Cowper Avenue, E6

Place Name

William Cowper (November 15, 1731 – April 25, 1800) was one of the forerunners of Romantic poetry. His name is pronounced Cooper. Fiercely against slavery, one of his best known works was The Negro’s Complaint, commissioned in 1788 for the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which was often quoted by Martin Luther King Jr. But he is probably best known for his translations, from the Greek, of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, published in 1791. Overall more than 100 editions of his poems were published in Britain and almost 50 in America. Among them was the poem Light Shining out of Darkness which gave the phrase: “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” He was born at the rectory in Great Berkhamstead (now Berkhamsted), Hertfordshire, the first surviving child of the Reverend John Cowper and Ann Donne Cowper, the daughter of Roger Donne of Ludham Hall, Norfolk. Horrendously bullied at school he suffered a second major trauma aged six, when his mother died. When he finished schooled he trained to be a solicitor during which time he began writing poetry. A doomed love affair and pressures from work sent the young man into fits of depression and he tried to commit suicide. He was encouraged to write more hymns and poetry to occupy his troubled mind. He died after contracting dropsy and is buried in the chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury, St Nicholas’s Church in East Dereham, and a stained-glass window there commemorates his life. Poets and playwrights were, and remain a popular subject matter for street names. This is one of a small cluster of streets named after famous poets and playwrights.

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