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Short poem

William Cowper (1731-1800)

To Mary

              1The twentieth year is well nigh past,
              2Since first our sky was overcast;
              3Ah, would that this might be the last!
              4      My Mary!

              5Thy spirits have a fainter flow,
              6I see thee daily weaker grow--
              7'Twas my distress that brought thee low,
              8      My Mary!

              9Thy needles, once a shining store,
            10For my sake restless heretofore,
            11Now rust disus'd, and shine no more,
            12      My Mary!

            13For though thou gladly wouldst fulfil
            14The same kind office for me still,
            15Thy sight now seconds not thy will,
            16      My Mary!

            17But well thou play'dst the housewife's part,
            18And all thy threads with magic art
            19Have wound themselves about this heart,
            20      My Mary!

            21Thy indistinct expressions seem
            22Like language utter'd in a dream;
            23Yet me they charm, whate'er the theme,
            24      My Mary!

            25Thy silver locks, once auburn bright,
            26Are still more lovely in my sight
            27Than golden beams of orient light,
            28      My Mary!

            29For, could I view nor them nor thee,
            30What sight worth seeing could I see?
            31The sun would rise in vain for me,
            32      My Mary!

            33Partakers of thy sad decline,
            34Thy hands their little force resign;
            35Yet gently press'd, press gently mine,
            36      My Mary!

            37Such feebleness of limbs thou prov'st,
            38That now at ev'ry step thou mov'st
            39Upheld by two; yet still thou lov'st,
            40      My Mary!

            41And still to love, though press'd with ill,
            42In wintry age to feel no chill,
            43With me is to be lovely still,
            44      My Mary!

            45But ah! by constant heed I know,
            46How oft the sadness that I show
            47Transforms thy smiles to looks of woe,
            48      My Mary!

            49And should my future lot be cast
            50With much resemblance of the past,
            51Thy worn-out heart will break at last,
            52      My Mary!


1] Written in the autumn of 1793, and first published in 1803. The "Mary" of the poem is Mrs. Unwin, the almost lifelong companion of the poet. In 1793 she was very ill, having suffered for two years from a series of paralytic strokes. She died in December 1796.
the twentieth year. It was in 1773, just twenty years before the writing of the poem, that Cowper's projected marriage to the widowed Mrs. Unwin was prevented by his temporary derangement of mind.

7] Cowper attributed Mrs. Unwin's illness to her anxiety upon his account during his frequent attacks of mental depression.

15] seconds: supports.

21] indistinct expressions. Mrs. Unwin's illness had resulted in partial inarticulateness.

42] chill: loss of affection.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: William Hayley, Life and Posthumous Writings of William Cowper (Chichester: J. Seagrave; for J. Johnson, London, 1803-04). E-10 3766 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1803
RPO poem editor: G. G. Falle
RP edition: 3RP 2.258.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/10

Composition date: 1793
Rhyme: aaab cccb ...

Other poems by William Cowper