William Cowper: Joy and Depression, Glimmers of Light in the Midst of Darkness (2022)

“God moves in a mysterious way” –from Cowper’s hymn, “Light Shining Out of Darkness”

Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”), a popular eighteenth century poet, was one of Jane Austen’s favorite authors. She mentions him in Sense and Sensibility as one of Marianne Dashwood’s favorites, and quotes him in Mansfield Park, Emma, Sanditon, and her own letters.

Cowper suffered from chronic depression. Early losses, his personality, and his family history all contributed to his illness. Four times he broke down completely for a long period. Once he was hospitalized in a mental institution, and in later episodes friends cared for him around the clock for months.

In his poem “The Castaway,” Cowper describes himself as drowning in the sea; yet he holds himself up for a time. Amazingly, in between his breakdowns, Cowper did have moments of joy (his own word) and productivity. He valiantly swam against the current. How did he keep swimming when he felt sad and overwhelmed?

(Important Note: If you are suffering from severe depression or suicidal thoughts, PLEASE see a doctor or seek other professional help, and share your struggles with a trusted friend; don’t try to do it alone. The “keys” below are things that helped Cowper during periods of mild depression, NOT severe depression, and he was always aided by friends who came alongside him. I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice.)

Cowper’s Keys for Finding Glimmers of Joy in the Darkness

Cowper was brought out of his first breakdown when he “believed, and received the gospel.” His letters during the following years reflect his faith and his joy in it. After his second breakdown, he continued to be “an advocate for evangelical truth” and to believe the Bible. Yet sadly he experienced many doubts about his own salvation. He may have believed his mental suffering indicated God’s wrath. Depression was little understood at the time, and Cowper describes it as the malady that “claims most compassion, and receives the least.”

William Cowper: Joy and Depression, Glimmers of Light in the Midst of Darkness (1)

Cowper tried to work as a lawyer to please his father, but, painfully shy, he failed. Later his dear friend John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace,” tried to make Cowper into a minister like himself, but this also did not fit. Cowper finally realized that he needed to live a very quiet, simple life in the country, and he became much more stable. (He was mostly supported by friends and relatives, and later received income from his writing.) Mike Mason says in Champagne for the Soul, “To accept and live within my limitations is freeing. . . . A life of joy rests upon the discovery of what I, and I alone, am meant to do, and then doing it with all my heart.”


While he didn’t socialize, Cowper was very close to a few friends. He lived for many years with the widowed Mrs. Unwin, who was a mother to him, substituting for Cowper’s mother who died when he was six. Other friends who regularly encouraged him were Newton and his wife, the Unwins’ son, and several of his relatives. His friend and neighbour Lady Ann Austen (no relation to Jane, as far as I know) inspired one of his greatest poems, “The Task,” by challenging him to write something about a sofa! He found much joy in these relationships and in writing letters to friends.

Regular Routines of Exercise and Work

Cowper went for daily walks, sometimes as long as four miles. He gardened, built a tiny greenhouse, did carpentry projects, learned to draw, and cared for animals, including three baby hares, rescued from the hunters. Doctors today tell us that regular exercise, sunshine, and active work are crucial for those suffering from depression.

(Video) Joy

William Cowper: Joy and Depression, Glimmers of Light in the Midst of Darkness (2)

Cowper loved the beauties of nature: “I can look at the same rivulet, or at a handsome tree, every day of my life with new pleasure.” In his poetry, nature reflects God’s creation and provision.

Worship Music

Cowper and Newton wrote a book of hymns together. Evangelical Anglicans were just beginning to introduce hymns into their Psalm-singing churches. Cowper believed that music should be used to help us worship God, not just to appeal to the senses.

He often referred to poetry as music. I think in his time popular poetry functioned somewhat like popular music does in our modern world, and of course songs are generally poetry set to music! Educated people, including Jane Austen, were very familiar with popular poems, though they were often book-length. They could quote lines or phrases which others would recognize and know their context and emotional impact, much as we might quote popular songs.


Creative expression can help relieve sadness. Cowper’s true gifting was writing poetry. He said it suppressed the negative thoughts that tortured him. He mostly wrote in winter; the darkness dragged him down (we might call that Seasonal Affective Disorder), but writing helped him cope and be happy.

Cowper wrote both to entertain himself and others, and to do good.His books of poetry began with entertainment to get people’s attention so they would listen to the following, more serious, topics.

Once when he was feeling low, his friend Lady Austen told him a funny story to cheer him up. He stayed awake most of the night laughing and writing his funniest poem, “The Diverting History of John Gilpin.” He wrote his best humorous poetry when he felt the worst emotionally; he made himself write at those times and it cheered him.

William Cowper: Joy and Depression, Glimmers of Light in the Midst of Darkness (3)

Cowper wanted people to think more “seriously,” meaning from a religious standpoint. (Jane Austen also sometimes uses “serious” to mean “religious.”) His poems satirized and confronted his society in areas such as slavery, cruelty to animals, the vices and failures of the clergy, and foolish, fashionable, London pastimes. Austen also satirized the issues she saw in her society, in a lighter way, in her novels a few years later. The sense that through his work Cowper was contributing something to society, making a difference in the world, also, I believe, brought him joy.

Cowper participated in many acts of charity. He did not have his own money, but others would send him money for the poor, and he distributed it to those most in need; another means of making a difference.


Cowper’s letters show that he made daily, constant choices—not to deny his negative feelings, because he always recognized them, but to focus on and express positive thoughts more than negative ones.

(Video) A Sherlock Holmes Novel: The Sign of the Four Audiobook

William Cowper: Joy and Depression, Glimmers of Light in the Midst of Darkness (4)

Perhaps in our day medications and doctors could have helped Cowper lead a stable life. Sadly, he died in his last bout of severe depression and mental illness. He did, however, live to the age of 68, and left a legacy of poetry and letters. He taught that some good could come from suffering. Cowper wrote in his most famous hymn:

Light Shining Out of Darkness

God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines Of never-failing skill,

He treasures up His bright designs, And works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace;

Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

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His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan His work in vain;

God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.

Do you agree? I’m encouraged that it is possible to find glimmers of joy in the midst of sadness, or at other times, if we are able (and of course sometimes people are not able) to actively seek it: through faith, knowing ourselves, friendship, exercise and work, nature, worship music, creative work such as writing or art, making a difference, and daily choices. There can be light shining through the darkness.

May you have a joy-filled New Year, whatever your circumstances may be!

Which of these sources of joy help you most in times of struggle?


A Portrait of William Cowper: His Own Interpreter in Letters and Poems, by Louise B. Risk. Glen Echo, MD: Bent Branch, 2004.

The Works of William Cowper, edited by T.S. Grimshawe, London: William Tegg, 1849.

(Video) Life in Christ, Vol 8 | Charles H. Spurgeon | Christian Audiobook

Olney Hymns, by John Newton and William Cowper. London: Johnson, 1797.

For Further Exploration

The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerdby John Piper gives a briefer but powerful view of Cowper’s life.

The Cowper and Newton Museum in Olney, in southern England, is a fascinating place to visit if you ever get a chance.

But I Beneath a Rougher Sea” by Barbara Rich explains the history and context of Cowper’s “The Castaway.” (However, the second part of the post deals with other issues of more recent history and politics.)

This video on “Cowper and Landscape” is part of a great series on Cowper presented by Chawton House; you can find the rest of the series also on youtube.

Cowper’s Influence on Jane Austen” is an excellent article, mostly on how Cowper relates to Fanny Price and Mansfield Park.

Sir Walter Elliott’s Looking Glass . . .” explores Cowper and Persuasion.

I Sing of the Sofa . . . Or, Why Fanny Price is a Cucumber” is another intriguing article about Cowper and Fanny Price in Mansfield Park.


What is Cowper's message in the poem light shining out of Darkness? ›


Who influenced William Cowper? ›

Through the encouragement of his friend and abolitionist, John Newton, Cowper became involved in their work, writing four poems in support of their cause.

What hymns did William Cowper write? ›

Two of Cowper's most famous poems written as hymns are: "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" and "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood." Both hymns appeared in Olney Hymns, 1779.

When did William Cowper write God Moves in a Mysterious Way? ›

"God Moves in a Mysterious Way" is a Christian hymn, written in 1773 by William Cowper from England. It was written by Cowper in 1773 as a poem entitled "Light Shining out of Darkness". The poem was the last hymn text that Cowper wrote. It was written following his attempted suicide while living at Olney.

What is the meaning of the poem Darkness? ›

"Darkness" is Lord Byron's terrible tale of apocalypse and despair. In this narrative poem, a speaker dreams of a future in which the sun burns out and the whole world is left in darkness. Panicking, the survivors of this catastrophe gradually destroy all remaining life in their efforts to survive.

Why does the poet want God to light the lamp? ›

Answer: The poet wants God to light the lamp of love in his heart to remove the darkness of ignorance .

What was William Cowper known for? ›

William Cowper (/ˈkuːpər/ KOO-pər; 26 November 1731 – 25 April 1800) was an English poet and Anglican hymnwriter. One of the most popular poets of his time, Cowper changed the direction of 18th-century nature poetry by writing of everyday life and scenes of the English countryside.

What is the writing style of William Cowper? ›

William Cowper's prose and poetry both display an elegant, convivial style. He absorbed a range of literary influences, perhaps beginning with two books he acquired as a child: the light verse of John Gay's Fables, and the Calvinist Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan.

Why does the poet consider the person to be worse than blind? ›

He is a loner and likes to be himself. He leads a life of a hermit ecstatically. The one who tries to seek a snail must be worse than a blind.

What does God Moves in a Mysterious Way means? ›

This page is about the saying "God moves in a mysterious way" Possible meaning: The implication is that God's plan is beyond human understanding. God has a reason for everything, however strange it may seem to us.

What is a Cowper? ›

Cooper (profession); cowper is an old English spelling of cooper (a maker or repairer of casks and barrels) Pre-ejaculate or Cowper's fluid, the clear fluid emitted when a man is sexually aroused.

Does the Bible say that God moves in mysterious ways? ›

Following the resurrection of the Savior, he walked along the way toward Emmaus with two of his disciples, and we are told that “their eyes were holden that they” didn't recognize Him. (Luke 24:16.)

What is the meaning of the passage God made man? ›

The term has its roots in Genesis 1:27, wherein "God created man in his own image. . ." This scriptural passage does not mean that God is in human form, but rather, that humans are in the image of God in their moral, spiritual, and intellectual nature.

What is drifting away from God? ›

Your relationship with God has faded; your prayers and devotions have become shallow or nonexistent. You may feel empty, like something's missing; or on the other hand, you feel so full of anxiety or sadness that it's overwhelming. You've drifted in your faith, and your life has become infected with spiritual sepsis.

What is the purpose of the darkness? ›

We need darkness to make our immune systems work. Also, in the dark, our bodies produce the hormone called melatonin, which helps fights diseases, such as breast and prostate cancer.

What is the true meaning of darkness? ›

: the total or near total absence of light. There was almost no light when he opened his eyes again.

What is the tone of the poem darkness? ›

Byron creates a swift movement of Time through the use of blank verse, enjambment, and punctuation. The poems gloomy and depressing tone is directly related to the personal depression Byron suffered from during his first summer in Switzerland, after he left England for the last time.

What did the lamp symbolize? ›

Life, the LIGHT of divinity, wisdom, intellect, and good works are all manifestations of the symbolic nature of the lamp. Lamps can also be a gateway to another plane, as in the story of Aladdin and the genie.

What does the light and or the darkness symbolize? ›

Generally speaking, light serves as a symbol of life, happiness, prosperity, and, in a wider sense, of perfect being. As a symbol of life, light can also serve as a symbol of immortality. Darkness, on the other hand, is associated with chaos, death, and the underworld.

What does lighting a lamp symbolize? ›

Fire represents luminance and brilliance. It acts as a dispeller of darkness. As soon as the fire is lit, darkness flees away. Similarly, the lamp being offered to the lord dispels the darkness inside the heart of the devotee.

Is love a fancy or feeling? ›

Is love a fancy, or a feeling? No. It is immortal as immaculate Truth, 'Tis not a blossom shed as soon as youth, Drops from the stem of life—for it will grow, In barren regions, where no waters flow, Nor rays of promise cheats the pensive gloom.

Who wrote the poem God made the country? ›

Solution : "God made the country" has been composed by William Cowper.

Who is the writer of God made the country and man made the town? ›

William Cowper Quotes

God made the country, and man made the town.

What is William Faulkner's style of writing? ›

What is William Faulkner's style of writing like? William Faulkner is associated with the Modernist and Southern gothic literary movements. The majority of his novels are set in the postbellum American South.

What is the effect of the town song by William Cowper? ›

Answer: Answer. The poet said God made the country and man made the towns to differentiate between the beauty of the countryside and the ugliness of the cities. EXPLANATION: In this beautiful poem by William Cowper, the poet said that it was God who made the countries as he glorified the beauty of the rustic villages.

What was the name of Cowper's cousin who gave him the picture? ›

Cowper, then 58 years old, received a picture of his mother in 1790, given to him by his cousin Ann Bodham.

What is the theme of On His Blindness poem? ›

"On His Blindness" centers on Milton's faith in God as he is losing his sight. The poem is a sonnet that uses figurative language to express Milton's fear, frustration, and acceptance. The poem signals a turn when Milton shifts from fear of punishment to realization.

What is the theme of the poem all but blind? ›

It is about the inner blindness of human beings. This simple poem describes three animals and their apparent blindness. Firstly, the poet talks about the mole that gropes for worms in its “chambered hole.” Secondly, there is the bat which twirls softly by, in the evening sky.

What is the tone of On His Blindness poem? ›

The speaker's tone is a progression from doubt and frustration to humbleness. His purpose in writing this poem in the first place reflects what he thinks about God. At first, he is doubtful about himself and what he can do, especially he is blind. He could have done great things, but now, that is all useless.

What is the light behind God called? ›

In theology, divine light (also called divine radiance or divine refulgence) is an aspect of divine presence perceived as light during a theophany or vision, or represented as such in allegory or metaphor. The term "light" has been widely used in spirituality and religion.

How do you move closer to God? ›

Here are some things each of us can do to foster a greater relationship with our creator.
  1. Pray. This is how we talk with God. ...
  2. Read the Bible. ...
  3. Give thanks. ...
  4. Practice humility. ...
  5. Memorize scripture. ...
  6. Honor God with your body. ...
  7. Start and End your day with God. ...
  8. Take thoughts captive.
14 May 2020

What is it called when God reveals things to you? ›

In religion and theology, revelation is the revealing or disclosing of some form of truth or knowledge through communication with a deity or other supernatural entity or entities.

Is SZA pronounced scissor? ›

It's pronounced Sizza, like, it would rhyme with scissor if scissor ended with an "ah" instead of an "or."

Why is water pronounced as wooder? ›

The word water is commonly pronounced /ˈwʊtər/ (with the first syllable rhyming with the word put, so that it sounds like "wooter" or "wooder"), rather than the more standard English /ˈwɔtər/. This is considered by many to be the defining characteristic of a Philadelphia dialect, even among young Philadelphians.

Is Rhys pronounced like Reese? ›

It is pronounced [r̥ɨːs] in North Wales, [r̥iːs] in South Wales, and /riːs/ REESS in English. Anglicised forms of the name include Reece, Rees, Reese and Rice.

Who holds the seat of Cowper? ›

Except for one brief break, the seat has been held by the National Party (previously known as the Country Party) and its predecessors since 1919.

What does Semean mean? ›

noun. se·​men ˈsē-mən. : a sticky whitish fluid of the male reproductive tract that contains the sperm.

How do you know God's will in a specific situation? ›

In His Own Words – 6 Steps on Finding God's Will
  1. First, commit your decision to God. ...
  2. Second, read the Scriptures. ...
  3. Third, understand your circumstances. ...
  4. Fourth, seek godly advice. ...
  5. Fifth, trust the Holy Spirit's guidance. ...
  6. Finally, trust God for the outcome.
5 Jun 2014

What is the secret of God's will? ›

What is God's secret will? The Bible speaks about “the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11). Everything that happens is woven into the purpose of God, and nothing that happens is outside of His will. God works all things according to the counsel of His will.

What is God's mysterious plan? ›

In Ephesians and Colossians, Paul said that God's secret plan had been revealed to him. It was always God's intention, but it had been kept secret until now. Paul had been entrusted with this mystery, and his job was to make it known to the world.

What are the 10 things God created? ›

Genesis 1
  • in the beginning - God started creation.
  • the first day - light was created.
  • the second day - the sky was created.
  • the third day - dry land, seas, plants and trees were created.
  • the fourth day - the Sun, Moon and stars were created.
  • the fifth day - creatures that live in the sea and creatures that fly were created.

What is the purpose of man on earth? ›

to cultivate the garden, to be fruitful and multiply, and. to rule over the earth and all that is in it.

Did God create man in his own image? ›

It stems from the primary text in Genesis 1:27, which reads: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." The exact meaning of the phrase has been debated for millennia.

What does God say about moving in silence? ›

Scripture tells us that silence can help us avoid sinning (Proverbs 10:19), gain respect (Proverbs 11:12), and is deemed wise and intelligent (Proverbs 17:28). In other words, you may be blessed by holding your tongue. Ultimately, refraining from speaking in certain situations means we are practicing self-control.

What to do when you feel disconnected with God? ›

Feeling Disconnected From God?
  1. Humble Yourself. Ask God to show you if there are any sins that you need confess. ...
  2. Talk to God. One of the easiest ways to reconnect with God is to simply talk to him throughout the day. ...
  3. Be Still. ...
  4. Schedule Time with God. ...
  5. Connect With Others. ...
  6. Grieve Your Losses. ...
  7. Push Restart As Needed.
25 May 2022

What is the central meaning or dominant message the poet is trying to deliver to the reader? ›

Theme. The central meaning or dominant message the poet is trying to deliver to the reader. Tone. The attitude the poem's narrator takes towards a subject or character.

What is the meaning of the poem lights out? ›

'Lights Out' describes the process of falling asleep. The poet compares the act of falling asleep to a journey. He says the speaker has come to the borders of sleep. He describes it in such a away that it would seem as if he is travelling to a different land.

What is the poet's message in Island man? ›

The poem expresses the homesickness immigrants can feel in a new country, while also suggesting that many immigrants keep their home alive within themselves and thus never truly leave it behind. Nichols first published “Island Man” in her 1984 collection, The Fat Black Woman's Poems.

What is the theme of the poem lights out? ›

It explores themes of sleep, death, and the unknown. Despite the poem's dark subject matter, the speaker's confident and determined tone presents death in an acceptable and entrancing light.

What is the main message of the poem? ›

Theme is the lesson or message of the poem.

What is the message in the poem? ›

Message is the thing that encourages poets to create poetry. The message can be found after knowing the meaning of poetry. Message or advice is captured by readers as the impression after reading the poem.

What is the central idea of the poem explain? ›

Complete answer:

A poem's core concept is the subject of the poem, or 'what it's about' if you like. While many shy away from poetry being 'about' something, at the end of the day, as it was written, the poet had something in mind, and that something, whatever it was or may have been, is the central concept.

What is the imagery in the poem out out? ›

Imagery is used all over the poem “Out, Out.” Frost's use of symbolism in the poem is significant because constant in Frost's writing style. When the dead boy's friends, neighbors, and family “were not the one dead, turned to their affairs” (line 39) symbolizes that most people, once dead, are forgotten in time.

What is the conflict in the poem out out? ›

Thus, the conflict between man and nature is expanded into a conflict between man's destructive qualities and his innocent acceptance of the natural world. At the climax of "Out, Out-" Frost clearly reveals the horrible nature of the conflict within man.

What point of view is the poem out out? ›

Instead, he wrote the poem from the perspective of the speaker. And that speaker here is a third-person observer who seems to be sorting through what happened—he dwells on events that took place over the course of milliseconds, and seems to try to understand what role the saw played in the event.

What is the poem trying to talk with a man about? ›

'Trying to Talk With a Man' movingly depicts a failing relationship. Once, the poet's marriage was a happy one, filled with music and cookies, with movies and 'afternoons on the riverbank'. And even the couple's struggles, we sense, used to bring them closer together.

What is the poet's message to the readers? ›

Solution : The poet gives a definite message that merely outer appearances and physical strength don. t make a person brave. One should have the strength of mind and self-confidence to be really great.

What techniques are used in Island Man? ›

Grace Nichols and "Island Man"

Through astute use of imagery and metaphor, the poem juxtaposes the two environments within the mind of the third-person speaker. The main theme is the cultural split experienced by this individual, the contrasts between the two, island life versus city life.

What does the title of the poem out out mean? ›

Frost's title is a reference to Shakespeare's Macbeth. It alludes to Macbeth's speech after the death of his wife, where he comments on the frailty and pointlessness of life. The full text is: Out, out, brief candle!

What is the meaning light out? ›

light out in American English

slang. to leave quickly; depart hurriedly.

What does the speaker mean by light and how light is spent? ›

Instead, we think that "light" is a metaphor for vision. The metaphor is complicated. The speaker says that his light can be "spent," and this word suggests that he is thinking of something like an oil lamp. The light is "spent" when the oil in the lamp runs out.


1. The Golden Alphabet | Charles H Spurgeon | Free Christian Audiobook
(Aneko Press)
2. Life in Christ, Vol 1 | Charles H Spurgeon | Christian Audiobook Video
(Aneko Press)
3. The Dawn of Day (Daybreak) by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche - Full Audiobook
(Great Audiobooks)
4. The Scarlet Letter Audiobook by Nathaniel Hawthorne | Audiobook with subtitles
5. Life in Christ, Vol 5 | Charles H. Spurgeon | Christian Audiobook
(Aneko Press)
6. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(Audiobooks Unleashed)

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