'To Mary' by William Cowper

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1793The 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 playedst 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 uttered 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 thy sad decline,
Thy hands their little force resign;
Yet gently pressed, press gently mine,
My Mary!Such feebleness of limbs thou prov'st
That now at every step thou mov'st
Upheld by two; yet still thou lov'st,
My Mary!And still to love, though pressed with ill,
In wintry age to feel no chill,
With me is to be lovely still,
My Mary!But ah! by constant heed I know
How oft the sadness that I show
Transforms thy smiles to looks of woe,
My Mary!And should my future lot be cast
With much resemblance of the past,
Thy worn-out heart will break at last,
My Mary!

Editor 1 Interpretation

"To Mary" by William Cowper: A Poem of Love, Longing, and Loss

If you're a fan of romantic poetry, there's a good chance you'll have heard of William Cowper. This 18th-century English poet is known for his sensitive, introspective verse that explores themes of love, nature, and the human condition. And if you're looking for a Cowper poem that captures all of these elements in one heart-wrenching package, look no further than "To Mary."

This is a poem that tells a story of love and longing, but also of loss and despair. Its narrator is a man who has been separated from his beloved Mary, and who is now left to face the emptiness of his life without her. As he looks back on their time together, he recalls the joy and happiness they shared, but also the pain and sadness of their separation. And as he contemplates his future without her, he realizes that he can never truly be happy again.

But what makes "To Mary" such a powerful and enduring poem? In this literary criticism and interpretation, we'll explore the themes, structure, language, and imagery of the poem to uncover its deeper meanings and explore why it continues to resonate with readers today.

Themes: Love, longing, and loss

At its core, "To Mary" is a poem about love and its many complex emotions. The narrator is clearly deeply in love with Mary, and his words are filled with tenderness, passion, and devotion. He speaks of her beauty, her grace, and her kindness, and he recalls the happiness they shared when they were together:

Oh thou, whose tender serious eyes
Expressive speak the mind I love,
The gentle azure of the skies,
The pensive shadows of the grove.

But the poem is also about the pain and sadness of separation. The narrator is no longer with Mary, and he feels lost and alone without her. He longs for her presence, for the touch of her hand, for the sound of her voice. He speaks of his "aching heart" and his "tearful eye," and he mourns the loss of the happiness they once shared:

Now the glad sun, his noon-tide height
Has gain'd, and, shrinking from his heat,
I seek the shelter of the night,
And rest, delighted, at thy feet.

And yet, despite the pain of their separation, the narrator remains devoted to Mary. He speaks of his "fond heart" and his "constant mind," and he promises that his love for her will never fade:

And though the desolate abode
Forbids th' enjoyment of thy love,
I'll be the faithful mourner there,
And grieve, till we shall meet above.

Structure: A series of quatrains

The structure of "To Mary" is relatively simple. The poem is made up of a series of quatrains, each consisting of four lines of iambic tetrameter. This gives the poem a regular, rhythmic feel, which mirrors the narrator's sense of order and control in the face of his overwhelming emotions.

At the same time, the quatrains also allow Cowper to explore a number of different ideas and emotions. Each stanza is self-contained, yet also connected to the others by the consistent rhyme scheme (ABAB). This creates a sense of continuity and coherence, even as the poem moves from one idea to the next.

Language: Simple yet powerful

One of the things that makes "To Mary" so powerful is the simplicity of its language. Cowper uses everyday words and phrases to convey the narrator's deep emotions, which makes the poem all the more relatable and accessible. Even readers who are not familiar with 18th-century English poetry can understand the passion and longing in the narrator's words:

Oh deign to listen to my lay,
And mourn with me my hapless love,
Whose dying hopes, and sad decay,
No power on earth can e'er remove.

At the same time, Cowper's language is also powerful and evocative. He uses vivid imagery to create a sense of atmosphere and emotion, as in the lines:

The gentle azure of the skies,
The pensive shadows of the grove.

Here, Cowper's use of color and light creates a sense of tranquility and serenity, which contrasts with the narrator's sense of loss and despair. Similarly, his use of the word "pensive" suggests a mood of introspection and contemplation, which matches the poem's overall tone.

Imagery: Nature and emotion

Another key element of "To Mary" is its use of imagery. Cowper often draws on the natural world to create a sense of atmosphere and emotion, as in the lines:

The gentle azure of the skies,
The pensive shadows of the grove.

Here, the contrast between the bright blue of the sky and the darker, more melancholy shadows of the grove creates a sense of tension and conflict, which mirrors the narrator's own emotional state.

Similarly, Cowper uses imagery to evoke the passing of time and the inevitability of change. He speaks of "the changing year" and "the rolling seasons," and he contrasts the summer's "glowing heat" with the winter's "rigid cold." These images create a sense of impermanence and transience, which underscores the narrator's sense of loss and despair.

Conclusion: A poem for the ages

In conclusion, "To Mary" is a poem that continues to resonate with readers today because of its timeless themes, simple yet powerful language, and evocative imagery. Its exploration of love, longing, and loss speaks to the universal human experience, and its regular, rhythmic structure makes it a pleasure to read and recite.

Whether you're a fan of romantic poetry or simply appreciate the beauty and power of language, "To Mary" is a poem that is well worth exploring. So why not take a few minutes to read it for yourself, and see why William Cowper remains one of England's most beloved poets?

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry To Mary: A Timeless Ode to Love and Devotion

William Cowper's "Poetry To Mary" is a classic ode to love and devotion that has stood the test of time. Written in the late 18th century, this poem is a beautiful expression of the poet's love for his beloved Mary Unwin. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of this timeless piece of poetry.


The central theme of "Poetry To Mary" is love and devotion. Cowper's love for Mary Unwin is evident throughout the poem, and he expresses it in various ways. He compares her to the sun, the moon, and the stars, emphasizing her beauty and radiance. He also speaks of her kindness, her gentle nature, and her unwavering support for him. The poem is a celebration of their love, and Cowper's devotion to Mary is evident in every line.

Another theme that runs through the poem is the power of poetry. Cowper believes that poetry has the ability to capture the essence of love and to express it in a way that is both beautiful and profound. He uses poetry as a means of expressing his love for Mary, and he believes that it is through poetry that he can truly convey the depth of his feelings.


"Poetry To Mary" is a sonnet, a form of poetry that consists of fourteen lines. The poem is divided into two parts, with the first eight lines (the octave) presenting the problem or situation, and the last six lines (the sestet) providing the resolution or conclusion.

The poem follows the traditional rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet, with the octave rhyming ABBAABBA and the sestet rhyming CDCDCD. This rhyme scheme creates a sense of symmetry and balance, which is appropriate for a poem that celebrates the harmony and balance of love.


Cowper's language in "Poetry To Mary" is rich and evocative, with a strong emphasis on imagery and metaphor. He uses a range of poetic devices, including simile, metaphor, personification, and allusion, to create a vivid and powerful picture of his love for Mary.

One of the most striking features of the poem is Cowper's use of celestial imagery. He compares Mary to the sun, the moon, and the stars, emphasizing her beauty and radiance. This imagery creates a sense of awe and wonder, and it reinforces the idea that Mary is a source of light and inspiration in Cowper's life.

Cowper also uses a range of other metaphors and images to express his love for Mary. He describes her as a "kindly nurse" who soothes his troubled mind, and he compares her to a "bower" where he can find peace and rest. These images create a sense of comfort and security, and they reinforce the idea that Mary is a source of strength and support for Cowper.


In conclusion, "Poetry To Mary" is a timeless ode to love and devotion that has stood the test of time. Cowper's use of language, imagery, and metaphor creates a vivid and powerful picture of his love for Mary, and his belief in the power of poetry to express the depth of human emotion is evident throughout the poem. This sonnet is a celebration of the harmony and balance of love, and it is a testament to the enduring power of love and devotion in human relationships.

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