shared not only my poverty but also my death. During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From her I never experienced the slightest hindrance.’ (p.121)

On singleness
(Calvin didn’t remarry after the death of his wife)
‘As for me, I do not want anyone to think me very virtuous because I am not married. It would rather be a fault in me if I could serve God better in marriage than remaining as I am…But I know my infirmity, that perhaps a woman might not be happy with me. However that may be, I abstain from marriage in order that I may be more free to serve God. But this is not because I think that I am more virtuous than my brethren. Fie to me if I had that false opinion.’ (p. 121)

Read about John Calvin and the Great Commission here

Above quotes are from THL Parker, John Calvin, Lion 1975

© 2009 Lex Loizides