Many a long and joyless year have I

Two poems by William Cowper

To the Nightingale, Which the Author Heard Sing on New Year’s Day

  • Whence it is, that amazed I hear
  • From yonder withered spray,
  • This foremost morn of all the year,
  • The melody of May?
  • And why, since thousands would be proud
  • Of such a favour shown,
  • Am I selected from the crowd
  • To witness it alone?
  • Sing’st thou, sweet Philomel, to me,
  • For that I also long
  • Have practised in the groves like thee,
  • Though not like thee in song?
  • Or sing’st thou rather under force
  • Of some divine command,
  • Commissioned to presage a course
  • Of happier days at hand?
  • Thrice welcome then! for many a long
  • And joyless year have I,
  • As thou to-day, put forth my song
  • Beneath a wintry sky.
  • But Thee no wintry skies can harm,
  • Who only need’st to sing,
  • To make even January charm,
  • And every season Spring.

To the Rev. Mr. Newton: An Invitation into the Country

  • The swallows in their torpid state
  • Compose their useless wing,
  • And bees in hives as idly wait
  • The call of early spring.
  • The keenest frost that binds the stream,
  • The wildest wind that blows,
  • Are neither felt nor fear’d by them,
  • Secure of their repose.
  • But man, all feeling and awake,
  • The gloomy scene surveys;
  • With present ills his heart must ache,
  • And pant for brighter days.
  • Old winter, halting o’er the mead,
  • Bids me and Mary mourn;
  • But lovely spring peeps o’er his head,
  • And whispers your return.
  • Then April, with her sister May,
  • Shall chase him from the bow’rs,
  • And weave fresh garlands ev’ry day,
  • To crown the smiling hours.
  • And, if a tear, that speaks regret
  • Of happier times, appear,
  • A glimpse of joy, that we have met,
  • Shall shine, and dry the tear.

William Cowper (1731–1800) was an English poet renowned as one of the first “nature poets” of English prosody. Writing about the quotidian days and native scenery of the British Isles, Cowper served as a herald for the preceding generation of poets, particularly influencing with his own work the progenitors of English Romanticism Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) and William Wordsworth (1770–1850). As renowned for writing hymns as he was for his verse, Cowper is perhaps best known for penning “Light Shining Out of Darkness,” which includes the lines “God moves in a mysterious way/ His wonders to perform.”

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