William Cowper’s mental breakdown
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On this day in 1731 the English poet and writer of hymns William Cowper was born.
Cowper changed 18th century poetry by writing about real people and things and was a big influence on later romantic poets such as Coleridge and Wordsworth. He knew John Newton, who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace.
Following a breakdown and time spent in an asylum for the insane, he experienced a spiritual awakening and wrote a number of beautiful hymns himself. Familiar phrases such as: “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform” and “Variety is the spice of life”, are his. In his day, he was the most popular poet in the land.
Here is a sonnet he wrote to Mary Unwin, a widow to whom he was greatly attached and who cared for him in difficult times, To Mary Unwin:
Mary! I want a lyre with other strings,
Such aid from Heaven as some have feign’d they drew,
An eloquence scarce given to mortals, new
And undebased by praise of meaner things;
That ere through age or woe I shed my wings,
I may record thy worth with honour due,
In verse as musical as thou art true,
And that immortalises whom it sings:
But thou hast little need. There is a Book
By seraphs writ with beams of heavenly light,
On which the eyes of God not rarely look,
A chronicle of actions just and bright –
There all thy deeds, my faithful Mary, shine;
And since thou own’st that praise, I spare thee mine.
Today I give thanks for the goodness and kindness that is found in people all over the world.