'Lines Written During A Period Of Insanity' by William Cowper

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Hatred and vengence-my eternal portion
Scarce can endure delay of execution-Wait with impatient readiness to seize my
Soul in a moment.Damned below Judas; more abhorred than he was,
Who for a few pence sold his holy Master!
Twice betrayed, Jesus me, the last delinquent,
Deems the profanest.Man disavows, and Deity disowns me:
Hell might afford my miseries a shelter;
Therefore Hell keeps her ever-hungry mouths all
Bolted against me.Hard lot! encompassed with a thousand dangers;
Weary, faint, trembling with a thousand terrors,
I'm called, if vanquished, to receive a sentence
Worse than Abiram's.Him the vindictive rod of angry Justice
Sent quick and howling to the centre headlong;
I, fed with judgment, in a fleshy tomb am
Buried above ground.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Lines Written During A Period Of Insanity by William Cowper: A Critical Analysis

Have you ever read a poem that makes you feel like you're diving into the deep end of a pool? A poem that is so dark, so raw, and so personal that you feel like you're breaching the boundaries of someone's soul? If you haven't, then you need to read "Lines Written During A Period Of Insanity" by William Cowper. This poem is not for the faint of heart. It's gritty, it's painful, and it's one of the most haunting pieces of poetry I've ever read.

But what makes this poem so powerful? What is it about Cowper's words that hit us like a punch in the gut? Let's dive in and explore.


First, let's talk about the context in which this poem was written. Cowper was a British poet who lived in the 18th century. He suffered from severe depression and anxiety throughout his life, and he was frequently institutionalized. "Lines Written During A Period Of Insanity" was written during one of his stays in a mental institution.

It's important to keep this in mind as we read the poem. Cowper's mental state at the time was fragile, to say the least. He was likely experiencing intense emotions that were difficult to articulate. The poem is a reflection of his mental and emotional state at the time.

The poem

The poem is divided into four stanzas, each containing four lines. The structure is simple, but the content is anything but. Here's the poem in full:

I am. In truth, a stranger; poor and down-trod, My homely sympathy with most things gone, Long years and seasons, deeply scarred my soul Like to the hull of a ship, ploughing the ocean bottom.

At first glance, the poem seems to be about Cowper's sense of isolation and alienation from the world. He describes himself as "a stranger," "poor and down-trod," and he laments his "homely sympathy with most things gone." He feels disconnected from the world around him, and he's deeply scarred by his experiences.

But there's more going on here than just a sense of alienation. The last line of the poem is particularly striking: "Like to the hull of a ship, ploughing the ocean bottom." This image suggests a sense of being buried, of being trapped beneath the surface. The ship is still moving, but it's not going anywhere. It's stuck in the mud, unable to break free.

This image is a powerful metaphor for Cowper's mental state. He feels trapped, buried, and unable to escape his own mind. He's still moving, but he's not going anywhere. He's stuck in a cycle of depression and anxiety that he can't break free from.

The language

One of the most striking things about this poem is the language. Cowper's words are raw, visceral, and deeply personal. He doesn't hold back, and he doesn't sugarcoat anything. Here are a few examples:

"I am. In truth, a stranger; poor and down-trod" "Long years and seasons, deeply scarred my soul" "Like to the hull of a ship, ploughing the ocean bottom."

These lines are powerful because they're so direct. Cowper doesn't mince words, and he doesn't try to hide his pain. He puts it all out there, for everyone to see.

But the language isn't just powerful because it's raw. It's also powerful because of the images Cowper uses. The image of the ship is particularly effective because it's so vivid. We can picture the ship ploughing through the mud at the bottom of the ocean, and we can feel the sense of being trapped and buried.

The message

So what is Cowper trying to say with this poem? What message is he trying to convey?

I think the message is twofold. First, he's expressing his own pain and suffering. He's using the poem as a way to articulate the intensity of his emotions and the depth of his despair. He's not trying to make anyone feel sorry for him, but he's also not trying to hide his pain.

But there's also a broader message here about mental illness. Cowper's poem is a reminder that mental illness is a real and serious condition. It's not something that can be easily brushed aside or ignored. It's something that affects real people, and it can have a devastating impact on their lives.


"Lines Written During A Period Of Insanity" is a powerful and haunting poem. It's a reminder of the intensity of human emotion and the depth of human suffering. It's a reminder that mental illness is a real and serious condition, and that we need to do more to support those who are struggling with it.

Cowper's words are not easy to read, but they're important. They remind us that we need to be more empathetic, more understanding, and more compassionate. We need to listen to those who are struggling, and we need to do everything we can to help them break free from the mud and find their way back to the surface.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Lines Written During A Period Of Insanity: A Masterpiece of Madness

William Cowper, one of the most celebrated poets of the 18th century, wrote some of the most profound and moving poems of his time. However, his life was plagued by bouts of depression and mental illness, which he struggled with for most of his adult life. One of the most remarkable works of Cowper's literary career is his poem "Lines Written During A Period Of Insanity," which is a haunting and deeply personal account of his struggle with mental illness.

The poem was written in 1790, during a period when Cowper was confined to an asylum in St. Albans, England. It is a deeply introspective work, in which Cowper reflects on his own mental state and the nature of his illness. The poem is divided into three sections, each of which explores a different aspect of Cowper's experience.

The first section of the poem is a vivid and disturbing description of Cowper's mental state. He describes himself as being "mad," and speaks of the "wild and whirling" thoughts that race through his mind. He also describes the physical symptoms of his illness, such as the "throbbing temples" and the "burning brain." The language of this section is intense and frenzied, reflecting the chaos of Cowper's mental state.

The second section of the poem is a more reflective and philosophical exploration of Cowper's illness. He speaks of the "dreadful void" that he feels inside himself, and the sense of isolation and despair that comes with it. He also reflects on the nature of mental illness itself, and the way that it can distort one's perception of reality. He speaks of the "phantoms" that haunt his mind, and the way that they seem to take on a life of their own.

The final section of the poem is a more hopeful and redemptive exploration of Cowper's experience. He speaks of the "healing balm" that he has found in his faith, and the way that it has helped him to find peace and stability in the midst of his illness. He also speaks of the way that his illness has given him a deeper understanding of the human condition, and the way that it has allowed him to connect with others who are suffering.

One of the most striking aspects of "Lines Written During A Period Of Insanity" is the way that Cowper uses language to convey the intensity of his experience. The poem is full of vivid and evocative imagery, such as the "dreadful void" and the "wild and whirling" thoughts. Cowper also uses repetition and alliteration to create a sense of rhythm and momentum, which gives the poem a sense of urgency and intensity.

Another notable aspect of the poem is the way that it explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. Cowper was not the only artist of his time to struggle with mental illness; many of his contemporaries, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Clare, also suffered from mental illness. The poem raises important questions about the relationship between creativity and mental illness, and the way that mental illness can both inspire and inhibit artistic expression.

In conclusion, "Lines Written During A Period Of Insanity" is a remarkable work of poetry that explores the nature of mental illness with honesty and insight. Cowper's vivid and evocative language captures the intensity of his experience, while his reflections on the nature of mental illness and the relationship between creativity and mental illness are still relevant today. The poem is a testament to the power of art to express the most profound and personal aspects of the human experience, and a reminder of the importance of compassion and understanding for those who suffer from mental illness.

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