Analyze the poem "Crazy Kate" by William Cowper for symbol and theme.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The primary symbol of "Crazy Kate" by William Cowper is introduced in the first lines: "With prickly goss, that shapeless and deform / And dangerous to the touch, has yet its bloom...." The word "goss" is a dialectal variation of the word "gorse," a prickly, spiny shrub with black pods and yellow blossoms: "decks itself with ornaments of gold...." Cowper builds a metaphoric analogy between the symbol of "goss" and Crazy Kate. His tone is one of respect and kindness, not disparagement or contempt. The tone is evident is "ornaments of gold," "no unpleasant ramble," "smells fresh," etc.

Two themes of "Crazy Kate" are devastation in grief and dignity in crazed sorrow. Kate was well employed and clothed in satin and in love with a sailor. He died at sea and her life was devastated; she "never smiled again. And now she roams...." Her clothes are in tatters that barely cover her. She collects pins that she begs from passersby. She never begs food or clothing, though both are needed. In her grief she is devastated.

Yet, she maintains the dignity of her humanity. In her mind, she continues to be employed in productive work, that of collecting pins, which were once very important in holding some garments in place and in making new garments (as now). Her dignity is stressed by Cowper in that she never begs for things for her personal comfort, only for that which is perceived as productive employment. A third theme is God's compassion that, according to Cowper's last line, stands in opposition to humankind's dearth of compassion.

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