Saturday, May 22, 2010

William Cowper: "The Rapidity With Which Life Flies"

William Cowper -- that troubled man -- was a delightful correspondent.  Despite the mental distress that afflicted him most of his life, his letters are wise, observant, witty, and affectionate -- although the distress, and its attendant sadness, always hover nearby.  This passage is from a letter of October 26, 1790, to John Newton:

A yellow shower of leaves is falling continually from all the trees in the country.  A few moments only seem to have passed since they were buds; and in few moments more, they will have disappeared.  It is one advantage of a rural situation, that it affords many hints of the rapidity with which life flies, that do not occur in towns and cities.  It is impossible for a man, conversant with such scenes as surround me, not to advert daily to the shortness of his existence here, admonished of it, as he must be, by ten thousand objects.

There was a time when I could contemplate my present state, and consider myself as a thing of a day with pleasure; when I numbered the seasons as they passed in swift rotation, as a schoolboy numbers the days that interpose between the next vacation, when he shall see his parents and enjoy his home again.  But to make so just an estimate of life like this, is no longer in my power.  The consideration of my short continuance here, which was once grateful to me, now fills me with regret. I would live and live always, and am become such another wretch as Maecenas was, who wished for long life, he cared not at what expense of sufferings.
. . .
Adieu, my dear friend.  We are well; and, notwithstanding all that I have said, I am myself as cheerful as usual.

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