Sunday Poetry – William Cowper

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William Cowper lived in Norfolk for the last years of his life & was buried in St Nicholas Church in East Dereham. This beautiful stained glass window (photo by John Salmon from Wikimedia Commons) above his tomb depicts Cowper reading to his pet hares, Bess, Tiney & Puss. This poem, Epitaph on a Hare, was written when Tiney died.

Cowper suffered from depression throughout his life & lived a retired life. His poetry is often about the delights of the countryside which is probably why it appealed to Jane Austen who gives Marianne Dashwood & Fanny Price his lines to quote. I like the mock-serious attitude of this epitaph about a beloved pet whose habits Cowper had obviously observed closely, even down to his favourite foods.

Here lies, whom hound did ne’er pursue,
    Nor swifter greyhound follow,
Whose foot ne’er tainted morning dew,
    Nor ear heard huntsman’s hallo’,

Old Tiney, surliest of his kind,
    Who, nursed with tender care,
And to domesticate bounds confined,
    Was still a wild jack-hare.

Though duly from my hand he took
    His pittance every night,
He did it with a jealous look,
    And, when he could, would bite.

His diet was of wheaten bread,
    And milk, and oats, and straw,
Thistles, or lettuces instead,
    With sand to scour his maw.

On twigs of hawthorn he regaled,
    On pippins’ russet peel;
And, when his juicy salads failed,
    Sliced carrot pleased him well.

A Turkey carpet was his lawn,
    Whereon he loved to bound,
To skip and gambol like a fawn,
    And swing his rump around.

His frisking was at evening hours,
    For then he lost his fear;
But most before approaching showers,
    Or when a storm drew near.

Eight years and five round-rolling moons
    He thus saw steal away,
Dozing out all his idle noons,
    And every night at play.

I kept him for his humor’s sake,
    For he would oft beguile
My heart of thoughts that made it ache,
    And force me to a smile.

But now, beneath this walnut-shade
    He finds his long, last home,
And waits in snug concealment laid,
    Till gentler Puss shall come.

He, still more agèd, feels the shocks
    From which no care can save,
And, partner once of Tiney’s box,
    Must soon partake his grave.

5 thoughts on “Sunday Poetry – William Cowper

  1. Yes, Austen frequently quoted Cowper, I think he was her favourite poet. There was something about lilacs she quoted from him, too, but I can’t remember the line.

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