The Castaway – William Cowper

As previously mentioned, I am on vacation.
I wonder how much I’m sleeping… I always feel that I sleep SO MUCH and yet not enough.
Anyhoo, as I am not actually HERE (wherever here is… or wherever you are… or… whatever…), I am taking this opportunity to post one of my favorite poems, because I’m generous like that, and there really is nothing like good poetry.

Actually, there’s nothing like bad poetry, either… I would gouge out my own eyes and swallow them whole, rather that sit through bad poetry.

The Castaway
William Cowper

Obscurest night involved the sky,

     The Atlantic billows roared,

When such a destined wretch as I,

     Washed headlong from on board,

Of friends, of hope, of all bereft,

His floating home forever left.


No braver chief could Albion boast

     Than he with whom he went,

Nor ever ship left Albion’s coast,

     With warmer wishes sent.

He loved them both, but both in vain,

Nor him beheld, nor her again.


Not long beneath the whelming brine,

     Expert to swim, he lay;

Nor soon he felt his strength decline,

     Or courage die away;

But waged with death a lasting strife,

Supported by despair of life.


He shouted: nor his friends had failed

     To check the vessel’s course,

But so the furious blast prevailed,

     That, pitiless perforce,

They left their outcast mate behind,

And scudded still before the wind.


Some succour yet they could afford;

     And, such as storms allow,

The cask, the coop, the floated cord,

     Delayed not to bestow.

But he (they knew) nor ship, nor shore,

Whatever they gave, should visit more.


Nor, cruel as it seemed, could he

     Their haste himself condemn,

Aware that flight, in such a sea,

     Alone could rescue them;

Yet bitter felt it still to die

Deserted, and his friends so nigh.


He long survives, who lives an hour

     In ocean, self-upheld;

And so long he, with unspent power,

     His destiny repelled;

And ever, as the minutes flew,

Entreated help, or cried, “Adieu!”


At length, his transient respite past,

     His comrades, who before

Had heard his voice in every blast,

     Could catch the sound no more.

For then, by toil subdued, he drank

The stifling wave, and then he sank.


No poet wept him: but the page

     Of narrative sincere,

That tells his name, his worth, his age,

     Is wet with Anson’s tear.

And tears by bards or heroes shed

Alike immortalize the dead.


I therefore purpose not, or dream,

     Descanting on his fate,

To give the melancholy theme

     A more enduring date:

But misery still delights to trace

Its semblance in another’s case.


No voice divine the storm allayed,

     No light propitious shone;

When, snatched from all effectual aid,

     We perished, each alone:

But I beneath a rougher sea,

And whelmed in deeper gulfs than he.

So good.
If you’re a fan of (good) poetry, check out
They have caverns filled with the stuff.


2 thoughts on “The Castaway – William Cowper

  1. I will probably lose all your respect by admitting that I don’t actually like poetry (though Gerard Manley Hopkins makes me happy), so I’m afraid this poem did not move me. Except for when the meter and theme started to make me think it might be the poem Edward read so badly on the movie version of Sense and Sensibility, and then I was delighted.


    1. I’m a firm believer in not pretending to like poetry (because people that pretend are the ones who can’t tell if it’s actually good poetry). That IS the same poem, so I always hear the end in Hugh Grant’s voice.


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