Wednesday, October 7, 2009

William Cowper (1731-1800)

William Cowper (1731-1800), the renowned English poet whom Romantics like Coleridge and Wordsworth liked for his spiritual poetry, is now best known in the West for such famous quotes as "God made the country, and man made the town" and "I am monarch of all I survey." An average Pakistani, even if one cannot read or write, is familiar with at least one line from Cowper, and that is "Time was when I was free as air." Of course, they know it in translation from Iqbal: "Aata hai yad mujko guzra hua zamana..."

On a Golfinch Starved to Death in His Cage

Time was when I was free as air,
The thistle’s downy seed my fare,
My drink the morning dew;
I perch’d at will on every spray,
My form genteel, my plumage gay,
My strains for ever new.

But gaudy plumage, sprightly strain,
And form genteel were all in vain,
And of a transient date;
For, caught and caged, and starved to death,
In dying sighs my little breath
Soon pass’d the wiry grate.

Thanks, gentle swain, for all my woes,
And thanks for this effectual close
And cure of every ill!
More cruelty could none express;
And I, if you had shown me less,
Had been your prisoner still.


  1. fantastic! "Aata hai yad mujko guzra hua zamana..."

  2. Wow, I did not know that Iqbal's famous rendering was based on Cowper. It throws a whole new light on the Iqbal poem and explains more Cowper's. Cowper is a much neglected poet, a favourite of Sir John Betjeman's who often wrote about him.