What is the poem "On the Receipt of My Mother's Picture Out of Norfolk" about?

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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William Cowper's poem "On the Receipt of My Mother's Picture Out of Norfolk" is a memorial poem.

In the poem, Cowper (in the opening line) wishes that his mother was alive so that he could talk with her.

OH that those lips had language! Life has passed

Cowper remembers how his mother's voice would calm and comfort him during his times of need. He recognizes her smile given he shares the same smile with her (he recognizes that their smiles are the same).

The movement of the poem follows one of bereavement. Upon first glance of the picture, Cowper wishes that he could hear her voice. Next, he remembers how she would calm and nurture him. The picture seems to have come to him unexpectedly and he was not necessarily ready to relive the experience of her death.

Next, Cowper tells the reader about when he first heard the news of his mother's death. The news caused him to cry and he felt her hovering over him so as to comfort him even after her death.

Cowper then states his realization that he will not be able to see his mother again until they meet "on that peaceful shore"- meaning after his own death. Cowper then tells of his time after his death and how he always continued to think of her.

Towards the end of the poem, Cowper ponders the thought of his life if his mother had been with him growing up. His life would have been something very different.

In the end, Cowper states the fact that his mother has died and could not return. He states that his mother's ability to comfort him left with her death:

Thyself removed, thy power to soothe me left.

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