Friday 24 April

My friend Mike Kirtley writes: 

William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”) was an eighteenth century poet well known for his nature poetry and hymns, many written in conjunction with the converted slave trader, John Newton, who wrote “Amazing grace”. His writing influenced later poets such as Wordsworth and his clear and simple hymns have inspired generations of Christians.

I have recently come across a poem of his in another style, a comic ballad entitled “John Gilpin.” Gilpin on his wedding anniversary was to take his wife to the Bell at Edmonton but ended up riding a borrowed runaway horse up and down the county. Here are 3 stanzas as a taster for what (I think) still reads well as comedy today:

At Edmonton his loving wife
 From the balcony spied
Her tender husband, wondering much
 To see how he did ride.

‘Stop, stop, John Gilpin!—Here’s the house!’
 They all at once did cry;
‘The dinner waits, and we are tired;’—
 Said Gilpin—‘So am I!’

But yet his horse was not a whit
 Inclined to tarry there!
For why?—his owner had a house
 Full ten miles off at Ware.

William Cowper is best loved as a hymn writer, and he has written some of my favourite hymns. But he intrigues me even more as a man, like many creative geniuses, whose life was beset with darkness. He suffered at least six serious depressive breakdowns, several suicide attempts and much mental pain. Yet it is remarkable that his Christian faith upheld him throughout these trials and indeed inspired much of his writing..  And I can understand in small ways where Cowper is coming from as I recognise some of his personality traits in myself, though hopefully without the delusions and certainly without the genius! Not sure about the humour…

Anyway, here from Stillwaters Music is Cowper’s hymn “Sometimes a light surprises”, written during a happier time in his life. It’s message of simple trust in God is surely what we need now. May the light and healing love of the Lord surprise us in the days to come.