Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cowper footnotes

Reading a few William Cowper (1731-1800) poems the other day in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, I came across the following footnote: “Cowper exercised his hares on his parlor carpet of Turkey red.”

Well, there is a lot about Cowper that I don’t know, but, reading these lines from “Epitaph on a Hare”:
A Turkey carpet was his lawn,
Whereon he loved to bound
I could have figured out that this domesticated rabbit, now dead, used to run around on a Turkish carpet.

Why on earth note this?

Or, on the next page, “Puss, the longest-lived of Cowper’s three hares.”

There is so much else that I would love to know, there are things I know that I think other readers might take an interest in. But this is an old Norton (1975), from the new critical days where biography and history were anathema: there are no historical footnotes, no biographical notes. Most of the footnotes identify classical and Biblical allusions. Fair enough. But one of these storied editors must have been an animal lover…

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