Alone, unfriended, on a foreign shore,
Behold an hapless, melancholy maid,
Begging her scanty fare from door to door,
With piteous voice, and humbly bended head.
Alas! her native tongue is known to few;
Her manners and her garb excite surprise;
The vulgar stare to see her bid adieu;
Her tattered garments fix their curious eyes.
Cease, cease your laugh, ye thoughtless vain;
Why sneer at yon poor Indian's pain?
'Tis nature's artless voice that speaks:—
Behold! the tear, bedew her cheeks!
Imploring actions, —bursting sighs,
Reveal enough to British eyes!
William Cowper suffered from acute depression as well as recurring attacks
of mental illness, and attempted suicide several times. He felt isolated and
spurned by providence—a theme that appears in his major works, such
as “The Castaway” (1803). A bright spot in his life was his friendship with
Mary Unwin. They became engaged, but his recurring mental illness and
her poor health prevented the marriage from taking place. Cowper's works,
including The Task (1785), were canonical during the Romantic era.
Mary! I want a lyre with other strings;
Such aid from Heaven, as some have feigned they drew!
An eloquence scarce given to mortals, new,
And undebased by praise of meaner things!
That ere through age or woe I shed my wings,
I may record thy worth, with honor due,
In verse as musical, as thou art true,
Verse, that immortalizes whom it sings!
But thou hast little need: There is a book
By seraphs writ with beams of heavenly light,
On which the eyes of God not rarely look;
A chronicle of actions just and bright!