, born in London in 1618.
He was educated at Westminster
School and at the University of Cambridge
. The English Revolution
found him a royalist
; this political allegiance
got him expel
led from Cambridge (with loss of his fellowship
). He left England for Paris in 1644, where he served as cypher secretary
in the court of Henrietta Maria, queen consort of England.
He returned to England in 1655 as a Royalist spy. After the Restoration he retired to the country.
He enjoyed considerable fame during his lifetime, but afterwards he was forgotten and seen as a transitional figure between John Donne
and the Augustan
poets. His models were John Donne
, whose meter he tried to imitate.
Among his works, we remember a cycle of love poems titled The Mistress (1647), the 1656 Miscellanies, containing "Pindarique Odes"
and "Davideis", an unfinished epic on the biblical king David.
On E2: I came, I saw and was undone, The Given Heart (from The Mistress), and an anacreontic about Drinking.
His poem "If ever I more riches did desire" was set to music by Henry Purcell".
I find Cowley quite readable, probably more so than John Donne. Alexander Pope in 1737 wondered "Who now reads Cowley ?", but I don't think that popularity is the only measure of worth (besides one might ask Who now reads Pope ?, and the answer would probably be "bookworms and Eng Lit students").
What I particularly like about Cowley is his measured, epicurean tone, apparent in the following fragment:
Let me alive my pleasures have:
All are Stoics in the grave.
and in the elegy If ever I more riches did desire