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Abraham Cowley 1618 - 1667

English poet, dramatist and essayist. His poetry includes The Mistress, or Several Copies of Love Verses (1647) and Poems (1656). He is best known for his Pindaric Odes and his unfinished epic, The Davideis. He also wrote A Poem on the Late Civil War and several odes and elegies. His plays include The Guardian (1641), later revised as The Cutter of Coleman Street (1661). His prose writings include A Proposition for the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy (1661) and many fine essays on general topics in the style of Montaigne. He is often described as the last poet of the Metaphysical school, writing The Mistress in the manner of Donne. But his style was mainly classical, more suited to the Augustan style of his successors like Dryden.


Cowley was born in London, the posthumous son of a bookseller. He was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1640 he was named Fellow at Trinity but was ejected in 1644 because he was a royalist who had even written a play performed for the King's entertainment two years earlier. He went to live at Oxford, a stronghold of the royalists, before fleeing the Civil War to join the group of exiles in Paris, France. He served as secretary to Lord Jermyn, the Queen's chamberlain. He also undertook various diplomatic missions at the bidding of the Queen, Maria Henrietta, whom he officially served as cipher secretary. He returned to London in 1654, possibly on a mission, and was arrested and briefly imprisoned. Having written his first poem, Pyramus and Thisbe (1628) when he was just ten, his Poetical Blossoms (1633) made him become known as a precocious talent. An established and popular poet, he produced his collected Poems in 1656, the same year he decided to study medicine at Oxford. Though he received his medical doctorate in 1657, he never practised. The 1660 Restoration of Charles II brought him great joy and he celebrated the event in one of his best-known odes, Upon the Blessed Restoration and Return of His Sacred Majesty Charles the Second. Though he was given back his Fellowship at Cambridge in 1661, he did not receive the royal favours he might have expected. He retired to Chertsey, Surrey, from where he gave continued support to the Royal Society of Science he had helped founded.

So great was his esteem that when he died he was laid to rest next to Chaucer and Spenser at Westminster Abbey.

Available Poems
A Supplication

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