Saturday, 24 October 2009

Love Abused

How would you respond if your cousin wrote a book advocating polygamy? Unsurprisingly, poet William Cowper (1731-1800) responded in verse, with a poem entitled 'Love Abused':

What is there in the vale of life
Half so delightful as a Wife,
When friendship, love, and peace combine
To stamp the marriage-bond divine?
The stream of pure and genuine love
Derives its current from above;
And earth a second Eden shows,
Where'er the healing water flows:
But ah! if from the dykes and drains
Of sensual nature's feverish veins,
Lust, like a lawless headstrong flood,
Impregnated with ooze and mud,
Descending fast on every side,
Once mingles with the sacred tide,
Farewell the soul-enlivening scene!
The banks that wore a smiling green,
With rank defilement overspread,
Bewail their flowery beauties dead.
The stream, polluted, dark, and dull,
Diffused into a Stygian pool,
Through life's last melancholy years
Is fed with ever-flowing tears:
Complaints supply the zephyr's part,
And sighs that heave a breaking heart.

['Stygian' = 'Of or pertaining to the River Styx or the underworld... black, gloomy, indistinct, infernal, hellish']

Ok, so what? Polygamy isn't really a hot issue for me. But then look around society and quickly you can replace talk of polygamy with the very similar issue of socially-acceptable (even encouraged) serial monogamy. As a newcomer to Cowper's poetry (having recently found his collected poetical works on a secondhand bookstall) what strikes me is how incisive his insight can be at times, and how much he can say with so few words. Serial monogamy is the search for 'the one', 'Mr Right', and personal fulfilment - and it's everywhere in our society. Relationships are such a prominent idol - the holy grail of contentment, but what do we find?

'Farewell the soul-enlivening scene!'

We find we've lost something - somehow that fulfilment remains elusive, our souls are never quite satisfied. Why? Because we've abandoned the God-given scenario of marriage, that when undertaken in a godly and responsible way offers something comparable to a 'second Eden', we find that we just can't fill the hole that's left. You can see the last four lines in action all around you - just open your eyes.

But we don't see it. We've decided a priori that the Creator's instructions are dull, dusty and terribly inhibiting. So we're pursuing 'freedom' without the One who could show us how to find it (and what 'freedom' really is) - the One who is the Truth. With what effect? Here's the closing lines of 'The Progress of Error' (the first 12-page poem I've ever read!!) that so effectively describe what's going on... and point to the only answer.

Hear the just law - the judgement of the skies!
He that hates truth shall be the dupe of lies;
And he that will be cheated to the last,
Delusions strong as Hell shall bind him fast.
But if the wanderer his mistake discern,
Judge his own ways, and sigh for a return,
Bewildered once, must he bewail his loss
For ever and for ever? No - the Cross!
There, and there only (though the deist rave,
And atheist, if Earth bear so base a slave)
There, and there only, is the power to save.
There no delusive hope invites despair.
No mockery meets you, no deception there;
The spells and charms that blinded you before,
All vanish there, and fascinate no more.
I am no preacher; let this hint suffice -
The Cross once seen is death to every vice;
Else He that hung there suffered all his pain,
Bled, groaned, and agonized, and died in vain.


  1. William Cowper = Awesome testimony! Nice blog PT :)

  2. Nice blog yourself! Have you listened to John Piper's biography of Cowper (I notice you've done John Owen)? If not - listen!