Monday, August 6, 2012


William Cowper (1731-1800) was a highly popular poet in 18th century England. He had three great loves of his life- they were his three rabbit companions , Puss, Bess and Tiney. He included his three rabbits in his poetry and letters, and wrote articles in the prestigious "Gentleman's Magazine" about them. Cowper was also a skilled carpenter and went to great pains constructing apartments for his three beloved rabbits. And like every responsible pet owner should be, he went to great lengths to learn all he could about the proper care of and best diet for his three little furry friends. William battled severe depression and suicidal tendencies all his life, and Puss, Bess and Tiny were a great source of strength for him, and helped to alleviate some of the debilitating symptoms of depression. He wrote about Puss in his famous poem "The Task". In Book III of that work in the section "The Garden", he describes his close relationship with Puss:

The Rabbit-Human Bond
Well – one at least is safe. One shelter’d hare
Has never heard the sanguinary yell
Of cruel man, exulting in her woes.
Innocent partner of my peaceful home,
Whom ten long years’ experience of my care
Has made at last familiar; she has lost
Much of her vigilant, instinctive dread.
Not needful here, beneath a roof like mine.
Yes – thou may’st eat thy bread, and lick the hand
That feeds thee; thou may’st frolic on the floor
At evening, and at night retire secure
To thy straw couch, and slumber unalarm’d.
For I have gain’d the confidence, have pledg’d
All that is human in me to protect
Thine unsuspecting gratitude and love.
If I survive thee I will dig thy grave
And, when I place thee in it, sighing, say,
I knew at least one hare that had a friend.

Robert Pinsky wrote this about another poem of Cowpers' entitled Epitaph on a Hare:

 "This poem about his not very nice but beloved pet rabbit, Tiney, is funny and charming, but those qualities do not divorce the poem from Cowper's intense melancholy and dread. The poem is about death and comfort, and it demonstrates the genuineness of its humility by its careful attention to details. The straightforwardness and smiling directness are sad, temperate, heartfelt, and moving, as well as droll."

Here lies, whom hound did ne'er pursue,
Nor swifter greyhound follow,

Whose foot ne'er tainted, morning dew,
Nor ear heard huntsman's hallo',

Old Tiney, surliest of his kind,
Who, nursed with tender care,

And to domestic bounds confined,
Was still a wild jack-hare.

Though duly from my hand he took
His pittance every night,

He did it with a jealous look,
And, when he could, would bite.

His diet was of wheaten bread,
And milk, and oats, and straw,

Thistles, or lettuces instead,
With sand to scour his maw.

On twigs of hawthorn he regaled,
On pippins' russet peel;

And when his juicy salads failed,
Sliced carrot pleased him well.

Turkey carpet was his lawn,
Whereon he loved to bound,

To skip and gambol like a fawn,
And swing his rump around.

His frisking was at evening hours,
'For then he lost his fear;

But most before approaching showers,
Or when a storm drew near.

Eight years and five round-rolling moons
He thus saw steal away,

Dozing out all his idle noons,
And every night at play,

I kept him for his humor's sake,
For he would oft beguile,

My heart of thoughts that made it ache,
And force me to a smile.

But now, beneath this walnut-shade
He finds his long, last home,

And waits in snug concealment laid,
Till gentler Puss shall come,

He, still more aged, feels the shocks
From which no care can save,

And, partner once of Tiney's box,
Must soon partake his grave.

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