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The Castaway by William Cowper



Full Prose Translation:

While out at sea a man falls overboard during a terrible storm. He and his crew were all brave men, their ship strong and sturdy. When life destines death, it will come. No human power could withstand the onslaught of undulating wave upon wave beating their ship. In attempting to save their lost crew-member, the men threw over all manner of objects from casks to ropes. But nature shot their ship away from the lost man like a cannon scudding through the stormy night—farther and farther from the man. Despite railing against his fate, he does not condemn his fellows, for he knows they have no choice.

Every moment staving off fate is an eternity when stranded at sea, but his fate is sealed nonetheless. The men aboard mourn him as they listen to his cries fade over the roiling waves; until he is heard no more.

In all accounts he was a hero, but no poet speaks of this lone man. Instead, Cowper speaks of him as like each of us in our lives. And most wretched of all, Cowper himself.

The Castaway


Obscurest night involv'd the sky,

Th' Atlantic billows roar'd,

When such a destin'd wretch as I,

Wash'd headlong from on board,

Of friends, of hope, of all bereft,

His floating home for ever left.

No braver chief could Albion boast

Than he with whom he went,

Nor ever ship left Albion's coast,

With warmer wishes sent.

He lov'd them both, but both in vain,

Nor him beheld, nor her again.

Not long beneath the whelming brine,

Expert to swim, he lay;

Nor soon he felt his strength decline,

Or courage die away;

But wag'd with death a lasting strife,

Supported by despair of life.

He shouted: nor his friends had fail'd

To check the vessel's course,

But so the furious blast prevail'd,

That, pitiless perforce,