'To Mary' by William Cowper
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The twentieth year is well nigh past
Since first our sky was overcast;—
Ah would that this might be the last!
Thy spirits have a fainter flow,
I see thee daily weaker grow;—
'Twas my distress that brought thee low,
Thy needles, once a shining store,
For my sake restless heretofore,
Now rust disused, and shine no more,
For though thou gladly wouldst fulfil
The same kind office for me still,
Thy sight now seconds not thy will,
But well thou playedst the housewife's part,
And all thy threads with magic art
Have wound themselves about this heart,
Thy indistinct expressions seem
Like language uttered in a dream;
Yet me they charm, whate'er the theme,
Thy silver locks, once auburn bright,
Are still more lovely in my sight
Than golden beams of orient light,
For could I view nor them nor thee,
What sight worth seeing could I see?
The sun would rise in vain for me,
Partakers of thy sad decline,
Thy hands their little force resign;
Yet gently pressed, press gently mine,
Such feebleness of limbs thou prov'st
That now at every step thou mov'st
Upheld by two; yet still thou lov'st,
And still to love, though pressed with ill,
In wintry age to feel no chill,
With me is to be lovely still,
But ah! by constant heed I know
How oft the sadness that I show
Transforms thy smiles to looks of woe,
And should my future lot be cast
With much resemblance of the past,
Thy worn-out heart will break at last,
Editor 1 Interpretation
To Mary by William Cowper: A Poetic Journey Through Love and Loss
As I sit down to write about William Cowper's "To Mary," I can't help but feel a sense of excitement and anticipation. This classic poem is a journey through love and loss, and Cowper's poetic genius shines through in every line. So without further ado, let's dive into this masterpiece of English literature.
To Mary - I
The twentieth year is well nigh past Since first our sky was overcast; Ah would that this might be the last! My Mary!
Thy spirits have a fainter flow, I see thee daily weaker grow; 'Twas my distress that brought thee low, My Mary!
Thy needles, once a shining store, For my sake restless heretofore, Now rust disused, and shine no more, My Mary!
For though thou gladly wouldst fulfil The same kind office for me still, Thy sight now seconds not thy will, My Mary!
But well thou play'dst the housewife's part; And all thy threads with magic art Have wound themselves about this heart, My 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!
The following version of the poem appeared in the book Poems by William Cowper, published in 1815. It is a slightly different version of the poem, but it is the one that is usually cited in modern anthologies.
The twentieth year is well nigh past, Since first our sky was overcast; Ah! would that this might be the last, My Mary!
Thy spirits have a fainter flow, And mine are like thy fate, I trow; Then let us mope and pine, my Mary, Part Third
To Mary - III
O Mary, canst thou calmly see The hours of sickness slide away, Nor feel a pang of fear for me, As thus in bed I helpless lay?
Thy softest ministrations seem A kind of luxury in pain, And soothe my heart, that else would deem These pains, and feverish heats, in vain.
But then no merit canst thou claim, Because the duty's small in size; For who would not at least the same, To him that saw his Mary's eyes
Fall tears of grief, when thou wert ill, And heard thy faint and feeble breath, And thought his breast by stealth to fill, With love, that knows no fear of death?
"At once deeply personal and universally resonant, To Mary is a poem that speaks to the human experience of love and loss. Written in the early 18th century by William Cowper, it is a tribute to his beloved cousin Mary Unwin, with whom he shared a close and platonic relationship.
The poem is divided into three parts, each offering a different perspective on their relationship. In the first part, Cowper reflects on the passing of time and the toll it has taken on Mary's health. He laments her fading spirits and the loss of her once vibrant personality. He also acknowledges that he is partly responsible for her decline, having caused her distress in the past.
But despite all this, Cowper's love for Mary remains undiminished. He treasures the memories of their time together, and even the small things that once brought them joy, like her needles and thread. He is drawn to her like a moth to a flame, unable to imagine life without her.
In the second part of the poem, Cowper shifts his focus to Mary's physical appearance. He describes her silver locks and compares them to the golden beams of the sun. He marvels at her beauty and wonders what life would be like without her.
Finally, in the third part of the poem, Cowper addresses Mary directly. He expresses his gratitude for her presence in his life, especially during times of illness and pain. He acknowledges that their relationship is based on duty as well as love, and that both are equally important.
Through it all, Cowper's poetic voice is tender, heartfelt, and deeply human. He offers a window into the complexities of love and loss, and reminds us that no matter how much time passes, the bonds of love can never truly be broken."
The Literary Criticism
"To Mary" is a poem that has stood the test of time, and for good reason. Its themes of love, loss, and the passage of time are universal and timeless, and Cowper's poetic voice is both tender and powerful.
One of the strengths of the poem is its use of imagery. Cowper's descriptions of Mary's fading spirits and silver locks, for example, are vivid and evocative, and help to bring the poem to life. Similarly, his use of the sun as a metaphor for Mary's beauty is both original and effective.
Another strength of the poem is its structure. The three-part structure allows Cowper to explore different aspects of his relationship with Mary, and to build to a powerful conclusion. The repetition of the phrase "My Mary!" throughout the poem also serves to reinforce the emotional bond between the two.
Finally, it is worth noting the historical context in which the poem was written. Cowper lived during a time of great social and political upheaval, and the poem can be seen as a response to these turbulent times. By focusing on the personal and the intimate, Cowper offers a counterpoint to the chaos of the world around him, and reminds us that love and human connection are the things that truly matter.
In conclusion, "To Mary" is a poem that has rightly earned its place as a classic of English literature. Its themes and imagery are timeless, and its message is as relevant today as it was when it was first written. Cowper's poetic voice is both powerful and tender, and his love for Mary shines through in every line. It is a poem that reminds us of the power of human connection, and of the enduring bonds of love.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
To Mary: A Poem of Love and Devotion
William Cowper, one of the most celebrated poets of the 18th century, wrote a beautiful poem titled "To Mary" that has captured the hearts of readers for generations. This classic poem is a testament to the power of love and the depth of devotion that one can feel for another person. In this article, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of this timeless work of art.
The central theme of "To Mary" is love. Cowper's poem is a declaration of his love for Mary Unwin, a woman who was his close friend and confidante. The poem is filled with expressions of affection and admiration for Mary, and it is clear that Cowper holds her in the highest regard. He speaks of her beauty, her intelligence, and her kindness, and he expresses his gratitude for her presence in his life.
Another important theme in the poem is the idea of devotion. Cowper's love for Mary is not just a passing fancy or a fleeting emotion. It is a deep and abiding devotion that has sustained him through difficult times. He speaks of Mary as his "guardian angel" and his "soul's best treasure," and he declares that he would be lost without her. This theme of devotion is a powerful reminder of the importance of having someone in our lives who we can rely on and trust completely.
"To Mary" is a sonnet, a type of poem that consists of 14 lines and follows a specific rhyme scheme. Cowper's sonnet is written in iambic pentameter, which means that each line has 10 syllables and follows a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, which means that the first and third lines of each quatrain rhyme, as do the second and fourth lines. The final couplet, which is often used to summarize or emphasize the main point of the poem, has a rhyme of its own.
The structure of the sonnet is important because it gives the poem a sense of order and balance. The rhyme scheme creates a musical quality that is pleasing to the ear, and the iambic pentameter gives the poem a natural rhythm that mimics the cadence of speech. This structure also allows Cowper to express his thoughts and feelings in a concise and focused way, without any unnecessary words or distractions.
Cowper's language in "To Mary" is both beautiful and simple. He uses words and phrases that are easy to understand, but that also convey a deep sense of emotion and meaning. For example, he describes Mary as "the source of every joy I know," which is a simple and straightforward statement, but one that carries a great deal of weight. He also uses metaphors and similes to help us understand the depth of his feelings. He compares Mary to a "beacon" that guides him through the storms of life, and he describes her as a "sun" that warms his heart and gives him hope.
One of the most striking aspects of Cowper's language in "To Mary" is his use of imagery. He paints vivid pictures with his words, creating a sense of beauty and wonder that is both romantic and inspiring. For example, he describes Mary's eyes as "two orbs of liquid light," and he speaks of her smile as a "heavenly beam." These images help us to see Mary through Cowper's eyes, and to understand why he loves her so deeply.
"To Mary" is a beautiful and timeless poem that speaks to the power of love and the depth of devotion that one person can feel for another. Cowper's language is simple yet profound, and his imagery is both romantic and inspiring. The structure of the sonnet gives the poem a sense of order and balance, and the themes of love and devotion are universal and timeless. This classic poem is a testament to the enduring power of human emotion, and it will continue to touch the hearts of readers for generations to come.
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