HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Poetical Works: Complete Edition
Author: William Cowper
Publisher: Benediction Classics, republished in 2010
ISBN-13: 978-1849027564 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1849027560 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-1406792034 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 1406792039 (Paperback)
Language level 1:
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Mostly of interest to teens and adults, but suitable for anyone
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Cowper, William. Poetical Works: Complete Edition (my copy published n. d. by Thomas Y. Crowell and Co., 13 Astor Place, New York City, NY). Church-goers may recognize the name of William Cowper as the writer of such well-known hymns as “O For a Closer Walk with God,” “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” and perhaps his most famous, “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” However, academics recognize Cooper as one of the greatest English poets in the latter half of the eighteenth century. By way of brief biography, Cowper was the son of John Cowper, an Anglican minister. His mother died when William was just six years old, leaving him with a nervous temperament. In short, during his younger years, he suffered from frequent bouts of what was usually called “melancholia,” some kind of mental illness. He tried to commit suicide several times and was eventually put into an insane asylum.
Upon his release, Cowper was helped by friends, Morley Unwin, a minister, and Unwin’s wife Mary, and later John Newton, another minister of “Amazing Grace” fame, all of whom, recognizing his talents, encouraged him to deal with the issues that had caused his “episodes” by writing poetry. As mentioned previously, some of his poems were hymns which were included in the Olney Hymns which he and Newton compiled for the church in Olney, England, where they lived. However, he produced many other poems besides these. Cowper continued to deal with his “demons” for the rest of his life, but he carved a very important niche for himself in English literature. I love Cowper’s hymns and have wanted to read some of his other poems, so I was happy to come across a copy of his complete Poetical Works in some old books that I had inherited from someone.
Though it is a perfectly legitimate form of literature, I am not a big fan of poetry. Just about any poetry, especially long poems, tends to put me to sleep if I try to read very much at a time. I do like Cowper, and I really enjoyed reading “The Diverting History of John Gilpin,” more commonly known as “John Gilpin’s Ride,” which Cowper based on an already existing tale told to him in his childhood by a friend. I also enjoyed some of his shorter poems, including his account of the death of a friend’s pet finch at the paws of a rat. There’s a section in the back of the book with Cowper’s translations of Greek, Latin, Italian, and French poems, but I’m not interested in those, so I skipped them. If you like poetry, I recommend William Cowper. “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.”