The Winter Evening

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on December 22, 2009, 6:50 PM

Fanny Price quotes the poet William Cowper twice in Mansfield Park. He was one of Jane Austen’s favorite writers. (Her brother, Henry Austen, wrote in his preface to Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, “Her favourite moral writers were Johnson in prose, and Cowper in verse.”) Here is a passage from one of his poems that I thought was appropriate for the season.

Oh Winter, ruler of the inverted year,
Thy scattered hair with sleet-like ashes filled,
Thy breath congealed upon thy lips, thy cheeks
Fringed with a beard made white with other snows
Than those of age, thy forehead wrapped in clouds,
A leafless branch thy sceptre, and thy throne
A sliding car indebted to no wheels,
But urged by storms along its slippery way,
I love thee, all unlovely as thou seem’st,
And dreaded as thou art.  Thou hold’st the sun
A prisoner in the yet undawning East,
Shortening his journey between morn and noon,
And hurrying him, impatient of his stay,
Down to the rosy west; but kindly still
Compensating his loss with added hours
Of social converse and instructive ease,
And gathering at short notice in one group
The family dispersed, and fixing thought
Not less dispersed by daylight and its cares.
I crown thee king of intimate delights,
Fire-side enjoyments, home-born happiness,
And all the comforts that the lowly roof
Of undisturbed retirement, and the hours
Of long uninterrupted evening know.

Quoted from The Task, Book IV. The Winter Evening by William Cowper.


3 comments on “The Winter Evening

  1. Tom Gerry says:

    In the Winter Studies section of Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada, Anna Jameson quotes from the Cowper poem here. Does Austen quote from it, or is this just a Cowper example?

    • Miss Sneyd says:

      The Task is a poem in six books by William Cowper. The passage I quoted above is not, as far as I know, in any of Jane Austen’s works. Another line from the same book of the poem, however, is quoted in her novel Emma. It is in chapter 5 and the line quoted is “myself creating what I saw”. Also, the first book of the poem, The Sofa, is quoted by the character Fanny Price in Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. It is in chapter 6 and the line quoted is “Ye fallen avenues! once more I mourn / Your fate unmerited”.

      • Tom Gerry says:

        Thanks for that information. I wondered whether Jameson had read the line in Austen or in the Cowper poem itself. Seems it was in the original.

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