William Cowper (1731-1800) was an English poet and singer of hymns. Alexander Selkirk (1676 – 1721) was a Scottish sailor who spent four years as a castaway on an uninhabited island. This poem was Cowper’s tribute to Alexander Selkirk whose shipwrecked existence upon an uninhabited island later inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe.
My guru Srila Prabhupada was fond of quoting lines 16 and 17 “Society, Friendship, and Love, Divinely bestow’d upon man” in his books and lectures.* It seems he studied Cowper at Scottish Churches College in Calcutta at the turn of the 20th century.
“The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk”
I am monarch of all I survey;
My right there is none to dispute;
From the centre all round to the sea
I am lord of the fowl and the brute
O Solitude! where are the charms
That sages have seen in thy face?
Better dwell in the midst of alarms,
Than reign in this horrible place.
I am out of humanity’s reach;
I must finish my journey alone;
Never hear the sweet music of speech —
I start at the sound of my own;
The beasts that roam over the plain
My form with indifference see —
They are so unacquainted with man,
Their tameness is shocking to me.
Society, Friendship, and Love
Divinely bestow’d upon man,
Oh had I the wings of a dove
How soon would I taste you again!
My sorrows I then might assuage
In the ways of religion and truth,
Might learn from the wisdom of age,
And be cheer’d by the sallies of youth.
Ye winds that have made me your sport,
Convey to this desolate shore
Some cordial endearing report
Of a land I shall visit no more.
My friends, do they now and then send
A wish or a thought after me?
O tell me I yet have a friend,
Though a friend I am never to see.
How fleet is a glance of the mind!
Compared with the speed of its flight,
The tempest itself lags behind,
And the swift-wingèd arrows of light.
When I think of my own native land,
In a moment I seem to be there;
But, alas! recollection at hand
Soon hurries me back to despair.
But the sea-fowl is gone to her nest,
The beast is laid down in his lair;
Even here is a season of rest,
And I to my cabin repair.
There’s mercy in every place;
And mercy—encouraging thought!—
Gives even affliction a grace,
And reconciles man to his lot.
(*this is one of my favourites:
“Srila Vidyapati, a great Vaisnava poet, has sung:
‘tatala saikate, vari-bindu-sama,
Material sense gratification, with society, friendship and love, is herein compared to a drop of water falling on a desert. A desert requires oceans of water to satisfy it, and if only a drop of water is supplied, what is its use?”) (from Srila Prabhupada’s purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 4: The Creation of the Fourth Order, 4.25.12.)
Posted by Kurma on 28/9/08; 4:53:55 AM