"Riches Have Wings"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In addition to being religious to the point of madness, Cowper was strongly influenced by the Evangelical Movement of his day. Consequently, there is much moralizing and sermonizing in his poetry (see "Variety's the very spice of life"). The line quoted above follows a passage on the vanity of earthly wisdom–"God never meant that man should scale the heav'ns/ By strides of human wisdom" (ll. 221-222). We must make no attempt to learn about the world by our own effort, but must look to God alone for wisdom. The "philosophic tube,/ That brings the planets home into the eye" (ll. 229-230) will not discover God. The more we learn for ourselves, the more prone we are to overlook God. It is the function of philosophy, "baptiz'd/ In the pure fountain of eternal love . . . to indicate a God to man" (ll. 243-246). Men like Newton, Milton, and Hale are "friends of science and true pray'r" (l. 250). The apparent source of Cowper's line on riches is Proverbs 23:5–"Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven." In context, Cowper's lines read:

All flesh is grass, and all its glory fades
Like the fair flow'r dishevell'd in the wind;
Riches have wings, and grandeur is a dream:
The man we celebrate must find a tomb,
And we that worship him ignoble graves.