9 Mar

William Cowper was a poet (1731-1800). He was an Evangelical Christian, raised by his father John Cowper, a priest. His Christian way of life was reflected in his many hymns and poems. Cowper suffered an attack of insanity in 1773, believing he was condemned to hell and believing that God wanted him to kill himself. His repeated suicide attempts in previous years reflected his unstable state. Cowper’s obsession with death and the afterlife, particularly imagery of hell, as well as his descent into madness is apparent in his work, ‘The Castaway’. The final stanza reads:

“We perish’d, each alone:

But I beneath a rougher sea,

And whelm’d in deeper gulfs than he.”


Cowper’s loneliness is evident in his mentioning that he believes we each die alone. His comparison with his own suffering and a man drowning and his stating that his sea is rougher than the sailors, suggests that he believes madness is a fate worse than any physical act.


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