William Cowper

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If you believed more in life you would fling yourself less to the moment.
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Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much;
Wisdom is humble that he knows no more.
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

William Cowper (26 November 1731 - 25 April 1800) was an English poet and hymnodist.


  • Absence from whom we love is worse than death,
    And frustrate hope severer than despair.
    • "Hope, like the short-lived ray that gleams awhile", line 35
  • But oars alone can ne'er prevail
    To reach the distant coast;
    The breath of Heaven must swell the sail,
    Or all the toil is lost.
    • "Human Frailty", line 21 (1779)
  • Reasoning at every step he treads,
    Man yet mistakes his way,
    While meaner things, whom instinct leads,
    Are rarely known to stray.
    • "The Doves", line 1. (1780)
  • Fate steals along with silent tread,
    Found oftenest in what least we dread,
    Frowns in the storm with angry brow,
    But in the sunshine strikes the blow.
    • "A Fable" (or "The Raven"), line 36
  • True Charity, a plant divinely nurs'd.
    • "Charity", line 573. (1781)
  • "Regions Caesar never knew
    Thy posterity shall sway
    Where his eagles never flew,
    None invincible as they."

    Such the bard's prophetic words, Pregnant with celestial fire, Bending as he swept the chords Of his sweet but awful lyre.

    • "Boadicea" (1782)
  • Sweet stream that winds through yonder glade,
    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.
    • "To a Young Lady" (1782)
  • Candid, and generous, and just,
    Boys care but little whom they trust,
    An error soon corrected—
    For who but learns in riper years
    That man, when smoothest he appears
    Is most to be suspected?
    • "Friendship", line 19 (1782)
  • Thus neither the praise nor the blame is our own.
    • "From a Letter to the Rev. Mr. Newton", line 21. (1782)
  • An honest man, close-buttoned to the chin,
    Broadcloth without, and a warm heart within.
    • "Epistle to Joseph Hill", line 62 (1785)
  • Shine by the side of every path we tread
    With such a luster, he that runs may read.
    • "Tirocinium", line 79 (1785)
  • Toll for the brave —
    The brave! that are no more;
    All sunk beneath the wave,
    Fast by their native shore!
    • "On the Loss of the Royal George", st. 1 (1791)
  • And still to love, though prest with ill,
    In wintry age to feel no chill,
    With me is to be lovely still,
    My Mary!
    • "To Mary", st. 11 (1791)
  • Visits are insatiable devourers of time, and fit only for those who, if they did not that, would do nothing.
  • Beware of desp'rate steps! The darkest day
    (Live till tomorrow) will have passed away.
    • "The Needless Alarm, Moral" (1794)
  • Misses! the tale that I relate
    This lesson seems to carry —
    Choose not alone a proper mate,
    But proper time to marry.
    • "Pairing Time Anticipated, Moral" (c. 1794)
  • Misery still delights to trace
    Its semblance in another's case.
    • "The Castaway" (1799)
  • No voice divine the storm allay'd,
    No light propitious shone;
    When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,
    We perish'd, each alone;
    But I beneath a rougher sea,
    And whelmed in deeper gulphs than he.
    • "The Castaway" (1799)

Olney Hymns (1779)

  • Oh! for a closer walk with God,
    A calm and heav'nly frame;
    A light to shine upon the road
    That leads me to the Lamb!
    • No. 1, "Walking With God"
  • What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
    How sweet their memory still!
    But they have left an aching void
    The world can never fill.
    • No. 1, "Walking With God"
  • And Satan trembles when he sees
    The weakest saint upon his knees.
    • No. 29, "Exhortation to Prayer"
  • God moves in a mysterious way,
    His wonders to perform;
    He plants his footsteps in the sea,
    And rides upon the storm.
    • The opening statement is often quoted as: God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.
    • No. 35, "Light Shining out of Darkness"
  • Behind a frowning providence
    He hides a smiling face.
    • No. 35, "Light Shining out of Darkness"
  • Deep in unfathomable mines
    Of never failing skill,
    He treasures up his bright designs,
    And works his sovereign will.
    • No. 35, "Light Shining out of Darkness"
  • His purposes will ripen fast,
    Unfolding every hour;
    The bud may have a bitter taste,
    But sweet will be the flower.
    • No. 35, "Light Shining out of Darkness"
  • Blind unbelief is sure to err,
    And scan his work in vain;
    God is his own interpreter,
    And he will make it plain.
    • No. 35, "Light Shining out of Darkness"
  • There is a fountain fill'd with blood
    Drawn from Emmanuel's veins;
    And sinners, plung'd beneath that flood,
    Lose all their guilty stains.
    • No. 79, "Praise for the Fountain Opened"

Table Talk (1782)

  • Glory, built
    On selfish principles, is shame and guilt.
    • Line 1
  • Thus happiness depends, as Nature shows,
    Less on exterior things than most suppose.
    • Line 246
  • Freedom has a thousand charms to show,
    That slaves, howe'er contented, never know.
    • Line 260
  • Manner is all in all, whate'er is writ,
    The substitute for genius, sense, and wit.
    • Line 542
  • Low ambition and the thirst of praise.
    • Line 591

The Progress of Error (1782)

  • Lights of the world, and stars of human race.
    • Line 97
  • Remorse, the fatal egg by Pleasure laid.
    • Line 240
  • How much a dunce that has been sent to roam
    Excels a dunce that has been kept at home!
    • Line 415
  • No wild enthusiast ever yet could rest,
    Till half mankind were like himself possess'd.
    • Line 470

Conversation (1782)

  • 'Tis hard if all is false that I advance,
    A fool must now and then be right by chance.
    • Line 96
  • He would not, with a peremptory tone,
    Assert the nose upon his face his own.
    • Line 121
  • A moral, sensible, and well-bred man
    Will not affront me, and no other can.
    • Line 193
  • Pernicious weed! whose scent the fair annoys,
    Unfriendly to society's chief joys,
    Thy worst effect is banishing for hours
    The sex whose presence civilizes ours.
    • Line 251
  • I cannot talk with civet in the room,
    A fine puss-gentleman that's all perfume.
    • Line 283
  • The solemn fop; significant and budge;
    A fool with judges, amongst fools a judge.
    • Line 299
  • His wit invites you by his looks to come,
    But when you knock it never is at home.
    • Line 303
  • I pity bashful men, who feel the pain
    Of fancied scorn and undeserved disdain,
    And bear the marks upon a blushing face,
    Of needless shame, and self-impos'd disgrace.
    • Line 347
  • Our wasted oil unprofitably burns,
    Like hidden lamps in old sepulchral urns.
    • Line 357
  • But that disease when soberly defined
    Is the false fire of an o'erheated mind.
    • Line 667
    • Of fanaticism.
  • But Conversation, choose what theme we may,
    And chiefly when religion leads the way,
    Should flow, like waters after summer show'rs,
    Not as if raised by mere mechanic powers.
    • Line 703

Retirement (1782)

  • A business with an income at its heels
    Furnishes always oil for its own wheels.
    • Line 615
  • Absence of occupation is not rest,
    A mind quite vacant is a mind distressed.
    • Line 623
  • Philologists, who chase
    A panting syllable through time and space,
    Start it at home, and hunt it in the dark
    To Gaul, to Greece, and into Noah's ark.
    • Line 691
  • I praise the Frenchman [Voltaire], his remark was shrewd —
    How sweet, how passing sweet, is solitude!
    But grant me still a friend in my retreat
    Whom I may whisper — solitude is sweet.
    • Line 739

Verses supposed to be written by Alexander Selkirk (1782)

(This was Cowper's tribute to the actual man whose shipwrecked existence upon an island inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe.)

  • I am monarch of all I survey,
    My right there is none to dispute;
    From the center all round to the sea
    I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
    • Line 1
  • O solitude! where are the charms
    That sages have seen in thy face?
    Better dwell in the midst of alarms
    Than reign in this horrible place.
    • Line 5
  • I am out of humanity's reach.
    I must finish my journey alone,
    Never hear the sweet music of speech;
    I start at the sound of my own.
    • Line 9
  • Society friendship and love
    Divinely bestow'd upon man,
    O had I the wings of a dove
    How soon I would taste you again!
    • Line 17
  • Religion! what treasure untold
    Resides in that heavenly word!
    • Line 25
  • My friends, do they now and then send
    A wish or a thought after me?
    O tell me I yet have a friend,
    Though a friend I am never to see.
    • Line 37
  • There is mercy in every place,
    And mercy, encouraging thought!
    Gives even affliction a grace
    And reconciles man to his lot.
    • Line 53

History of John Gilpin (1785)

  • Though on pleasure she was bent,
    She had a frugal mind.
    • St. 8
  • The dogs did bark, the children screamed,
    Up flew the windows all;
    And every soul cried out, "Well done!"
    As loud as he could bawl.
    • St. 28
  • A hat not much the worse for wear.
    • St. 46
  • Now let us sing — Long live the king,
    And Gilpin, long live he;
    And, when he next doth ride abroad,
    May I be there to see!
    • St. 63

The Task (1785)

  • God made the country, and man made the town.
    • Book I, The Sofa, l. 749
  • Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
    Some boundless contiguity of shade,
    Where rumor of oppression and deceit,
    Of unsuccessful or successful war,
    Might never reach me more.
    • Book II, The Timepiece, l. 1
  • Mountains interposed
    Make enemies of nations, who had else
    Like kindred drops, been mingled into one.
    • Book II, The Timepiece, l. 17
  • Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs
    Receive our air, that moment they are free!
    They touch our country, and their shackles fall.
    • Book II, The Timepiece, l. 40
  • England, with all thy faults, I love thee still—
    My country! and, while yet a nook is left
    Where English minds and manners may be found,
    Shall be constrained to love thee.
    • Book II, The Timepiece, l. 206
  • There is a pleasure in poetic pains
    Which only poets know.
    • Book II, The Timepiece, l. 285
  • O Popular Applause! what heart of man
    Is proof against thy sweet seducing charms?
    • Book II, The Timepiece, l. 481
  • Variety's the very spice of life,
    That gives it all its flavour.
    • Book II, The Timepiece, l. 606
  • His head,
    Not yet by time completely silvered o'er,
    Bespoke him past the bounds of freakish youth,
    But strong for service still, and unimpaired.
    • Book II, The Timepiece, l. 702
  • I was a stricken deer that left the herd
    Long since.
    • Book III, The Garden, l. 108
  • Dream after dream ensues;
    And still they dream that they shall still succeed;
    And still are disappointed.
    • Book III, The Garden, l. 127
  • Great contest follows, and much learned dust
    Involves the combatants; each claiming truth,
    And truth disclaiming both.
    • Book III, The Garden, l. 161
  • From reveries so airy, from the toil
    Of dropping buckets into empty wells,
    And growing old in drawing nothing up.
    • Book III, The Garden, l. 188
  • Riches have wings, and grandeur is a dream.
    • Book III, The Garden, l. 265
  • Detested sport,
    That owes its pleasures to another's pain.
    • Book III, The Garden, l. 326
    • Of fox-hunting.
  • Who loves a garden loves a greenhouse too.
    • Book III, The Garden, l. 566
  • So manifold, all pleasing in their kind,
    All healthful, are the employs of rural life,
    Reiterated as the wheel of time,
    Runs round; still ending, and beginning still.
    • Book III, The Garden, l. 624
  • Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
    Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
    And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
    Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
    That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
    So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
    • Book IV, The Winter Evening, l. 36
  • 'Tis pleasant, through the loopholes of retreat,
    To peep at such a world; to see the stir
    Of the great Babel, and not feel the crowd.
    • Book IV, The Winter Evening, l. 88
  • O Winter, ruler of the inverted year!
    • Book IV, The Winter Evening, l. 120
  • With spots quadrangular of diamond form,
    Ensanguined hearts, clubs typical of strife,
    And spades, the emblems of untimely graves.
    • Book IV, The Winter Evening, l. 217
  • Silently as a dream the fabric rose —
    No sound of hammer or of saw was there.
    • Book V, The Winter Morning Walk, l. 144
  • But war's a game, which, were their subjects wise,
    Kings would not play at.
    • Book V, The Winter Morning Walk, l. 187
  • The still small voice is wanted.
    • Book V, The Winter Morning Walk, l. 685
  • Acquaint thyself with God, if thou would'st taste
    His works. Admitted once to his embrace,
    Thou shalt perceive that thou was blind before:
    Thine eye shall be instructed; and thine heart
    Made pure shall relish with divine delight
    Till then unfelt, what hands divine have wrought.
    • Book V, The Winter Morning Walk, l. 779
  • Give what Thou canst, without Thee we are poor;
    And with Thee rich, take what Thou wilt away.
    • Book V, The Winter Morning Walk, l. 905
  • There is in souls a sympathy with sounds;
    And as the mind is pitched the ear is pleased
    With melting airs or martial, brisk, or grave:
    Some chord in unison with what we hear
    Is touched within us, and the heart replies.
    • Book VI, Winter Walk at Noon, l. 1
  • Here the heart
    May give a useful lesson to the head,
    And Learning wiser grow without his books.
    • Book VI, Winter Walk at Noon, l. 85
  • Knowledge, a rude unprofitable mass,
    The mere materials with which wisdom builds,
    Till smoothed and squared and fitted to its place,
    Does but encumber whom it seems to enrich.
    Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much;
    Wisdom is humble that he knows no more.
    • Book VI, Winter Walk at Noon, l. 92
  • Nature is but a name for an effect,
    Whose cause is God.
    • Book VI, Winter Walk at Noon, l. 223
  • Not a flower
    But shows some touch, in freckle, streak or stain,
    Of his unrivall'd pencil.
    • Book VI, Winter Walk at Noon, l. 240
  • But many a crime deem'd innocent on earth
    Is register'd in Heaven; and these no doubt
    Have each their record, with a curse annex'd.
    Man may dismiss compassion from his heart,
    But God will never.
    • Book VI, Winter Walk at Noon, l. 439
  • I would not enter on my list of friends,
    (Though graced with polish'd manners and fine sense,
    Yet wanting sensibility) the man
    Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm.
    An inadvertent step may crush the snail
    That crawls at evening in the public path;
    But he that has humanity, forewarn'd,
    Will tread aside, and let the reptile live.
    • Book VI, Winter Walk at Noon, l. 560


  • Absence of proof is not proof of absence.
  • Existence is a strange bargain.
    Life owes us little; we owe it everything.
    The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose.
  • It chills my blood to hear the blest Supreme
    Rudely appealed to on each trifling theme.
  • Ye who, borne about in chariots and sedans know no fatigue but that of idleness.


  • Ever let the Fancy roam,
    Pleasure never is at home.
    • Actually the opening lines of Keats's "Fancy" (1820).
  • No man can be a patriot on an empty stomach.
  • The innocent seldom find an uncomfortable pillow.
    • A misquotation of "The innocent seldom find an uneasy pillow", from James Fenimore Cooper's The Red Rover (1827), ch. 23.

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