William Cowper (1731-1800)
On Receipt Of My Mother's Picture
1 Oh that those lips had language! Life has pass'd
2With me but roughly since I heard thee last.
3Those lips are thine--thy own sweet smiles I see,
4The same that oft in childhood solaced me;
5Voice only fails, else, how distinct they say,
6"Grieve not, my child, chase all thy fears away!"
7The meek intelligence of those dear eyes
8(Blest be the art that can immortalize,
9The art that baffles time's tyrannic claim
10To quench it) here shines on me still the same.
11 Faithful remembrancer of one so dear,
12Oh welcome guest, though unexpected, here!
13Who bidd'st me honour with an artless song,
14Affectionate, a mother lost so long,
15I will obey, not willingly alone,
16But gladly, as the precept were her own;
17And, while that face renews my filial grief,
18Fancy shall weave a charm for my relief--
19Shall steep me in Elysian reverie,
20A momentary dream, that thou art she.
21 My mother! when I learn'd that thou wast dead,
22Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed?
23Hover'd thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son,
24Wretch even then, life's journey just begun?
25Perhaps thou gav'st me, though unseen, a kiss;
26Perhaps a tear, if souls can weep in bliss--
27Ah that maternal smile! it answers--Yes.
28I heard the bell toll'd on thy burial day,
29I saw the hearse that bore thee slow away,
30And, turning from my nurs'ry window, drew
31A long, long sigh, and wept a last adieu!
32But was it such?--It was.--Where thou art gone
33Adieus and farewells are a sound unknown.
34May I but meet thee on that peaceful shore,
35The parting sound shall pass my lips no more!
36Thy maidens griev'd themselves at my concern,
37Oft gave me promise of a quick return.
38What ardently I wish'd, I long believ'd,
39And, disappointed still, was still deceiv'd;
40By disappointment every day beguil'd,
41Dupe of to-morrow even from a child.
42Thus many a sad to-morrow came and went,
43Till, all my stock of infant sorrow spent,
44I learn'd at last submission to my lot;
45But, though I less deplor'd thee, ne'er forgot.
46 Where once we dwelt our name is heard no more,
47Children not thine have trod my nurs'ry floor;
48And where the gard'ner Robin, day by day,
49Drew me to school along the public way,
50Delighted with my bauble coach, and wrapt
51In scarlet mantle warm, and velvet capt,
52'Tis now become a history little known,
53That once we call'd the past'ral house our own.
54Short-liv'd possession! but the record fair
55That mem'ry keeps of all thy kindness there,
56Still outlives many a storm that has effac'd
57A thousand other themes less deeply trac'd.
58Thy nightly visits to my chamber made,
59That thou might'st know me safe and warmly laid;
60Thy morning bounties ere I left my home,
61The biscuit, or confectionary plum;
62The fragrant waters on my cheeks bestow'd
63By thy own hand, till fresh they shone and glow'd;
64All this, and more endearing still than all,
65Thy constant flow of love, that knew no fall,
66Ne'er roughen'd by those cataracts and brakes
67That humour interpos'd too often makes;
68All this still legible in mem'ry's page,
69And still to be so, to my latest age,
70Adds joy to duty, makes me glad to pay
71Such honours to thee as my numbers may;
72Perhaps a frail memorial, but sincere,
73Not scorn'd in heav'n, though little notic'd here.
74 Could time, his flight revers'd, restore the hours,
75When, playing with thy vesture's tissued flow'rs,
76The violet, the pink, and jessamine,
77I prick'd them into paper with a pin,
78(And thou wast happier than myself the while,
79Would'st softly speak, and stroke my head and smile)
80Could those few pleasant hours again appear,
81Might one wish bring them, would I wish them here?
82I would not trust my heart--the dear delight
83Seems so to be desir'd, perhaps I might.--
84But no--what here we call our life is such,
85So little to be lov'd, and thou so much,
86That I should ill requite thee to constrain
87Thy unbound spirit into bonds again.
88 Thou, as a gallant bark from Albion's coast
89(The storms all weather'd and the ocean cross'd)
90Shoots into port at some well-haven'd isle,
91Where spices breathe and brighter seasons smile,
92There sits quiescent on the floods that show
93Her beauteous form reflected clear below,
94While airs impregnated with incense play
95Around her, fanning light her streamers gay;
96So thou, with sails how swift! hast reach'd the shore
97"Where tempests never beat nor billows roar,"
98And thy lov'd consort on the dang'rous tide
99Of life, long since, has anchor'd at thy side.
100But me, scarce hoping to attain that rest,
101Always from port withheld, always distress'd--
102Me howling winds drive devious, tempest toss'd,
103Sails ript, seams op'ning wide, and compass lost,
104And day by day some current's thwarting force
105Sets me more distant from a prosp'rous course.
106But oh the thought, that thou art safe, and he!
107That thought is joy, arrive what may to me.
108My boast is not that I deduce my birth
109From loins enthron'd, and rulers of the earth;
110But higher far my proud pretensions rise--
111The son of parents pass'd into the skies.
112And now, farewell--time, unrevok'd, has run
113His wonted course, yet what I wish'd is done.
114By contemplation's help, not sought in vain,
115I seem t' have liv'd my childhood o'er again;
116To have renew'd the joys that once were mine,
117Without the sin of violating thine:
118And, while the wings of fancy still are free,
119And I can view this mimic shew of thee,
120Time has but half succeeded in his theft--
121Thyself remov'd, thy power to sooth me left.
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 Cowper, Two poems, printed in 1798 (Oxford: Printed by J. Johnson at the Clarendon Press, 1926). PR 3382 T7 1926 ROBA.
First publication date:
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP 1.754.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/12
Form: Heroic Couplets
Other poems by William Cowper