My hero: William Cowper | Books | The Guardian

William Cowper My Hero

So good to see William Cowper as a subject of The Guardian's regular My Hero column (Cowper is one of my heroes too):

Chosen by Alexandra Harris:

In the English visionary tradition, Cowper has a kinship with Stanley Spencer, that 20th-century interpreter of miracles found close to home. Grass and bricks and stones are talkative in Spencer's paintings, as they are in Cowper's poetry. "The very stones in the garden walls are my intimate acquaintance," wrote Cowper.

Cowper was a hero to many who came after him. Jane Austen's characters revere him (Marianne's suitors in Sense and Sensibility must have the right tone of voice for reading Cowper). For the Romantics, Cowper showed the way towards spontaneous expression, passionate response to nature, and the sacred stillness one finds, for example, in Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight". When Virginia Woolf quoted Cowper in her novels, she assumed her readers knew the poems. No one would assume that today. During his last, protracted, breakdown, the world became to him a "universal blank". And yet there had been times - preserved in his writing - when his wonderful roving, empathetic imagination found new pleasures every day just by looking at a hedge.