Authors: Abraham Cowley

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet

Author Works


Poeticall Blossomes, 1633

The Mistress: Or, Several Copies of Love Verses, 1647

Poems, 1656 (also known as Miscellanies)

Verses Lately Written upon Several Occasions, 1663

Poemata Latina, 1668


Loves Riddle, pb. 1638

Naufragium Joculare, pr., pb. 1638

The Guardian, pr. 1641 (revised as Cutter of Coleman-Street)


A Proposition for the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy, 1661

A Vision, Concerning His Late Pretended Highnesse, Cromwell the Wicked, 1661

Several Discourses by Way of Essays in Prose and Verse, 1668


The Works of Mr. Abraham Cowley, 1668, 1681, 1689


Abraham Cowley (KOW-lee) was the seventh child of a London stationer who died before his child’s birth. Cowley’s mother obtained her son’s admittance to Westminster School as a king’s scholar, and very early the boy demonstrated his ability as a poet; at the age of fifteen he published a collection of poems, Poeticall Blossomes. In 1637 he entered Cambridge University, where he continued his literary efforts with a pastoral drama, Loves Riddle, and Naufragium Joculare, a Latin comedy. Cowley received his bachelor’s degree from Cambridge in 1639 and his master’s degree in 1642. During the English Civil War he sided with the Royalists against the Puritans and was forced to flee to France in 1646.{$I[AN]9810000616}{$I[A]Cowley, Abraham}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Cowley, Abraham}{$I[tim]1618;Cowley, Abraham}

In exile he was sent by the Stuarts on diplomatic missions throughout western Europe. One of his chief tasks at court was to encode and decode the voluminous correspondence between Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria until Charles’s death at the hands of the regicides in 1649. A volume of love poetry, The Mistress: Or, Several Copies of Love Verses, was published in 1647 while the poet was in France. The book was popular throughout the seventeenth century. After Cowley’s return to England, his Miscellanies, a collection of his poetical works, appeared in 1656. This volume included his love poems, the “Pindarique Odes,” and his unfinished epic, “Davideis.” The odes were highly serious poems; the “Davideis” was a Biblical epic in rhymed verse that he had written in part while he was at Cambridge.

While in England, Cowley was arrested and imprisoned as a spy, but he was later released on bail. He studied medicine and was given a medical degree at Oxford in 1657. He then returned to France to remain there until the Restoration in 1660. Shortly after Charles II ascended the throne, Cowley, awarded a lease of land by the Crown, settled in the Surrey countryside, where he remained until his death. During his last years, living in quiet retirement, he wrote eleven essays in the style of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne and composed a series of poems in Latin on flowers and plants.

BibliographyDykstal, Timothy. “The Epic Reticence of Abraham Cowley.” Studies in English Literature 31, no. 1 (Winter, 1991): 95. An analysis of Cowley’s Davedeis and John Milton’s Paradise Lost.Hinman, Robert B. Abraham Cowley’s World of Order. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960. Summarizes Cowley’s scholarship, outlines his notions about art, examines the influence of Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, reads the poems in terms of “order,” and evaluates Cowley’s position as a poet. Contains an extensive bibliography.Nethercot, Arthur H. Abraham Cowley: The Muse’s Hannibal. 1931. Reprint. New York: Russell & Russell, 1967. The definitive biography, this book discusses Cowley’s literary work, citing his composition of the first religious epic in English, his development of the Pindaric ode, and his literary criticism. Includes an extensive bibliography, several illustrations, and some documents, one of which is Cowley’s will.Pebworth, Ted-Larry. “Cowley’s Davideis and the Exaltation of Friendship.” In The David Myth in Western Literature, edited by Raymond-Jean Frontain and Jan Wojcik. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1980. Essay concerns the friendship of David and Jonathan, which is compared to the classical friendships of Damon and Pythias, Cicero and Atticus, and Orestes and Pylades and the topical friendship of Cowley and William Hervey. Examines the friendship in Davideis in terms of the three-step Neoplatonic progression of love.Revard, Stella P. “Cowley’s Pindarique Odes and the Politics of the Inter-Regnum.” Criticism 35, no. 3 (Summer, 1993): 391. An examination of Royalist celebration and resistance in Cowley’s Pindarique Odes. It is assumed that these texts and the political agenda they encode were produced under censorship.Taaffe, James G. Abraham Cowley. New York: Twayne, 1972. An excellent overview of Cowley’s literary work. Contains readings of many of Cowley’s works, with extensive commentary on Davideis. Of the shorter works, “The Muse,” the poems on the deaths of Richard Crashaw and William Hervey, and the Cromwell poem are treated in some detail. Includes a chronology and an annotated select bibliography.Trotter, David. The Poetry of Abraham Cowley. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1979. Tends to downplay political and social contexts and to stress the role of form in Cowley’s work. The lyric poems (especially The Mistress), the sacred poems, the Pindaric odes, and Cowley’s relationship to Richard Crashaw are treated in separate chapters. Contains a helpful bibliography.Walton, Geoffrey. “Abraham Cowley.” In From Donne to Marvell. Vol. 3 in A Guide to English Literature, edited by Boris Ford. London: Cassell, 1956. Walton regards Cowley as the bridge between Metaphysical wit and neoclassical poetry and relates Cowley’s poetry back to Jonson and Donne and ahead to Dryden and Pope, but Walton’s focus is on Cowley’s neoclassical verse, especially in the shaping of the Pindaric ode and the creation of the first neoclassical epic in English, Davideis.Williamson, George. Six Metaphysical Poets: A Reader’s Guide. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1967. Williamson’s chapter on Cowley provides a good overview of the metaphysical elements in Cowley’s poetry. Contains several one-page discussions of individual poems and concludes with an informative comparison between Cowley and Donne. For Williamson, Cowley’s love poetry is located between Donne’s metaphysical poetry and Waller’s verse.
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