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Cowper, William - The Castaway - Obscurest night involved the sky



Type of Spiritual Experience


In the following poem, the story Cowper tells is of a real event.

 A sailor on a sailing boat was washed overboard and his fellow sea men had to leave him to drown because of the state of the weather.

Cowper tries to recreate this event, but in so doing also attempts to combine it with an allegorical description of how he feels.

He has been allegorically washed overboard from the ship of life and has been abandonned by his fellow men in the fury of the storm.

He suffered numerous nervous breakdowns and his ‘black ‘stages were truly appalling, he sunk to some terrible depths and clearly felt abandoned and drowning in his misery. “But I beneath a rougher sea And whelm'd in deeper gulfs than he”

A description of the experience

William Cowper – from the Everyman's poetry collection

Obscurest night involved the sky
The Atlantic billows roared
When such a destined wretch as I,
Washed headlong from on board,
Of friends, of hope, of all bereft
His floating home for ever left.
Not long beneath the whelming brine,
Expert to swim he lay,
Nor soon he felt his strength decline,
Or courage die away;
But waged with death a lasting strife,
Supported by despair of life.
He shouted; nor his friends had failed
To check the vessel's course,
But so the furious blast prevailed,
That pitiless perforce,
They left their outcast mate behind
And scudded still before the wind.
Some succour yet they could afford,
And such as storms allow
The cask, the coop, the floated cord
Delayed not to bestow.
But he (they knew) nor ship nor shore
Whate'er they gave, should visit more
Nor, cruel as it seemed, could he
Their haste himself condemn
Aware that flight, in such a sea
Alone could rescue them
Yet bitter felt it still to die
Deserted and his friends so nigh
At length, his transient respite past
His comrades who before
Had heard his voice in every blast
Could catch the sound no more
For then, by toil subdued, he drank
The stifling wave and then he sank. 

No poet wept him, but the page
Of narrative sincere,
That tells his name, his worth his age,
Is wet with Anson's tear;
And tears by bards or heroes shed
Alike immortalise the dead.
No voice divine the storm allays
No light propitious shone
When snatched from all effectual aid
We perish each, alone
But I beneath a rougher sea
And whelm'd in deeper gulfs than he

The source of the experience

Cowper, William

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Nervous breakdown