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William Cowper - A Winter Nosegay, and Willoughby's Return

It's snowing again today in Barnet; the sky is as grey as the plump breasts of the woodpigeons that strut about outside in the garden looking for their breakfast. Increasingly, I am reminded of Narnia, and C.S. Lewis's magical, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and wonder if winter will be here forever. There are signs that spring is on its way, however, - there are tiny green shoots pushing their way up through the earth, despite the cold weather. At last, the snowdrops have made an appearance - aptly named, their delicate heads nodding as the snow falls down from the heavens.

I was reminded of this poem by William Cowper, one of Jane Austen's favourite poets. I used a tiny portion of this poem in Willoughby's Return - Marianne is feeling rather vulnerable and lonely when she receives a gift of Cowper's poems. The volume falls open at this particular poem where she also finds a letter, which gives rise to feelings of mixed emotions.

Here is the poem in full - I think it is one of Cowper's most beautiful poems.

The Winter Nosegay

What Nature, alas! has deni'd
To the delicate growth of our isle,
Art has in a measure suppli'd,
And winter is deck'd with a smile.
See, Mary, what beauties I bring
From the shelter of that sunny shed,
Where the flowers have the charms of the spring,
Though abroad they are frozen and dead.

'Tis a bower of Arcadian sweets,
Where Flora is still in her prime;
A fortress to which she retreats,
From the cruel assaults of the clime.
While earth wears a mantle of snow,
These pinks are as fresh and as gay,
As the fairest and sweetest that blow
On the beautiful bosom of May.

See how they have safely surviv'd
The frowns of a sky so severe!
Such Mary's true love that has liv'd
Through many a turbulent year.
The charms of the late-blowing rose,
Seem grac'd with a livelier hue,
And the winter of sorrow best shows
The truth of a friend, such as you.

William Cowper


Daffodils at Chatsworth
Kate Greenaway
Jane Odiwe