On The Receipt Of My Mother's Picture "Oh That Those Lips Had Language"
by William Cowper

Start Your Free Trial

"Oh That Those Lips Had Language"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Download On The Receipt Of My Mother's Picture Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Context: Though William Cowper's mother died when the poet was only six years old, he remembered her vividly throughout his life. In 1798, his cousin Anne Bodham (1749–1846) found and sent him a portrait of his mother painted by D. Heins and reproduced in the J. C. Bailey, Poems of William Cowper (London: Methuen, 1906). So the poet was inspired to write an epistle in which rhymed couplets have rarely been handled so softly and warmly. Of it Tennyson wrote that he hardly dared read it for fear of breaking down. The poem was first printed by itself in 1798 without the author's knowledge or consent, then added to the 1808 edition of his complete works.

Oh that those lips had language! Life has passedWith me but roughly since I heard thee last.Those lips are thine–thy own sweet smiles I seeThat same that oft in childhood solaced me;Voice only fails, else how distinct they say,"Grieve not, my child, chase all thy fears away!"The meek intelligence of those dear eyes(Blest be the art that can immortalize,The art that baffles time's tyrannic claimTo quench it) here shines on me still the same.